Many companies hoard information. Despite advances that have brought about new learning methods, many companies continue to hold on to what they previously used. This habit is partly driven by the thought that someday, someone may find value in what the company is holding on to and partly driven by poor learning governance. Learning governance is the systems put in place to manage learning – from the investment in people, time and materials to how that investment is tracked and monitored. Information management is a crucial element.
Hoarding information can overwhelm any system, making it hard to navigate and creating a huge waste of time and energy in searching for items that you need, creating inefficiency and added costs. Thankfully, we can use a simple tool to help us manage information better. Originating in the field of lean manufacturing, this tool is known as 5S, which stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize processes and sustain.
A company’s learning development system, like any other archive, can turn into a dumping ground of information. The first step in 5S is to sort through all the information and remove what you don’t need. In particular, look at organizing and red-tagging your data.
Organizing Your Data
Organize all of your information into groups. This activity can be as simple as writing all the document names on sticky notes and asking people to sort them. Don’t try to name the groups before starting; they will come out of the exercise. Once you sort the documents, name the groups and see if you have duplicates that serve the same purpose or if you have any outdated materials. You can also do this exercise virtually by placing files in directories.
Red-tagging Your Data
Once you’ve found your duplicate and outdated materials, it’s time to move them out of the way. Create a storage location or directory called “Red Tag,” and put the files there. If someone does still need them, they’ll be there. Since they will no longer be in the expected location, that person will let you know. If someone wants to pull a file out of the Red Tag area, he or she will need a reason that contradicts why you put in there in the first place. After an agreed-upon time – usually one year – delete these files.
Set in Order
Once you’ve completed the sorting step, you will have groups to show how content should be stored in your system. Use these groups to create storage locations, and place your artifacts there so that people can easily find them. Be sure to use names that are easy to understand and commonly used. The aim is to make finding data easy.
Make sure that the resources that you decided to keep are being preserved in good condition. Here are some important questions to ask:
- Are they current?
- Do they meet the learning objectives assigned to them?
- Do you have a refresh rate for validating items?
Have a plan in place for how your system is to keep running and up to date.
Managing content is always an emergent process, so putting standard work around a learning system can seem like holding back the ocean. However, in every system, there are things that can be standardized and things that can’t. Find the things that can be standardized, and make sure that they are. For example, make sure that when a new artifact is created, it’s placed into one of the existing storage locations. This process doesn’t hinder creativity, but it makes the new artifact available to others.
Once you’ve completed the hard work of the previous stages, you need to make sure that you don’t backtrack. Set up reminders to go back and make sure everyone is following process standards and maintaining resources. Most importantly, make sure that improvements are being made to the system so that you’re always finding the next great way to use it.
Try not to become overwhelmed with the process by digging too deep on your first attempt. It might be best to do a 5S activity at a high level before you start doing it on individual courses or to start small for a quick win. Find the right approach for you and your company, and you will reap the benefits (including reduced costs) of continuous improvement by eliminating duplication and waste in your learning systems.