5s in the kitchen #3: Continuing to Sort.

I continue the process of Sorting in my kitchen. Sorting, the first step of the 5S organization process that kicks off many lean initiatives, focuses on getting rid of anything that doesn’t support the work you are doing.

In the kitchen, this means getting rid of everything that doesn’t support the act of cooking food (which includes decorative elements if they get in the way). I still have a long way to go in this Sorting project; it’s amazing how much clutter a kitchen will begin to accumulate. Here are the types of things I am moving to our staging area for removal from the kitchen:

  • Non-cooking items. The kitchen includes the heavily-used back door of our house, which means that lots of small items get left on the counters as we pass through on the way into or out of the house. Most of these things have nothing to do with cooking, such as random coupons, correspondence, and other documents, plus car keys and many other items that belong somewhere else.
  • Seldom-used cooking items. This includes a coffeemaker that we only use for overnight guests, a wafflemaker, and my favorite: A heavy cast-iron gingerbread-house pan, which would get used at most once a year (and actually has never been used yet). These things clutter up the kitchen and get in the way of everyday cooking.

One reason why the Sorting step is so helpful is that it’s often hard to see things until you move them. After I moved a bunch of things to the staging area (dining room table), both my wife and I noticed how OPEN and AVAILABLE the counters suddenly seemed. We hadn’t realized how confined and useless the counters had begun to feel with all the random stuff there was sitting around on them, because the stuff had become invisible to us. Human beings can get used to anything.

This suggests to me another possible lean lesson: Lean techniques require you to continuously work on improving your processes, even after you think the work is already done. Since it can be hard to see how you might further improve a process you’ve become happy with, it’s often necessary to find ways to disrupt your perceptions of the process, temporarily, so you can see it with fresh eyes.

This could involve leveraging a crisis that appears on its own, or it could involve using a systematic problem-evaluation mechanism like the “Five Whys” to make you look deeper than you otherwise might. It could also involve collecting objective data, perhaps numeric, to give you a different take on things. Or as in our case, it might involve moving all of the kitchen counter items to another room before bringing them back in, one by one, so you can think about them outside of their normal context.

Enough writing for now, and more sorting…


About adbenking

A journeyman sociologist living in Chicagoland.
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