5S, hygiene to keep your data tidy

Last update: April 16th, 2010
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Reminder about 5S

The 5S stand for the basic principles allowing to build and maintain an efficient, functional and safe work environment, ruled with simple, yet effective rules. The 5S acronym is made of five Japanese words starting - in western transcriptions - with the letter  "S" ; Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu et Shitsuke..

5S, as many other concepts, methods and tools originated in industrial workshops. Their proven success and compatibility with other types of activities allow them to spread to offices next to production, before spreading in all kind of activities like services and administration. These principles are universal and suitable to factories, workshops, shops, warehouses, offices, restaurant kitchen or even in one's own private household!

Basically, 5S foster keeping only the usable, setting things in order, and cleanliness which are the 3 first Steps. The fourth S defines the housekeeping rules to keep the first 3S alive, and the last but not least S strives continuous improvement.

Transposition into software

In the physical world, what is useless and jams the work area, what can lead to errors and mistakes, confusions and even accidents is hunted down to render the work environment functional, efficient and safe. Cleaning and keeping the area tidy is a way to favor quality of work and easy detection of abnormalities.

The same approach can be used for electronic files and data:

  • Sorting data, files and documents which are packed into the system, then suppress the useless and obsolete ones to regain storage space

  • Arrange the remaining (useful) data wisely, using common sense, to favor their sharing and quick intuitive retrieving. Keep only up-to-date data and documents handy, archive and store "remotely" the least, not so often used once.

  • "Cleanse" frequently contents of folders, mail boxes and files. Beyond cleansing, try to eliminate sources of pollution, like spam mails, multiples copies, etc. Cleansing encompasses also regular backups.

  • Set rules on a consensus, keep rules simple and efficient so that everyone sticks to that discipline

  • "Audit" periodicaly your systems to check the rules are applied, measure system performance (response time, number of duplicates...) and readjust rules according to progress.

A computer is made to arrange, sort and set data in order, it basically uses rules and principles to do it. The problem is, a computer will do it with same efficiency with old, obsolete, incomplete data and even corrupt files. If it knows perfectly to sort masses of data according to multiple criteria, it is not capable to state about data usefulness, not always about their validity or usefulness. Cleaning and maintenance of contents remain all human operations.

Talking about soft data, the word "maintenance" may sound strange, yet it is in neglecting data hygiene the risk lay.

Data maintenance

Logistic data are a large and complex set of data, rules and information necessary for the Supply Chain to work. For granting a physical delivery from suppliers to customers, lots of data are necessary for purchasing, sourcing, supplying, manufacturing and deliver. These data are linked to others like inventories, technical data (bill of material, for instance).

Production needs a planning and work structure files to give guidance and information how to manufacture what with what and when, in which sequence and order. Production itself provides multiple documents and data about schedules, achievements and consumption of material and parts. Shipping are based on shipment plannings, inventories and logistics data. Billing uses also data about shipment and payment conditions. The amount of data raises extremely fast, according to the number of suppliers, products and clients.

The number of possible malfunctions linked to false, incomplete or missing data raises accordingly, but furthermore may combine through the links and shared files among systems and applications.

Three emblematic examples

Here are three real examples of risks for the business, related to poor data hygiene:

  1. This company fails most often to deliver the products to its customers on time, because of thermal treatment, acknowledged as a bottleneck. However, thanks to a raw material specifications change for some products, thermal treatment is no more required. If this process still goes on for every product, stealing direly needed capacity and nagging on profit, it is because the technical data in work package haven't been updated until now.

  2. Production suffers stop-and-go because of material shortage. However, the company is overburdened with inventories, yet it seems what is needed is never available. In fact, stock taking results and inventories figures are badly reported, the computer works on corrupt data.

  3. After surprisingly loosing a big contract with a long known client, the salesmen find out that deliveries do not match the new conditions imposed by their client new just-in-time organization. The customer file was not updated with this vital information.

As these three examples demonstrate, data maintenance should be understood as swift updating after any change, but also as periodical validity and reasonableness (true-seeming) check.

Author, Chris HOHMANN, is managing partner in a consulting firm specialized in lean manufacturing and industrial performance.

He put his experience in a book (French): "Guide pratique des 5S pour les managers et les encadrants"

Le livre Guide pratique des 5S pour les managers et les encadrants



Desktops are candidates too

Beyond application to big systems, 5S apply also on individual desktops. Computers and their fantastic ability to handle, duplicate and store data end up hiding them to the users. Who never cursed this important file impossible to locate in the mass, an e-mail or an address in the address book? Tidiness in data management and ordering, folders ant files organisation are more and more necessary. The software designers did not take the user's tidiness for granted as they implemented search functions for documents and files...


Organisation and "housekeeping" rules

Part of the mentionned troubles could be prevented by simple rules for organisation and "arrangement" of data files, by systematic naming folders, files and documents with significant names. Other risks can be mitigated if:

  • Anti-virus programs are updated regularly,
  • Data backups are programmed and performed periodicaly,
  • Access codes, security checks are changed regularly

    The best technology can be made useless by neglecting basic rules of hygiene, rules the 5S rollout install or reinforce.

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