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…

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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…

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Attacking the kitchen with 5S (#1)

In an attempt to stop obsessing about laundry and dishwashing procedures, I’m turning my attention to cooking. I’d like to start thinking how to make the cooking process leaner, since it’s another big area where our everyday time gets eaten up.

I’d prefer to jump right in and start stripping out waste, but looking at the kitchen I realize we’re not ready for that. Before we get into streamlining, we’ll need to get the place organized better. There’s too much clutter to even SEE where the subtle kinds of waste might be.

This isn’t uncommon; many flowcharts of lean transformations that I’ve seen include a cleaning-and-reorganizing step before you get into the core work of lean improvements.

But there’s a hitch: If you don’t know how you are going to be organizing the lean process that you are putting in place AFTER the spring-cleaning, how can you really clean and reorganize things without wasting a lot of time? That is, if the final goal is unclear, how can you really work towards it?

My view is that what our kitchen needs right now is to give us the simple ability to see what’s there. Once everything is visible and at least arranged so similar items are close together, it’ll be more obvious what we are dealing with when the real organizing gets begins.

To put it another way, we are in the first phase of the famous “5S” cleanup process that is commonly used to kick off lean initiatives. In this first phase, called “Seiri” in Japanese and often “Sort” in English, we simply go through everything to see what is there. The main goal is to figure out what is necessary for getting the job done and what is unnecessary. You can guess what we are supposed to do with the unnecessary stuff: Dump it.

So I’ll be going through the kitchen and loosely pulling things together, with an eye toward what really needs to be in there to help us get cooking done, and what is just clutter that gets in the way. I’ll report how it is going, and talk about the other 4 S’s in the “5S” process, in the next post.

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Toddlers are Type-1 muda generators.

Right now I’m reading the book Lean Thinking, and one early idea it talks about that I really like is the distinction between two types of muda (waste):

  1. Steps that create no value but are presently unavoidable due to the constraints of the current setup.
  2. Steps that create no value and are avoidable in the current setup.

Obviously it’s much harder to eliminate Type 1 muda than Type 2 muda, since the former require a total restructuring of your process. In practice, this means that as you pick off the low-hanging fruit of Type 2 wastes, you must tolerate Type 1 wastes until you have the resources to make more radical changes (and you must make them eventually if you want to have a truly lean operation).

An everyday-life example of a currently-unavoidable Type 1 waste is the large amount of waiting we have to tolerate right now. On days when only one parent is home with our toddlers (and often when both of us are home with them), there’s very little time to work on anything besides direct and indirect childcare. Other tasks requiring any kind of concentration are limited to a rushed hour or two during the daily nap, plus a few extra hours some days when our babysitter is here, and whatever we have energy for between the toddlers’ bedtime and ours.

We try to fit in what we can, but inevitably we can’t get to everything we want to with so little time available. So, many tasks simply have to wait. This takes two general forms:

  • Some tasks are never started. Any task requiring a big block of time that cannot be paused midway are rarely attempted. We just don’t have many of those time blocks, and those we do have are often spent catching up.
  • Most other tasks are broken into little pieces that can be done here and there over the course of a day or over several days.

An ideal lean process has of an unobstructed flow of value-creating steps from the moment a need is identified (by a customer, for instance) through to the moment that need is satisfied (by a product or outcome). That flow has no waiting, no buffers, no work-in-progress sitting around, just a smooth and ceaseless chain of value-creating activities from start to finish.

So, clearly many or most of our everyday processes aren’t truly lean right now because they don’t have this kind of flow at all. Indeed, they won’t really have it until the toddlers become much more self-sufficient. How do we respond to this?

I’m trying hard to avoid just throwing up my hands and giving up for the time being on our attempts at a leaner life. My understanding of lean techniques suggests that as we change to a leaner way of doing things, resources will become available that we never had before (such as time to work on other things). In other words, lean techniques don’t have to be a casualty of our situation; they may actually be a remedy for our situation.

But it will take patience. Right now, we have a lot more time for picking off those minor Type-2 mudas than we have for more fundamental Type-1 muda elimination, and we’ll have to be satisfied with that. Meanwhile, I’ll hang on to the reasonable expectation that as Type-2 mudas are extinguished, we’ll find ourselves with more time to work towards the potentially greater rewards that come from quashing Type-1 problems.

