5-S Methodology Will Help You Focus on Writing
Businesses, especially those involved in manufacturing, employ a variety of tested operational methodologies to increase their efficiency, quality, and productivity. Change management philosophies such as continuous process improvement and Kaizen, project methodologies such as Six Sigma and ITIL, and organizational models such as 5S provide organizations with roadmaps and tools they can use to implement quality plans designed to help their bottom line. As writers, we can adapt some of these methods to help us increase our productivity, product quality, efficiency and our profitability. While implementing a full on Six Sigma project management style approach to our writing and blogging may be a little extreme, we can take elements of these methodologies and tailor them for our use. Perhaps the most easily adapted is the 5S Organizational Model.
The 5S method is a workplace organizational model with roots in the Japanese automobile industry. This model, along with others having a Japanese manufacturing pedigree, focuses on increasing productivity and efficiency. The five S's - Sort, Stabilize, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain - are at their core, a form of housekeeping. Developed by Hiroyuki Hirano as part of his overall approach to production system, the method identifies a series of steps, each building upon the other, which result in optimized performance. (Hirano, 1995) By implementing an adapted 5S approach to our writing workspace, we can increase efficiency and productivity, which should also result in an increase in overall quality.
The Five S's
- Sort: In manufacturing, this means eliminating all unnecessary tools, parts, and instructions, keeping only what is necessary for a specific task. For us, it means clearing our desk (or writing space) of unnecessary items - things that get in the way and are not required for writing. In a manufacturing facility, that means even the photos of the kids have to be removed from our workstation. While we don't need to remove our sources of inspiration, we do need to remove distractions and items that get in the way of our work. For example, I have an old HP iPAQ on my desk. I haven't turned it on or used it in probably 4 years. It must go. Same can be said for the two empty pen cups and the extra stapler. If it is not needed, it needs to go.
- Stabilize: You've heard "a place for everything" right? This is the extreme version. There are plants that employ custom designed workstations with fitted tool drawers in which you can only store the tools necessary for a particular task, and those tools must go in specific slots. You can't put extra tools in the slots, and you can't put the wrong tool in the wrong slot, as they are all designed to fit a specific piece. On the writer's desk, that means having a designated place for paper clips, pencils, books, the phone, your tablet, your business cards and correspondence. Each spot should be easily accessible and marked (i.e. label the pencil holder "Pencils"). The theory being, if you do not have to hunt for a pen, you have just increased your efficiency and as a result, your productivity. Oh yes, and when you are done with that pencil, put it back.
- Shine (Systemic Cleaning): The premise is the same, keep your workspace clean and you will increase your efficiency. This goes beyond wiping up the cookie crumbs on your keyboard though. In fact, it goes hand in hand with the Stabilize step. Clean your workspace daily to get in to the habit of doing it, so that when you are done working for the day, you automatically clean up and are ready to go. Make sure everything you took out to use gets put away where it belongs and wipe up any spills, crumbs, and empty coffee mugs.
- Standardize: The theory here is that all workstations for a particular task should be identical. Anyone assigned to a specific task can work at any of the workstations and know where all the tools are. Also, everyone needs to be aware of what their responsibilities are to the first three steps. In other words, if you use someone else's workstation, you need to keep it clean, free of clutter, and don't mess with their tools. For us, if we only work on our writing in one place, we don't need to set up multiple workstations with identical equipment. We can, however, make things easy on ourselves by standardizing our equipment and tools so that they work better together. For instance, if you looked at my desk a few years back, you would have seen an old Apple desktop, a Windows laptop, and two different printers - one that worked best with the Mac and one that worked best with the laptop. Over time, I was able to eliminate the need for two computers and two printers, and through attrition and upgrades, have turned the household IT department into a Windows-based environment, using HP laptops, Epson printers, and the same versions of software products across the board. This way, I know the same printer ink will fit in all of the printers. All of the laptops have similar, if not identical, configurations, which makes problem solving easier. You can dive deeper into this level - only buy one type of pen so all your pens are the same, or all of your paper. The idea being that everything is interchangeable, which reduces down time and expense, and increases, you guessed it, your efficiency and productivity.
- Sustain: Sustain is the hardest of the S's to accomplish. For manufacturing environments, once the first four elements have been established, the method is sustained through planned, scheduled reviews and process spot checks. It becomes everyone's responsibility to make certain that all areas are adhering to the process all the time, and to bring to light potential problems and process failures. What does that mean for us? We need to develop a habit that will be hard to break. It will take time to establish the first four elements of the plan and once they are established, we need to review our progress on a regular basis. As you can see by the photos, I haven't gone very far with my implementation - but I will. Because I am notorious for not having a routine, and seldom doing things the same way twice, I will schedule - on my calendar - a weekly review of my adherence to the process, and also incorporate reminders in my workspace. (I'll let you know how that goes!)
Would You Be More Productive if You Were Better Organized?
Make The Change
Is it extreme to take a manufacturing process improvement model and adapt it to our work as writers and bloggers? Perhaps, but if our goal is to be proficient and productive (and make money) then we need to be as efficient as possible to be as productive as possible. Increasing our efficiency and productivity, and improving our working environment all contribute to the overall quality of the product we produce - our articles. Quality posts produce positive results. Less time spent looking for the thesaurus means more time we can spend on our SEO strategy. If we can optimize just one aspect of our writing process, it will have an effect on the other parts of the process and lead to better results, i.e., making more money.
We can apply these principles to virtually any aspect of our daily lives. In business, implementing a methodology based on 5S calls for a cultural change and intense focus. Inability to change the way associates think, feel, and work or a loss of focus will result in the failure of the program. Also, it is important to separate quality from the plan. Product quality is a state, improved quality is an objective, and the 5S methodology is a means by which an increase in product quality could be achieved. (Bicheno, 2004) But is not guaranteed. For writers, we do not have to follow this method to improve our quality, but it couldn't hurt. We need to be able to make our own cultural change and not lose focus. If we are able to make the process around our writing flow better, and make ourselves more efficient, we should see benefits that go well beyond the quality of our work.
Bicheno, J. (2004). The New Lean Toolbox. Piscie Books; 3rd edition (January 2004).
Hirano, H. (1995). 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace. Cambridge, MA: Productivity Press ISBN 978-1-56327-047-5.