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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Office Kaizen: 5S of Electronic Documents Using MS Sharepoint


Sharepoint can efficiently be used to get a grip on unstructured document repositories with several thousand documents. Furthermore, 5S provides a standardized framework to tackle the cleaning up of physical working environments. How to combine these two to an efficient tool to clean up virtual working environments is described in this blog.


5S and Kaizen

Kaizen (jap. "Change for the Better") - the continuous improvment process - is one key element of Lean Manufacturing and Lean Management. One of the basic techniques or implementations of Kaizen is the "5S" methodology to tidy up, structure the working environment. The goal is here - like in any "Lean" activity - to clean th system from "Muda", the "waste" (I prefer "non value adding") in a production system.
Kaizen and 5S has been developed and perfectioned in the automotive industry and then adopted in many other manufaturing systems. One advantage in these environments is the repeatability of process steps: we are optimizing a production line consisting of a sequence of production steps / production units, which work in a repeating mode, producing the same (or at least similar) part over and over again. In these environment one can straight forwardly apply statistical methods (like the six sigma toolset) to find weaknesses in the process, identify Muda and to improve.
5S as such is a concept providing a well defined set of activities to clean up and standardize a working environment. Goal of these activities is to create (and preserve) a working environment (e.g. a workshop) where the work can be done in the most effective and efficient way. The main instrument to achieve this goal is to put tools to well defined, clearly visible and "self explaining" places and to arrange these places in the best way to support the working/assembly sequence.
5S defines the following activities to achieve the goal "optimized workshop":
  • "Sort" (jap. Seiri): sort things in "shall be kept / is required", "remove / throw away", "not sure yet"
  • "Systematic Arrangement" (jap. Seiton): arrange things / tools in an order supporting an optimized workflow (lean concept "generate flow")
  • "Shine" (jap. Seiso): tidy up/clean/renovate the workplace, remove all shabbiness
  • "Standardize"(jap. Seiketsu): Use the same conecpts for all workplaces. Provide guidelines how things are to be kept in order and do not allow exceptions
  • "Sustain"/"Self Discipline" (jap: Shitsuke): make all processes / changes established a habit. Do not allow degradation of already achieved standards.

Office Kaizen

Stemming from manufacturing, Lean and Kaizen is influencing other areas of business activities as well. One area of application Lean ideas and concepts is the so-called "Office-Kaizen"/"Office Excellence" movement, trying to transfer Lean to optimize processes and work in office environments. One technique is - in coherence with the 5S idea - to clean up offices and to put working material in well defined and standardized places: e.g. inbox/outbox containers are clearly visible, standardized in shape and color and - if possible - in all offices at the same place. Another example would be how the organizations deals with documents: well defined storage locations, labeling, etc.

Electronic Documents

Saying the word "documents" we immediately come to the virtual world of electronic data storages and what I personally am working on. Almost any organization is fighting with a mayhem ("well - it evolved over the years...") of unstructured data repositories littered with all kinds of electronic documents. Common "concepts" of the work in these data repositories are the following:
  • folders names are used as keywords. Effect: documents are copied to more than one folder to put them in different contexts (muda of storage, transportation, (confusion))
  • document versions are indicated via (undefined) prefixes or suffixes like: *_date, date_*, *_v<version number>, *_new, *_final, *_reallyFinal, .....
    This practice does not only create waste (confusion), but also violates ISO9001, Chapter 4.2.
  • No central guidance for the folder structure
  • Documents are put wherever the user thinks it is useful

5S of Electronic Documents Using Sharepoint

This wouldn't be a technical blog if I didn't describe my own implementation and experiences in a real-world tool. The practices described here may be implemented in other tools as well, but I can only share experiences with MS Sharepoint.
It all began when my team lead approached me with the task to "improve the document repository for our team - we are loosing track over what is where". So I suddenly was confronted with a file share (roughly 3 years old) with about 11000 files stored in roughly 700 folders. In the folder structure all kinds of file types were in: text documents, presentations, excels, photos, technical drawings in native formats, technical drawings scanned to pdf, manuals, scientific papers, etc. etc.
Based on previous experiences my strategy was clear: introduce Sharepoint and move all the available documents to there. But it is important to be careful withthe sequence of steps and the things which need to be prepared upfront and which can be done "on the way".

