LEAN principles applied: SAP Data Management with 5S

In times of hype and changing IT landscapes – Leverage a timeless method in managing data that seek effectiveness:


“If you see a snake, just kill it – don’t appoint a committee on snakes.”

Ross Perot


You may argue that there aren’t many dead snakes in Walldorf these days, but in fact I learned a great deal about effectiveness while being in SAP. In a 2008 employee meeting at SAP, former COO Erwin “Ernie” Gunst was talking about how LEAN principles will change SAP to become simpler to work at and with. I had two circumstances in 2014 reminding me of that moment:


1)   when SAP CEO Bill McDurmot used the bigger part of the opening keynote at the 2014 SAPPHIRE an what simplicity means to SAP (and its customers)

2)   when reading THE LEAN STARTUP by Eric Ries. One of the books that kept my mind going.


Ever since I spent some time learning about LEAN as well as Six Sigma and found these methodologies / philosophies surprisingly up to date. Especially given the fact that both date back to the 80s. This blog post is about applying the principles of LEAN to managing your SAP data rather then using it on the shop floor only. One approach I would like to use to inspire your thinking is 5S – a method aimed at organizing a workplace.

The five Ss are derived from the Japanese words and refer to a single step in organizing the workplace / system:


The 5S in SAP Data Management

The 5S in SAP Data Management

Step 1 (seiri) Sort:

In the original meaning this refers to sorting tools and materials. I want to adopt this a little to the classification and sorting of data into different categories. With the introduction of SAP HANA, SAP tends to refer to hot, warm and cold data. This data temperature is one way. But think about other aspects such as security or protection, ownership, source or application. Based on the sorting or classification, you develop an objective per data class.


Step 2 (seiton) Straighten or set in order:

LEAN suggests that a clean and orderly workplace promotes effectiveness and eliminates the waste of extra motion (one of the 7 wastes). In this sense, data should be moved to the best storage. Best means the ideal storage according to the objective of its classification. This eliminates waste and provides speed and quality where required whereas most data will be loaded on to TCO-ideal storage media. Research from various sources suggests that only 12-20% [GS3] of a system’s size is in active use.



Step 3 (seis) Cleanse or shine:

In the LEAN philosophy cleaning is a daily activity that is performed at the end of each shift. Being passionate about Housekeeping myself, the analogy couldn’t be better. I still meet companies that perform system cleansing very infrequently if at all. An analysis conducted by DataVard indicates that 20-31% of a SAP system’s size is temporary data that can be deleted and/or archived using our multi-purpose cleansing tool ERNA.

distribution of data in a BW system

Typical distribution of data in a BW system



“Only 12% of all data in BW is actually used”

Source: Forrester research


Step 4 (seiketsu) Standardize:

This means that the above-mentioned 3 Ss should be standardized, documented and be part of the daily operation routine of your system. Your team members, colleagues or internal customers should know their responsibilities through training and a short documentation that is easy to understand. I recommend deploying visual aids where possible to guarantee an  easy consumption.


Step 5 (shitsuke) Sustain:

Refers to maintaining and reviewing standards. Once the previous 4Ss are put into practice, they become the gold standard for Data Management. To make the process sustainable, remain focused on the 4Ss above and enforce them so the data in your system remains ‘well organized’. Measure and monitor the adherence of the objective set per data class and allow for new ideas or improvements to arise. Welcome and encourage such feedback and review the first 4Ss where appropriate. Remember that in the LEAN philosophy perfection is achieved through several iterations.

3 comments on “LEAN principles applied: SAP Data Management with 5S

  1. Brian Fleming on

    Great post! We highly recommend standardization as a primary goals. so clearly agree with your model. We recommend creating templates for best practices using automation tools and then continue to iterate them with your business changes. When you find that you are ready expand these routines to the people that manage your data to day. We have tools at to support this approach.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *