A virtual 5S for real results

6 minutes
Ranger dossiers informatiques

How long do you need to find an email or a document? Whether in our professional or personal life, the production and massive sharing of documents and emails make us victims of disorganization. In this article I will remind you the basics of the 5S. They can help regain control of mailboxes and hard drives, and most of all to gain efficiency.

First of all, let’s put things in perspective. The day you decide to improve your virtual folders using the 5S approach, it will take time. Depending on the state of your files, the size of your project and the number of people involved it can take from 1 to 3 days to carry out such a project.

This time is the same as for the classic 5S project. When a company starts a 5S project on a scale of 500 people, it takes a few days of work to reach the final result. I advise you to start your 5S project with a small sector. You could start with your personal document folder, the file of a completed project, one of your mailboxes. As in any 5S project, if you scope too large, you will exhaust yourself. In addition, by starting small, you will be able to test different methods. If the first method of storage that you have defined is not adequate, you will not have to resume it for all of your files, but just the one you have chosen.

For details and tips on 5S in the real world, you can read: 5S, much more than a trend.

Launch of 5S project

Start by choosing your playground:

  • A project and all related documents and e-mails
  • A specific folder
  • Part of the team
  • Inter-sector members of a project

I suggest you start the workshop with a little training to explain the principles, and the progress of the workshop. Whether you’re doing the 5S alone or as a team, take the time to set the scope, your goal, and your time frame and display it.

There is no favorable wind for those who do not know where he is going.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC – AD 65), Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist

For example: By Thursday, we will do the 5S of the “Administrative” directory of the team. We will reduce its volume by 30% and the document number by 40%. The hierarchy with be limited to 3 levels. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of document requests to assistant by 70%, …

Seiri (整理) / Sort

As in the industrial world, this stage is more difficult for some than for others. However, the rules are the same: we keep nothing “just in case”. The criteria for elimination are similar. The discovery of an old document that “could have been useful” does not turn it useful. If no one knows it is there, it means that it does not exist! Search functions can help find documents with large volumes, duplicates, or the date of last access to a document.

Do not forget to measure the size of the directory or the number of documents before starting. Otherwise, you will not be able to measure your result!

Seiton (整頓) / Set in order

Which storage method will you use? It is essential to have only one type of organization: by function, by date, by individual, by project, … If you sort your invoices by date and your quotes by customer, you increase the complexity and the time required to find a document. There is no single organization. You judge according to your needs, your habits and your preferences. One of the constraints that can be fixed is the hierarchy of the file system. Beyond three or four levels, the complexity becomes strong. The number of clicks increases too much for the comfort of the users.

Before creating your folders, draw your organizational architecture and test it: where is this document stored? If all users have the same answer, it is a sign that it is intuitive and meets the needs.

Do not forget that the files are alive: where is the work in progress? You can create specific folders to store the current job or the versions of a document that you want to keep the project time. “Temp” or “Archive” folders are easy to delete at the end of the project.

Seiso (清掃) / Shine

The cleaning step is simpler in virtual: emptying the trash takes a few seconds. It is important to empty the trash of all the discs and email boxes. Another step in the cleanup is to delete all empty folders. If the search of an empty folder can be made during the 5S building site, it is in the rigor that the cleaning continues, with the removal of the empty folders each time they are met.

In the mailbox, the spam box and the inbox must also be cleaned: duplicates and messages without added value or that do not require tracking can be deleted.

Seiketsu (清潔) / Standardize

Creating a standard is as easy as the number of people involved. At a team level, several types of standards can be deployed:

  • How to name the files and directories: date, customer number, project number, document title, initials of the creator / last reader, …
  • Architecture of a new file for a client, project, individual, …
  • Privileged tool for file sharing or document validation: e-mails, common directory, …

Shitsuke () / Sustain

Once the project is over, it must be followed up, as in all 5S, it is the team that made it and uses the documents that must maintain it. The defined standards can help to maintain, but at the start, it is mainly audits, led by management, which will anchor the practice. The audit grid is based on standards and the same kinds of questions as a real 5S: is the area clean? Is the basket emptied? Is the office ordered? Are there documents that “go beyond” records?

Another solution is to provide time for a regular update, at the end of a week, a month or a project.


Maintaining the 5S is everyone’s business, whether to keep it as it is or to make it evolve.

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