5S methodology is a Japanese set of methods to keep the workplace tidy – everything having its place and everything in its place. In Japanese these terms are:
1. Seire – Sorting.
2. Seiton – Get in Order.
3. Seiso – Sweeping or Shining
4. Seiketsu – Standardizing
5. Sheetsuke – Sustaining
Beyond the actual terms, the underlying principle in the manufacturing assembly or work floor is that by keeping tools and other things necessary for assembly or manufacturing neatly in their place and keeping the workplace clean, wastage in rework, missing tools, time wasted searching for them can all be avoided. By keeping even the floor and walls spotless and shiny, dust or other materials have lesser chances of getting into parts while manufacturing. This increases the quality and reliability of the end product over a long period of time. Every little thing you can do about the constituent parts of a system make the whole system better in quality and reliability!
But often in services, the potential of using 5S to improve the quality of services is often underestimated. There are always the most obvious uses of keeping the workplace clean like in an Emergency room as evidenced by this article about it – Lean’s Visual Improvements Impact Clinical Operations. When a patient is dying, the last thing you want to be searching for are the surgical scissors you just remember placing right there somewhere!
Most services are delivered these days with the help of computers almost in every walk of life. What do these 5S techniques mean for Software in support of services? What lessons do they hold? They hold a lot of lessons in keeping the workplace where these services are delivered clean – in other words, providing for ways to reduce mistakes in the software experience itself.
Data entry is fraught with mistakes whether you do it, or you fill out a form and somebody else enters it in. How often have we received the answer from the other side of the desk – "I Can’t Find Your Entry"? Many times, this is because of mistakes made by us or the organization, on behalf of us.Just like you should not be wasting time searching for a tool in the workplace, you should maximize the ways in software where you can find a lost person or his/her order in your system quickly. I was just now in the airport checking in for my flight. I had forgotten my Frequent Flyer number and did not have the Frequent Flyer card with me. The lady behind the counter was able to search for my number quickly, verified that I was the same person by asking me for the contact phone number and address and was able to give me credit! The software helped her do this quickly!
You can keep it clean in the first place by putting in all the validations you can ever think of while designing these forms whether the end user fills them out on the web themseves or a data entry person does it for them, sight unseen. It may not be enough to check for a valid number for "age" but when someone enters "150" for age, you should not accept it in without confirming it again, may be twice in a row!
You can make software clean and useful by allowing many different ways to search for information. The user may have typed their name in wrongly while registering over the web. The business still has the responsibility of finding them in their system or finding their order. Data validations may not fix this problem!
Clean, unambiguous user interfaces are just the same as a clean place to keep the tools in the workplace. There can be many lessons learned from 5S in manufacturing and apply them with diligence in services also.
Rework, frustration. lost orders, misplaced documents are all commonplace in services. Business processes can achieve a level of quality that manufacturing has achieved, if only the lessons are translated and applied!
There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons. – Denis Waitley