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The Seven Kinds of Waste: A Summary.

In this series of posts, I briefly described the seven kinds of waste identified by Taiichi Ohno and other creators of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Identifying instances of each kind of waste in a production process and eliminating them is at the very heart of lean production. Again, the “lean” in “lean production” refers to the lack of waste in the process.

To review, the seven wastes (often called the “7 W’s” or “seven muda,” the Japanese word for waste) that are found in a production process are:








Looking at the 7W’s all together, you can see some patterns among them:

  1. Most of them involve doing or having too much of something, whether it’s keeping too much stuff on hand, moving people or objects around too much, or spending too much time doing things that aren’t needed, making things that aren’t needed, or even doing nothing at all.
  2. Each kind of waste is intertwined with every other kind, to the point that any increase in one kind of waste often leads to an increase in other kinds of waste, and decreases in one kind of waste can lead to a decrease other kinds of waste.
  3. Each kind of waste is both a practical problem and a camouflage for unresolved conceptual problems. Inventory buffers hide poor supply mechanisms; overprocessing hides defective work techniques; waiting hides faulty transportation patterns, and so on. Getting rid of each type of waste doesn’t just solve the immediate problem, it uncovers the design issues that are being obscured by it.
  4. Each kind of waste is an obstacle to flow. The highest goal of any lean process is for it to flow smoothly like a river from beginning to end. Friction wastes energy and resources, and leads to defective and unsatisfying results.

In these commonalities, a vision of lean production can start to take shape. A lean process is one which flows smoothly from start to finish with no obstacles or barriers. Anything that might block or slow the flow is eliminated, an effort that rapidly accelerates as reducing one form of waste in turn reduces other forms of related waste and a feedback loop develops. Fundamental conceptual problems that were obscured by waste are resolved and replaced by new, better visions. All of this keeps on happening, day in and day out, as the continuous process of improvement endlessly refines the process to achieve cheaper, easier, higher-quality results.

There’s nothing magical about the number seven. The TPS could easily have defined five forms of waste, or ten, or dozens. Many wasteful actions in the real world may actually fit into none of the classic categories, or into several. The 7W’s are just rules of thumb to help identify the wasteful parts of a production process and start to correct them.

When thinking about creating a leaner everyday life, it’s worth remembering that finding the seven wastes is the beginning of the process, not the end. It’s not about how many waste categories you can check off, it’s about whether the process is flowing more smoothly, more error-free, more cheaply, and more satisfactorily than it was before. Anything that gets in the way of those goals, whether it’s clearly described by one of the 7W’s or not, is a candidate for reduction or elimination.

Imagination is the only limitation.

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The Seven Types of Waste #7: Waiting.

A big component of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is its identification of the categories of waste (or muda) in the typical production process. Getting rid of these seven wastes is the main goal of a lean production process. (Lean=No Waste.) This is the seventh in a series of posts describing each form of waste and where it can be found in everyday life.

The seven muda are Defects, Inventory, Motion, Overprocessing, Overproduction, Transportation and Waiting. This time we’ll talk about Waiting.

Waiting is probably the easiest form of waste to understand: Whenever people, equipment or processes are idle when they could instead be creating value for a customer, you are generating waiting-related waste.

In the traditional automobile factory, the production process often finds itself waiting for:

  • Supplies: If supplies are not available in time to put them into a car, the process halts until they are available. (I saw this happen first-hand on a tour of a Ford truck plant, which ground to a halt in front of our eyes when a snowstorm on the East Coast stopped the flow of parts into the factory.)
  • Equipment: If equipment has not been configured for the next task, the process halts until it has been reconfigured. This can take a great deal of time on the huge single-purpose machinery of traditional factories; Henry Ford’s automobile plants shut down for months when they had to be reconfigured for a new model.
  • Completion of preceding steps: If the preceding step in a process is not completed in time, the subsequent step will be idle until it has caught up. Traditional factories use push-style systems that rely on guesswork and predictions to judge when steps need to be completed, and these forecasts often go wrong in the real-life chaos of the plant.
  • Quality Inspection: When a production process produces a high number of defects, the product will be forced to wait for time-consuming quality inspection at various points in the process (especially at the end) to ensure that a defective product does not go out to customers.
  • Rework: Similarly, when many defects find their way into a product during the production process, various parts or even the entire product must wait for extensive repair and rework to remove these defects before the product can be shipped.
  • Customer Demand: If the customers do not want what the factory is producing, the factory will eventually be forced to go idle and furlough its workforce until demand picks up or the factory is retooled for a new product line.

