5S in the kitchen #2: Sorting.

In my attempt to get our kitchen prepared for “leaner”cooking, I began the famous 5S workplace-organization process that usually kicks off lean transformations. The idea is that once you get your workspace organized, you can really start finding the wastes in your process. Naturally, as you uncover and eliminate waste, you will do further reorganizing. So the 5S process is just a systematic method for hitting a moving target wherever it is right now, not something set in stone.

The first S in the “5 S’s” is commonly translated in English as “Sort.” That translation doesn’t quite capture the intended meaning, as the Japanese word “seiri” means something more like “Disposition.” But fans of the 5S’s, enjoying how all of the step names began with an S in Japanese, have tolerated some clumsy translating to make them all begin with S in English, too. That’s okay, Sort works just fine.

Anyway, the Sort step involves going through the workspace and getting rid of anything that doesn’t contribute to the work being done. One method, as described in Don Tapping’s New Lean Pocket Guide, is to “red tag” anything that might be superfluous and move it to a separate staging area where supervisors can look through it. The goal is to store, transfer, or eliminate anything in the workspace that doesn’t help or even worse, gets in the way of the work being done.

I’ve designated as our red-tag staging ground one end of our dining room table, which is quite long right now with two extra leaves left in it from our holiday dinners. I’ll be moving everything there that doesn’t really seem helpful in the kitchen, awaiting a decision on what to do with it.

It’s hard to know what is truly necessary in a kitchen because unlike a factory, a kitchen is both a workspace and a living space. Some things in a kitchen are there purely for aesthetic appeal even though they aren’t really helpful in the act of cooking. What really deserves to get the boot?

For now I’m going with the simple rule that aesthetic objects are fine, but only if they don’t get in the way of creating a good cooking space. So wall hangings, yes. Decorative jars that take up counter space, no.

Speaking of decorative jars, we have a set of large vintage glass jars on our kitchen counter that we’ve long envisioned holding cookies and other treats for our little kids. The problem is that the kids are still too young for such things, so the jars have instead become random bric-a-brac containers that take up a lot of counter space without adding to the cooking process at all.

I’d been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to repurpose those jars, because among other things, I assumed my wife would never let me move them. When I mentioned this to her, to my surprise she immediately suggested we put them somewhere else. She recognizes that the cookie-jar plans are on hold for now, and wants to make sure the jars don’t get broken while pointlessly taking up space on the counters.

I had no idea she felt this way, and never would have if I hadn’t mentioned it to her. This reminded me again of a big lesson from lean production:

Most of the change has to come from the bottom up, not from the top down, so involve EVERYBODY in the process of change.

I’ll try to remember that as I move unneeded items to the staging area over the next few days. It pains me to make the dining room messier just to make the kitchen cleaner, but the dining room has a date with 5S in its future, too…


About adbenking

A journeyman sociologist living in Chicagoland.
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2 Responses to 5S in the kitchen #2: Sorting.

  1. Pingback: Continuing to Sort the kitchen. | Everyday Lean

  2. Pingback: 5S in the kitchen #4: On to Straightening | Everyday Lean

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