Practicing lean at home

Friday, February 3, 2017

Lean and Business Management Consultant at Mountain Ridge Consulting,

Lean is a simple philosophy and life style that can be applied in our homes. Lean is all about making your daily activities safer and easier. New students to lean manufacturing are surprised that many of the activities in which you engage at home use the same philosophies that are being taught as lean concepts. Think about how you take care of things at home or how you store and use items around the house.

Let’s look at your kitchens as the workplace and how you store items. Take your utensil drawer. It is likely organized in some fashion. The knives, forks, and spoons are probably separated and are stored in an area that is easy to access. Keeping your silverware organized and in order is a clear representation of 5S. There are many other examples of how lean and 5S is utilized in your kitchen. The layout of the kitchen is another important feature of your kitchen or work-cell design. Most kitchens are laid out in a work-cell design where the storage of spices, refrigerator items, and the sink are close and easy to access and work in. This design using work-cell concepts actually comes from the classic kitchen triangle created in the 1940’s, well before lean was coined. Other kitchens build on this concept but are laid out so that there may be a division of labor or work. Think about how you cook and use your kitchen during a holiday or dinner party.

5S is also a critical part of our kitchen. If your grandmother always put leftovers and other items in reused old opaque containers, it could take a long time to find what you’re looking for since the container isn’t labeled with the correct contents. Worse than taking a long time to find what you are looking for is you eating something that you didn’t want.

I had the opportunity to coach one of my former employees on this when we went to a Ryan’s Stake House after one of our lean adventures. We walked into the buffet, and nothing was labeled. I think I got to try fried okra for the first time, but we weren’t sure.

This experience allowed my colleague to share a story of when we were at a work cookout and everyone was lined up getting their hamburgers, hotdogs and other treats. He worked his way through the line grabbing all the goodies, a hamburger, chips and some vanilla pudding. Just as he was about to sit down, he noticed that he had gathered an audience. But starving from a long day, he put his attention on the pudding, taking a large spoonful.

But this dish didn’t taste like what he expected it to, so he took another bite. That’s when he realized that it wasn’t pudding.

He cried out, “That’s not pudding! It’s mayonnaise!

Everyone in the room burst out laughing. The lesson from this story is that when things aren’t labeled correctly, it may cause a much worse outcome than undesirable cuisine.
Imagine if something toxic was not labeled correctly. I have seen this type of hazard on many of my site visits and tours and have even experienced leftovers all stored in old butter containers (picture shown above).

Gemba Academy Kitchen Kaizen is a great video that highlights how lean may make everyone’s life easier and simpler (see video below). I regularly use this video in kaizen events as well as a coffee-making demonstration where the Kaizen team use a dance/spaghetti diagram to map out the storage of and the flow of making coffee.

The kitchen isn’t the only area in your home that is laid out using lean concepts. The laundry room also utilizes lean concepts, such as point-of-use storage. Laundry soap, bleach, and fabric softener may be stored above or beside the washing machine. The dryer is generally placed right next to or above the washer too. This is a perfect example of order-of-operations, where one may quickly unload the washer into the dryer without having to walk back and forth. Digging deeper into how lean your laundry room may be, you may check out the next article in the Everyday Lean Series about laundry rooms, were we explore the Theory of Constraints, among other lean topics.

The last room that I will mention is actually the best case of point-of-use storage and potentially even inventory management. Can you guess what room I am talking about? The bathroom is the most critical lean layout in our homes, for good reasons. Paul Akers, the founder or FastCap, says that lean starts in the bathroom and utilizing lean in the bathroom by establishing standards and expectation is great. However, I would expand Paul’s statement by saying that lean starts in the home and in everyday life. Lean is carried into our work environment because it is the right thing to do to make life safer and easier for everyone.