Sort! The first S of the 5S …

…(Seiri, 整理, according to Wikipedia)

When applying the 5S-Approach to software development it is important to not just take the Wikipedia definition verbatim, but to also look behind the scenes.

So what does “sort” mean in software development?

First of all – it is not “sort”. [Hirano][hirano-95], who wrote one of the defining books on 5S, describes this pillar as “organization” – the verb, not the noun.

Ideas from production (quoted from Wikipedia)

  • Remove unnecessary items and dispose of them properly
  • Make work easier by eliminating obstacles
  • Reduce chance of being disturbed with unnecessary items
  • Prevent accumulation of unnecessary items
  • Evaluate necessary items with regard to debt/cost/other factors.

When you think about it, this is very close to “decluttering your life” – but with a focus on the workplace. (you might want to look up “100 items or less”)

How to apply these ideas to software development

Does “organize” mean you have to have a clean desktop? Either the one on your computer or the one your keyboards is placed upon?
Does “organize” imply you should not have any personal items on your desk or walls?
Does “organize“ require you to not have old printouts of code on your desk?
No, No and… Yes! Actually it does mean that you don’t have any old, obsolete printouts on your desk. This is where things are quite similar between the workplace in a factory and a workplace in knowledge-work – don’t put too many things you don‘t actually need in your workplace. Neither in the physical workplace nor in the virtual workplace on your computer

  • Are you constantly clicking on the same buttons? Buttons which don’t actually add any value to your work? Eliminate those clicks.
  • Is your computer‘s desktop cluttered with old shortcuts? Remove them! Or move them to a special folder where they don’t interfere with the day-to-day work.
  • Do you have all of the Microsoft products installed but only ever use one of them? Sort at least the icons so that the unused ones are out of the way.

Take the time to organize your personal workplace – it pays of in spades.

The same holds on the product level:

  • Do you have hundreds of files, that don’t serve any purpose any more? Just delete them! If you’re not sure if it is safe to delete them this might be a good time to take a good look at your source-code management system…
  • Do you have local copies of old versions of your source tree, so that you can look up certain things? Once again a good option to familiarize yourself with the source-code management system of your choice. And then delete those copies. (And while you‘re at it you might want to have a look at git to get some more leeway with respect to source-code management)
  • Do you use google to look up how the functions of your programming-language, libraries and frameworks work? Try thinking about compiling the relevant information and making it accessible locally to avoid things like google driven architecture (German article).
  • Do you have dozens of auxiliary (self-made) framworks and libraries? Try combining them while weeding out the unused and obsolete code.

I guess you get the drift – organizing your work in the software world can be tremendously helpful and certainly is a good starting point on the way to a streamlined lean and agile software development process, but of course it is not the only thing that’s necessary. But then again it is called ‘5S’, so there is more to come.

Till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

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