The Lean Six Sigma (LSS) tool 6S has long been used by LSS practitioners as a tool for organizing work spaces from shop floors to operating rooms. This tool can also have tremendous value in organizing an area where many workers spend the majority of their work time – the electronic workspace.

6S Overview

6S uses the following steps to reduce waste and promote efficiency in the workplace.

  • Sort: Separating the items that individuals need from those that they do not. Sorting is aimed at eliminating unnecessary items from the workspace and performing a first step in cleaning the workspace.
  • Set: Finding the right place for a tool or item making it easy to place the item there every time
  • Shine: Cleaning a workplace for optimal performance
  • Standardize: Developing common methods for consistent performance. Standardization makes abnormal performance more obvious and potentially easier to correct.
  • Sustain: Cementing the realized gains and setting the stage for continuous improvement
  • Safety: Ensuring the practitioner creates a work space that is free from hazards that are likely to cause harm to the individual

Apply to the Electronic Workspace

Why should we apply 6S to the electronic workspace? For many of the same reasons that we apply 6S to our physical workspace. Ranked high among these reasons is cost – electronic storage is not free. Some of the costs associated with electronic storage are:

  • Physical hardware costs for storage
  • Facilities costs incurred when server platforms are created
  • Maintenance costs
  • Redundancy costs

One of the largest and least visible components of cost associated with electronic storage is employee time. Time spent looking for that one file or email that eludes our grasp. We know it’s out there somewhere, but we cannot find it! And when we can’t find it, we are forced to call someone and tell them that we need for them to send it again, which increases the time spent.


The primary reason most people’s inbox has hundreds or even thousands of items in it, is that the inbox is used for so many purposes. Email is used for the following and more:

  • To-do list
  • File storage
  • Need to respond
  • Need to read
  • Want to look at
  • Need to schedule
  • Need to call

To use our sort tools, we want to use the same approach that we use for our physical workspace. Use techniques that separate the unneeded and wasteful from the imminently useful.

File Management

In terms of file management, it is often helpful to target a single file folder at a time, rather than the entire server. Sort the files and folders that you use most often. While doing this, establish rules for filenames and how long you’ll keep a file. Lastly, delete draft or earlier versions of finalized work files like spreadsheets or documents.


To an equal or greater extent to which employees want to hang on to paper, they accumulate email in their inbox. It is not uncommon for one to have over a thousand emails in his inbox. This is a staggering number of documents. To reduce this amount, there are some steps we can take to quickly reduce this number.

Sort by sender: Some “From” addresses we know will never send us items that we will read or re-read. Take your first bold step and delete all emails from these email addresses. Another valuable tool in the Sort stage is the creation of personal folders in our email and calendar programs, such as .pst files in Microsoft Outlook.


The set stage is where we establish and maintain the correct location for a tool or an item. To that end, we want to continue to use the principles that apply to workspace 6S, and apply them to file management.

  • Put necessary items in place for easy access
  • Arrange items so they can be found quickly by anyone
  • Determine locations for necessary items

To arrange items so they can be found quickly by anyone, use file names that are common language names, and not a combination of abbreviations and characters. Consider this file structure – [drive name]:\SharedFolders\Projects\EntityName\ProjectName\DocumentType. One example that uses this structure is S:\SharedFolders\Projects\InsuranceCompanyName\AppealsProcessing\Flowcharts. Additionally, we should be on the lookout for orphan documents, which is a document that is outside of a folder. There is rarely a reason for this to occur, and it is a warning sign to me that you may be slipping a bit. Email can be arranged in a manner that is very similar to files. The use of personalized folders makes it possible for you to create an organized structure that mirrors your file management structure.


To apply shine to the electronic workspace, it is important to maintain a vigilant attitude. Consider a goal to never have more than 30 items in your in-box. The key to reaching this goal is to use the following tools. One, set aside 10 minutes at the start of your day to use your previously developed sort and set tools to delete unwanted or unnecessary emails that came in overnight. File attached files and emails in the structured file folders and email folders you’ve developed and maintained. A key tool to apply to the electronic workspace in the shine stage is unsubscribing. Recurring, unwanted emails can be reduced by being a diligent unsubscriber. This step takes at most 30 seconds per email and greatly reduces the flow of unread emails. Similarly, ask to be removed from report lists and distribution lists for those items that you don’t use or read. For electronic files, create some audit and review rules for your file folders. On a regular basis, go through your file folders and look for duplicates and unneeded files. Projects that are closed can have work files deleted and final project documents archived.


A tool that is useful in standardizing file systems is to develop and use a standardized file naming structure. For example, use the following format for files – ProjectDocumentNameCreationDate. When combined with the file folder structure that is created during the set stage, a user can find a document using a rational, standard-driven search approach.

Standardization is applied to email by using the same approach to each email. The user should touch each email once and follow one of the following actions action paths.

Action Required Email Action File Action
Delete Delete email No files to retain
Need to keep File under email structure File under directory structure
To do Delete email Create task or to-do in productivity software
Follow up Delete email Create task for follow up
Phone call required Delete email · Create task for phone call· Schedule time for phone call


What separates 6S from spring cleaning is the ongoing nature of the 6S practice. To sustain 6S in the electronic workspace, one must make a habit of maintaining established procedures and work to create a continuously improving process. The user has switched from managing through the use of email to managing through the use of tasks. These tasks must be continually reviewed to ensure that projected completion dates are accurate. This is best accomplished through daily planning. Block out 10 to 15 minutes per day for planning and review – don’t skip this time.


Effective management of the electronic workspace contributes to workplace safety by increasing the overall level of satisfaction in the workplace. Management is generally more satisfied with employees’ productivity and ability to adhere to a deadline. Coworkers enjoy working with each other as there is a greater level of trust developed when the bar is raised and expectations are still met.


6S has been proven to be an effective tool for increasing productivity in workspaces in many industries. It can be an equally effective tool when applied to the electronic workspace that is shared by nearly all employers and employees.

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