Lean IT - use (or lack thereof) of 5S

The following should be taken merely as musing, rather than the thoughtful exploration that this subject deserves.

Lean, as I understand it, developed in a warehouse \ manufacturing environment in order to facilitate production flow. In such an environment, 5S makes obvious sense. A physical workplace that is logically ordered, clean, and safe greatly enhances workflow, as well as being pleasant on the eye.

When I was receiving basic training in Lean, we learned about 5S in the context of 'Lean Office'. Here too 5S makes a great deal of obvious sense. When much of one's workflow involves paper (e.g. forms, bills, files, etc), there is much benefit to the order than 5S provides.

However, when we consider "Lean IT", it is my feeling that 5S is much less useful. (Note, not useless, just not nearly as useful as in other environments.) As an IT worker, 99% of my work is done at a computer. And, of course, most of the data with which I deal is only accessible via computer - I use very little paper. Indeed, I often balk when someone gives me data in the form of paper, because it is then not easily searchable.

Now, I can see a well ordered and clean desk being useful for a number of reasons, not least of which are aesthetics. However, I do not derive the same benefit therefrom as, for example, an Accounts Payable person does. My fingers are mostly at my keyboard, and very little time is spent turning around or opening doors to get files, stapling things, or even walking to the printer.

The argument can be made that the principles in 5S can be profitably used in one's digital workspace. For example, organizing file shares, knowledge bases, and the like. I accept this argument, but only up to a point. The reason being is that I usually access data via search, rather than drilling down (e.g. through directories or what have you.) Whenever I need to find a (e.g.) document, I immediately use Google Desktop Search, rather than trying to remember in which knowledge repository the document resides, and then manually navigating to it. I am certainly not suggesting that one's data sources should not be well organized, but merely that the way most of us access data nowadays makes 5S less directly applicable to the IT worker's needs.

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