Going Japanese with your content: CS meets 5S

Through pure coincidence I recently worked on two content strategy/development projects that had the same subject: workplace organization. Both of my clients wanted to explain to their employees why and how to adopt a methodology called 5S.

I’d never heard of 5S before. For those of you who haven’t either, here’s the abridged version. 5S is a structured, 5-step program designed to systematically achieve organization, standardization and cleanliness in the workplace. Invented and popularized by Japanese manufacturers, the S’s correspond to the Japanese names for the five steps: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. They are often transliterated in English as Sort, Straighten, Shine, Systemize and Sustain (but some meaning is lost in translation). You’ll often find 5S mentioned and used with Kaizen and other Lean manufacturing concepts.

5S for content strategy

As I researched and wrote the content, I realized that much of what I was writing about could be very easily transposed to content strategy and web writing, for that matter.

Sort

In 5 pillars of the visual workplace: the sourcebook for 5S implementation, Hiroyuki Hirano says: “Organization means clearly distinguishing between what is needed and to be kept and what is unneeded and to be discarded.” I’d also add: what is missing and needs to be created. Sound familiar? This is what should result from a content audit. This step is all about simplifying tasks and using space effectively.

Straighten or set in order

Hirano says “Orderliness means organizing the way needed things are kept so that anyone can find them easier.” In other words, a place for everything and everything in its place. This step is all about efficiency making workers more productive. And it’s the most misunderstood, because people often think of straightening as simply tidying up. The key concept is to order items and activities in a way that promotes the most efficient workflow.

Commonly, visual maps are created at this stage of the process to identify inefficiencies and hazards. It’s also when you work the hardest to identify root causes of waste. I like to think of this step as designing the user’s content experience and the project management. The more efficient they are, the more effective the website is. This is where the business case for content strategy is made.

Shine

This step is about cleaning up after yourself. I like to think of it as keeping content well structured and well written. There are two key takeaways:

1) Maintaining quality should be a daily task, not an occasional housekeeping blitz.
2) Keeping the workplace clean and organized makes it easier to see when things go awry.

Finally, it’s also about seeing the workplace through the eyes of a visitor – asking yourself if it’s clean and organized enough to make a good impression.

Systemize

This step is about making the first three steps a habit. It involves establish standards and systems, and then integrating them into the workflow. Work practices should be consistent and standardized. Everyone should know exactly what their responsibilities are in the first 3 S’s. You can usually spot when a work area reaches this step because things are color-coded and labelled for easier visual identification of anomalies.

Sustain

The Japanese root “Shitsuke” means discipline. This step is about preventing backsliding. Maintain and review standards. Make it away of life. The emphasis is on eliminating bad habits and practicing good ones. When achieved, the first four steps become second nature. This is content governance.

5S is designed for a shared workplace. The key targets are quality, efficiency and morale. People don’t waste time looking for things. It’s easy to spot when something is missing or misplaced. The decision-making process is a dialog, not command and control. It builds a clear understanding between workers and instils ownership. If these were the attributes of my next content strategy project, I’d be a happy camper.

Oh, it can also revolutionize the way you organize your workspace.

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