Friday, July 17, 2009

The Five S's of Lean

One of the principles of Lean is known as the 5 S's. Developed in Japan, they are 5 steps that are taken to help become a more lean organization, all starting with the letter S. In English, they have been translated as Sorting, Setting in Order, Shining, Standardizing, and Sustaining. Though the concepts focus on manufacturing, they can also be applied to knowledge workers.

Sorting - What does your desk look like? Do you have piles of papers or magazines you hope to get to some day? Lots of extra cables hanging around? Business cards waiting to be put into your contact management system. The first step in becoming a lean knowledge worker is to sort your desk and office area. Keep only what you are going to need on a regular basis close by.

Setting in Order - Similar to sorting, but with more of a focus on your process flow. It's answering the question of where is the best way to arrange what I need on my desk? When I sort, my computer is something that is on my desk; when I set in order, I set up my laptop just to the left of center, with a second monitor in the center of my desk. I have a space to the right of my mousepad for documents I am working on. Setting in order becomes more important when I'm working on a client site. I have to set up every morning and need to adjust based on how much space I have. If I'm in a conference room with other people, my space may be very limited.

Shining - At the end of each day, taking a few moments to make sure your workspace is clean. Throw away that candy wrapper that's behind your monitor, sort any papers you are done with, and put books back on the shelf.

Standardize - It's important to set up standards with the people you are working with. Do you have an in-box you want anyone from your team to put papers into? Do you have a standard time for your daily stand-up meeting?
Sustain - Keeping the practice going and revisiting the other four S's when you need to. If you get a new, larger monitor, you will have to sort and straighten. If a new member joins the team, how does that change your standards within the group. Sustain is kind of like kaizen, you don't go through an improvement and stop; you keep looking for improvements.

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