5S in the kitchen #4: On to Straightening

As a first step towards “lean” cooking, I am working through the 5S workplace-organization process that begins many lean tranformations. I have now completed the First S – “Sorting”, in which you toss all the unnecessary stuff and keep only the things you really need at hand to get the task done.

In the course of doing this sorting, I’ve learned a few things:

  • You have to be clear on your focus for the space. In the case of the kitchen, the main focus is “preparing meals.” There are many other secondary activities that people do in the kitchen, such as socializing, doing odd household jobs, etc., but allowing too much vagueness about what the room was for is what made it cluttered. When it’s decision time, I decided that the room was for cooking, period.
  • You also have to be realistic. Even though our kitchen is for cooking, it’s where our back door is, so there needs to be a place to put coats and shoes. By the same token, ours is a nice kitchen, but it does not have dozens of extra cabinets and acres of extra counter space. Some things that we’d rather move out have to stay, and some things we’d rather stay have to move out. It’s a shame, but it’s also one of the ways that everyday life is different from a factory: We don’t have the luxury of building custom spaces for every task we do.
  • You may surprise yourself. As I mentioned before, once we moved items from our counters to the staging area on the dining room table, we suddenly realized how unnecessary some previously-critical items were. Now that the counters are wide open and clear, we are reluctant to put things back on them again. So the popcorn popper that just had to be out all the time is finally making the move to a closet after two years on the stove.

Now that the necessary has been separated from the unnecessary, we move on to the next S in the ‘Five S’s’: “Straightening.” This step is also sometimes called “Stabilizing” or “Setting Up” or something like that. (Again, these multiple variations are the consequence of trying to capture the meaning of a Japanese word beginning with S (seiton) with an English word ALSO beginning with S.)

The basic idea of “Straightening” is to put the items in your workspace (which are by now only the truly necessary items for your task) in order. The goal is for the location of items to be efficient, tidy, and easily-understood. Among the commonly mentioned methods:

  • Let the worker who does the job organize their tools rather than some supervisor. Only the worker knows the right placement for their actual workflow.
  • Use ample labeling so that anybody attempting to perform the task, even if it’s not usually their workspace, can easily find what they need.
  • Use visual inventory methods, like drawing an outline around the spot where the tool is kept, so it will immediately be clear where something goes (and more important, when something is missing or out of place).
  • Keep the focus on the work flow. It’s more important that a tool be where it needs to be when it is required than making sure it is grouped with similar tools. For instance, wooden spoons need to be near the stove so they be easily used to stir something in a cooking pot. Sure, wooden spoons could be kept with the dining and serving spoons (since they are all spoons) in a drawer over by the dining room, but that would be valuing “similarity” over “making it easier to cook.” Don’t worry about external categories, worry about keeping the work flowing.

Enough talk, I’m off to do some Straightening.


About adbenking

A journeyman sociologist living in Chicagoland.
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