Although it is often worthwhile to pause in a production process (to solve a problem, for instance), none of the above examples of waiting adds any value to the product for the consumer. On the other hand, ALL of the above examples of waiting add to the costs and headaches of the manufacturer. This is why waiting is generally seen as a waste by the lean  perspective, and why its reduction or elimination is seen as an unequivocal gain for the production process.

Lean production techniques include a number of solutions for the problem of waiting:

  • Pull-style coordination systems are used to make sure that supply deliveries and manufacturing steps are completed “just in time” for the subsequent process requiring them, and not a moment after (or before).
  • Quick-change equipment procedures are used, such as the famous single-minute exchange of dies (SMED) that drastically reduced the time it took to reconfigure an automobile body panel press for its next task.
  • An intolerance of defects becomes standard procedure. Any defects are quickly traced back to their source using a diagnostic technique such as the “Five Why’s,” and prevented in the future rather than being dumped downstream into subsequent processes. A lean process strives for such a low defect rate that almost no quality inspection or rework is necessary before products are shipped out to customers.
  • Small batches of work are done and flexible multi-purpose machinery are used, allowing the whole process to be rapidly reshaped to match quickly-changing customer appetites. As a result, the workflow is stable, the process is responsive to its constituents, and mistaken predictions of future demand are unable to sideline the operation.

Although reducing waiting has many advantages, it is not easy. Running on the thin time margins found in lean production requires a great deal of trust in the process. Moreover, in the early stages of a lean transformation, waiting is often increased as the process stops continuously to deal with systemic problems. However, as the kinks get worked out, the opposite generally becomes true; lean production processes then become much less prone to interruption than more traditional processes and waiting becomes a negligible issue.

Taking this out of the factory and into everyday life, it isn’t hard to find examples where poorly-organized processes suffer from unnecessary waiting. Postponing necessary maintenance on household equipment can lead to long waits for repairs to be made to the car or lawnmower. Tolerating careless work in the kitchen leads the need to check and recheck food before it hits the table to make sure an important ingredient hasn’t been left out, pushing dinner later. Failing to run the dishwasher or laundry “until you get a full load” can lead to long waits for clean mugs or dress pants. And so on.

When considering the ways that waiting impacts everyday life processes and how it can be eliminated, it’s worth remembering that different forms of waste are usually connected. You cannot get rid of waiting while you still tolerate a lot of defects, because defects lead to waiting. Excess motion or transportation also lead to waiting, as do all of the other forms of waste in some way or another.

There are surprising and revealing connections that always appear when you start to scratch beneath the surface of any kind of production waste and start to get lean.

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The Seven Types of Waste #6: Transportation.

A major contribution of the Toyota Production System (TPS) is its identification of the categories of waste (or muda) in the typical production process. Getting rid of these seven wastes is the primary goal of a lean production process. (Lean=No Waste.) This is the sixth in a series of posts describing each form of waste and where it can be found in everyday life.

The seven muda are Defects, Inventory, Motion, Overprocessing, Overproduction, Transportation and Waiting. This time we’ll talk about Transportation.

Transportation waste is generated whenever you move objects around unnecessarily. (This is related to the waste of motion, which is generated whenever you move people around unnecessarily.)

Obviously, if you are manufacturing something, SOME movement of objects is going to be necessary to get it produced. So how do you know when that movement of objects is necessary versus unnecessary? The acid test for whether something is useful movement versus transportation waste is the same question you can use to identify all other kinds of waste in your process:

Does doing this increase the value of our produced item (or outcome) for the customer?

If the answer is “No,” you are talking about transportation waste rather than necessary movement of parts and supplies.

