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About Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is the founder and president of TimeBack Management. Prior to founding his own firm, Mr. Markovitz held management positions at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger. Learn More...

Leveling; smoothing out the flow; e.g., doing two performance evaluations a day for 3 weeks, rather than ten a day for three days -- and then needing to take a vacation because you're so burned out.
Overburdening people, process, or equipment; e.g., people working 100 hour weeks for months on end -- come to think of it, like most lawyers and accountants.
Uneveness or variability; e.g., leaving work at the normal time on Thursday, but having to stay at the office till midnight on Friday because the boss finally got around to giving you that project...at 4:30pm.
Waste; activities that your customer doesn't value and doesn't want to pay for; e.g., billing your customer for the really expensive 10am FedEx delivery because you didn't finish the document on time.

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What would Taiichi Ohno do?

Posted September 23, 2008 @ 7:11 PM

Today's post is a question that I'm grappling with, rather than an answer (or any theoretically profound advice).

As I've written about before (here and here), 5S is fundamental to a lean transformation. A lot of people who wear more expensive suits than I do would probably go further, and say that it's the most important step: without the discipline of 5S embedded within the workplace, there's no hope of creating a sustainable improvement.

And for the most part, I agree. I do think there's tremendous value in applying 5S to the information you manage. For one thing, you'll store less fly-infested electronic garbage (I mean, do you really need to keep the baby shower invitation you made in Word three years ago for your co-worker who's no longer at the company?), and while storage is cheap, it still costs something. You'll also have an easier time finding what you need when you need it. Credit-Suisse's and Chevron's story indicate that the exponential growth of data makes it really tough to find what you need if you let the electronic piles grow too big. Finally, I think that the 5S discipline is important because it creates consistency in your actions and throughout the company. When you cull worthless junk, even if it's just a few kilobytes of electrons, the message is clear: your company is committed to lean and to a rock-solid lean foundation.

But. . . when Google desktop can find anything on your computer in .03 seconds, is there real value in spending time organizing, sorting, and deleting emails, spreadsheets, and PDFs? Lean philosophy pushes us to eliminate waste -- which is to say, anything the customer doesn't want to pay for. If you're spending more time and energy filing your emails into a seven layer taxonomic tree of folders than you'd spend by clicking the Google search button, aren't you creating more waste by applying 5S? The customer doesn't really care how you get the information he needs, only that you get it quickly.

So maybe Google renders 5S efforts -- at least with regards to the information that knowledge workers traffic in -- unnecessary. Or worse: maybe Google, in a nifty bit of reverse alchemy, transforms those efforts into, well, waste.

I don't know the solution to this question, but I think that it's in the spirit of lean to ask it. What would Taiichi Ohno do?


ok its true i believe


its fun to read here


its a nice try ;)


I work in Information technology field, I'm a huge fan of the Mac OS, buying my first MacBook this year and I would say that Google has provided a tool that helps eliminate the waste of time.

Google is like...

> Google is like a robot that automatically sorts things for you

This made me think. Google doesn't actually do *any* filing or sorting. It's an overlay on whatever structure you use (if any). What it does is move the problem from location (i.e., naming) to content. Why should I have to name something just to find it later? So instead of librarians, we're moving to archeologists. ?

Good topic.

Ah, but Google (and Spotlight) do have their limitations

Thanks for all your comments.

One problem with Google, Spotlight, Windows desktop search, and all those other powerful programs is that they can only find keywords -- and sometimes your document doesn't have those keywords. For example, my wife handles the scheduling for her section at the hospital, and each month she asks her coworkers to submit their vacation requests. What keywords does she search for in this stack of replies? 

- "I'm out on the 5th and 6th."

- "I'm on vacation the 5th and  6th."

- "I won't be here the 5th and 6th."

- "I'm away the 5th and  6th."

- "I'll be skiing the 5th and 6th."

Now, I suppose if she created a template for submitting schedule requests, that would make it simple to find all the related emails. But that would require her coworkers to use a specific form - and as Mark knows, it's not always easy to get doctors to follow even the simplest instructions (washing hands, for example).

Perhaps there's a middle way?



I'm a huge fan of the Mac OS, buying my first MacBook this year. The Mac finder and spotlight programs find files SO QUICKLY, I've given up on having to put stuff in folders. It's brilliant.

Dan, I have to agree with

I have to agree with you.
I work in Information technology field, and most of my work revolves around email.
Before desktop search tools in general (and google desktop in particular), I used to spent lot of time filing and sorting emails. Now I still do this, but to much less extent. Whenerver there is doubt on email value, it is easier to archive and look up later with google desktop than deciding and taking action (delete vs archive).

Google is like a robot that automatically sorts things for you

If Google Desktop was somehow manifested in the physical realm, there would be a robot that would be automatically taking notice of everything you threw onto the pile of things. Later on you could ask the robot to get something and it would be able to quickly retrieve it for you. That's sort of what the Google Desktop automatic indexing is doing.

Is that 5S? Not really but what is 5S for?

If we're talking about web search, even Google's algorithms are not necessarily enough. Things like http://del.icio.us and other examples of tagging suggest that human intervention to engage in faceted classification make finding information (especially relationships) much more effective. For information within an organisation, I would expect this to be valuable enough that it would add benefit over just relying on a Google Search Appliance. And then there's non-text information like images, audio, and video.

Eliminating Wasted Time

I would say that Google has provided a tool that helps eliminate the waste of time spent filing things so you can find them later. Gmail works great and so does Google desktop (and web search for that matter). Searching for things is much better than trying to find things in outlook file folders...

It isn't really 5s (I don't think) but the best solution I have found is let Google find it for me. For some material this doesn't work well, but for the best way to manage personal electronic data I think right now Google is good.

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