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Beyond Fire Drills: Applying Lean Principles to Information Governance

Beyond Fire Drills: Applying Lean Principles to Information GovernanceToo many organizations equate "information governance" with "information lock-down." This is a mistake.

Risk mitigation shouldn’t be the only factor driving your information governance strategy.


According to Gartner, information governance “includes the processes, roles, standards and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information in enabling an organization to achieve its goals.” While mitigating risk is certainly a worthy goal, it’s unlikely that it’s the reason your organization is in business. (Unless you work for a law firm, in which case, mea culpa.)

But far too many information governance programs are reactionary. They’re built because an organization gets an unexpected audit or e-discovery request and everyone panics. Resources are pulled willy-nilly from wherever they’re needed, disrupting business and causing angst across the board. Afterward, the organization decides that this kind of fire-drill response can never happen again, and it decides to build an information governance program.

This type of effort often starts at the department level — the department that is most affected by the request. Of course, the department most affected is typically Records Management or Legal, both of which are more apt to be concerned with offsetting risk than driving value.

In contrast, a successful information governance strategy accelerates decision-making, increases transparency and eliminates unnecessary compliance risks. Its real purpose is to boost business value — not simply to avoid data breaches, compliance infractions, sanctions and fines.

Applying Lean principles to your information governance strategy can help your organization build a program that both mitigates risk and wrings every last ounce of value from its information.

A Closer Look at Lean

Lean is a management strategy that focuses on driving value and eliminating waste. Pioneered by Toyota in the 1950s and 1960s, it has been widely adopted by process-based manufacturers and continues to gain traction in a variety of other industries.

There are five core principles of Lean, and a brief summary of how they apply to information governance:

1. Specify the value desired by the customer

When it comes to information governance, it’s important to think about the value desired by internal customers. What are the key interests and concerns of the various business stakeholders within the organization? What information matters most to them and to their end users? What business processes are supported?

2. Map the value stream

Outline your current process for managing information and identify all the waste. For example, a lack of integration between your customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise content management (ECM) system creates waste, because information in one system must be re-entered into the other. Relying on paper documents leads to wasted time when staff members can’t find the information they need quickly.

According to Lean, there are eight types of waste. Here is a list that includes examples that apply to information management:

  • Transportation: If an organization is using ECM as the universal point of control over its information assets, is the path those assets take to arrive in the ECM system circuitous? For example, are you capturing information at the point of creation, or does it float around your organization before it ends up in the ECM? What effect does web capture and multiple device capture have on your information? Is your organization using e-forms and if so, are they integrated with your ECM?
  • Inventory: Does your organization have clear policies for records retention and destruction? Is the process automated so that no records are retained past their cutoff? Do you have policies in place for version control of documents that are not classified as records? If not, the organization may be setting itself up for large e-discovery fees.
  • Motion: Does information move through unnecessary steps in business processes?
  • Waiting: Recent estimates show that the average office worker spends 12 minutes processing a hardcopy document — nine of which are spent finding, filing and refiling it. Finding digitized and electronic documents can be difficult, too, if the organization doesn’t have a properly designed content repository, consistent filing conventions and a good search engine. How much time do employees spend waiting for the right information? How does this impact customer service?
  • Overprocessing: Are you collecting the same information from customers on a variety of forms and repeatedly entering the same information into different systems?
  • Overproduction: Is the organization producing more information than employees need? Is it producing and retaining records that are not required (or are no longer required) to meet external mandates or internal compliance initiatives? The retention of excess information leads to wasted time for business unit employees, records managers and lawyers who must sift through the clutter. Plus, from a risk management perspective, there are records that organizations should dispose of at the earliest opportunity.
  • Defects: What is your organization’s quality assurance (QA) process for information capture? How close to the point of capture is QA performed? The further out it is, the more defective information enters your line-of-business applications. In addition, if your organization asks business users and the legal department to determine which pieces of content should be retained as records, do you have a formal QA process for declaration in place?
  • Skills: Are employees who could be producing value for the organization spending time looking for documents or rekeying data into a variety of systems?

3. Reengineer your process to eliminate waste

Just as organizations can reengineer business processes like contract management and HR onboarding by eliminating unnecessary steps and automating the ones that remain, so too can organizations refine their approach to information management. Many organizations find the following activities useful:


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