Hauling stuff around unnecessarily obviously consumes time, energy, labor, and money that could be used for something else. However, there are also some less obvious consequences of needlessly moving stuff around. For example:

  • Increasing inventories. When stuff gets moved around a lot for little reason, it inevitably piles up in various places, robbing space from more useful activities.
  • Increasing defects. Every time you move something around, you risk getting it dirty, damaging it, or losing track of it.
  • Increased waiting. Moving things around unnecessarily means they’ll often not be where they are needed, prompting a lot of waiting around for it to get to where it’s supposed to be.

In the traditional auto industry before lean production, there was an enormous amount of time and energy spent moving parts and supplies here and there between factories and within factories. All of that movement was partly the result (and partly the cause) of the large inventories of surplus parts, supplies, and even completed vehicles sitting around the facilities. According to The Machine That Changed The World, as objects were shifted needlessly here and there throughout the production process, the aisles of automobile plants were constantly jammed full of frenzied workers struggling to get what they needed when they needed it.

The lean production process looks for this kind of unnecessary motion and eliminates it. In the lean automobile plant, parts are delivered by suppliers to workers on the line immediately after they are produced and exactly when the workers need them. This eliminates all of the pointless shuffling of parts from loading docks to warehouses to secondary storage and finally to the production line itself.

Of course, this sort of delicately coordinated movement is only possible because lean producers also try to reduce transportation waste at a much larger scale by locating their facilities (and those of their vendors) geographically close to one another. Indeed, all of these operations are also located as close as possible to the customers they will serve, reducing another kind of transportation waste generated when products are shipped to customers. (The reduction of wasted movement is one big reason why so many Japanese automobile producers have factories in the United States and Europe. Nothing adds to a car’s sticker price like a long ocean voyage.)

In everyday life, there are many opportunities to reduce the amount of time and energy we spend hauling things around unnecessarily. For instance, I mentioned in one of my laundry posts that I use collapsible laundry baskets now rather than solid baskets. The reason I do this is simple: It allows me to simply drop the basket down the laundry chute when I’m done putting clean clothes away rather than having to carry the basket back down to the basement myself.

Another example gets into those larger-scale transportation questions that led lean manufacturers to change where they located their factories: Many suburbanites turn grocery shopping into a multi-stage food transportation process. Food is bought in massive batches at the store and then brought home, where it is put into a freezer. From the freezer, the food eventually moves to the fridge when it’s time to thaw it for dinner. Then, days or weeks or even months later, the food is finally cooked and eaten. This doesn’t even count all of the movement of food around as you re-organize the fridge or freezer after buying even more food.

There is another way to handle all of this with less wasted motion: Buy only the food you need for at most a day or two of meals, and then bring it directly back to the kitchen where it’ll immediately be cooked and eaten. No need for large freezers or stuffed cabinets, no need for jostling stuff around in your pantry. Food shows up only when it is needed, is only transported once from the store to the kitchen, and doesn’t stick around.

Is it possible to actually live this way? In the suburbs, maybe not. If you live in a city where a grocery store may well be a hundred yards from your front door, it may be possible to live like this. (I’ve often heard that this is the way people live in urban European cities, where there’s little market for the huge refrigerators and freezers and pantries Americans are used to.) Whether this particular example is realistic for you or not, it shows the issues that come up when you start thinking about reducing transportation waste: The very basic assumptions of your system (i.e., where you choose to live) have a direct influence on the wastes your everyday processes will have to deal with.

As you try to reduce the waste in your everyday processes, think about the ways you might be moving things around unnecessarily. Yes, you will always need to move some things around to get your work done (those dishes won’t put themselves away), so the key is to focus on the truly unneeded movement of things.

How do you know what movement isn’t needed? Ask the everyday-life version of the question I mentioned earlier: “Does this movement of stuff add real value to the everyday lives of the people I care about (including me)?” If not, it’s transportation waste, and it’s time to ditch it and find another way of doing things.

One warning: A common way to try to reduce transportation waste is to increase the size of your batches. For example, taking more items with you in your arms whenever you go down to the basement, saving yourself some downstairs trips.

Try not to do this! Lean production principles argue that larger batch sizes tend to cause more problems than they solve. Instead of relying entirely on making fewer trips and carrying larger payloads, look more deeply at the process itself: Why are you carrying all of this stuff around anyway? Is it all necessary? Would some of it be better located close at hand rather than down in the basement? Reducing transportation waste is ultimately about getting rid of wasted movements, not just increasing their capacity.

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