Preparation of Seiri

Before you start with sorting documents it is important to spend thoughts about the categories the documents will be sorted. The ultimate goal is to separate those documents to be kept from those being obsolete. However, it is almost impossible to do this "keep/throw" classification without a pre-classification of documents into context categories. To do the latter, I introduced roughly 10 categories (sets of keywords) to categorize a document. As we are dealing with a large machine I defined categories. I tend to guide the users as much as possible by the use of lookup values in fields, this makes it possible to filter documents more reliably than for freetext fields. Here some examples as inspiration:
  • Flag: "Keep/Throw"
  • Document Type: technical drawing, meeting protocol, manual, product catalog, ... Not to be mixed up with the document file type (!). Field with lookup values
  • Machine section: our machine is structured into sections, here a document can be related to one (or many) of these sections. Field with lookup values.
  • Serial number: Freetext field to enter the serial number of an asset related to the document, e.g. for quality test protocols, etc.
  • Technical place ID: ID of the technical place a document relates to. Field with lookup value
  • Supplier/Author: who provided the document? Field with lookup values
  • Document Date: this field is useful/required to indicate wher a document has been created initially on the file share - e.g. for meeting minutes. This initial date gets lost in the uploading process.
  • ...
If this interlectual exercise has been done and has been implemented in Sharepoint as Document Library with custom columns, one can make the first mayor step and upload the documents from the file share to Sharepoint. I uploaded the whole folder structure "as is" to Sharepoint. as this preserves the folder structure as important element of user orientation. This is essential especially for the "pathfinders" which navigate along folder structures. I distinguish these from the "Googlers" who want to type in search phrases everywhere (I belong to the Googlers).

Step 1: Seiri

After the uploading of files took place, one can start with the actual "Seiri" exercise: sort the documents into categories, sort into "keep" / "throw". This exercise needs to be accompanied by proper communication to the relevant stakeholder: team leads, users, other. At first your users will be overwhelmed by the new tool and will try to get around it. I advice the following:
  1. suppress the continuation of us of old tools by restricting access - switch the old file share to "read only" mode
  2. have a coach close by providing immediate help with the new tool if needed
  3. do categorization of files centrally - I am working together with a works student, who does an awful lot of "sand shoveling" ni the system. This will lead to partly wrong results in terms of categorization and keywording, but will immediately open the door for Googlers and filtering mechanisms
  4. In the Sharepoint Document Library create one view I call "Flat List". This view has the attribute "view without folders" in the view definition. It is the key to create transparency and to identify duplicates and similar documents in your library.
Important is here that you quickly reacha relatively high degree of categorization in key document types. If you stall here, users will use trust in the power of categorization and will bail out.

Step 2:  Seiton

The custom categories are not only required for the sorting of documents, but also the key for the "Systematic Arrangement" of files. On the one hand, the systematic arrangement is achieved automatically by sorting things into categories, because they can now be filtered according to their categories/keywords. But Sharepoint offers the tool to go one step further in "arranging" files: the creation of views (= pre-defined filtered views on the document library) according to business context. I advice the following steps:
  1. Define the relevant views together with key users. Most the views we use are based on the "Flat List", i.e. documents are shown without their folder structure. Example: We defined a couple of key views like "all technical drawings to section xy", "all meeting protocols" (these are scattered over several folders), "all manuals", etc. Do not over-engineer here, but start with something simple and grow the field during use.
  2. Implement the views in Sharepoint
  3. Communicate the availability of views and how they can use them to your users. Unexperienced users will hardly use this feature without training

Step 3:  Seiso

I strongly believe that every enterprise content system needs one layer / user interface, where the "documents" (and the library), data sources and other sources of "raw data" are made accessible under one hub. This hub needs to provide "metadata" information on the content and end-user friendly navigation and help where to find what. Sharepoint offers the set of tools to integrate all content under one platform, namely it offers Wiki functionality whic can be used to create central pages providing links to documents together with information about the meaning, context, etc. of these documents.
What does this have to do with "Seiso"/"Shine"? The creation of user-friendly web pages collecting documents and providing information about these is nothing than the virtual counterpart of a toolbox. Additionally, these web pages are a central tool to implement Lean's "visual management": tools to create a self explaining/transparent working environment.Here a note: I did not come across ideas how to implement "visual error states" of the system which is part of visual management.
Furthermore, if you put a little love into these web pages (make them "shine"), users will more likely like and use them and will get around more easily. One example of making pages "shine" is to integrate ways to navigate along visual web assets like clickable image maps or SVGs (see as well my other blog post).
One key element in the Seiso step is to link views (which is a feature of Sharepoint) created in the Seiton step in the web layer. This creates a lot of user friendliness and is very attractive from a user point od view, because the use and technical details of the document library is abtracted to the user.

Step 4: Seiketsu

If you arrive at step 4 already a good part of the work has been done. To standardize I mostly use email: where we send documents as attachments before, I send now emails with links to documents in Sharepoint, so they are "forced" to deal with the tool.

Step 5: Shitsuke

One key element not to let things degrade is a central team taking care of the Sharepoint webspace and the server. From time to time mini 5S-events to clean up are useful. Ultimately, the tool will stay attractive if users find it something supporting their work.

Dear reader - this was it, I hope you liked my post and it helps you with your own project - keep on geekin'!

Your WolfiG