Monday, July 16, 2007

Just Start It

My wife and I usually share the kitchen clean-up duties each evening.  With no particular concern as to who does what, we get the table cleared, dishes done, counters wiped down and tidied just after supper. 
Recently, we were getting the routine started when I received a phone call.  I took care of that business and came back to the kitchen to find my wife had all the hand washing done already, a task that seemed large to me.  I remarked on the speed to her, which was a comment I suspect she had been waiting to hear for some time.  She gave me a wry smile, as if to say "Pay attention here, Mr. Process Improvement Guy, you might learn something."
She pointed out to me that she does not wait to get all the washing and rinse water run before she starts washing.  Rather, she flips on the water, puts in some soap and immediately begins the hand wash as the wash water fills the sink.  She then sets the washed item in the (empty) rinse sink.  Once she has enough wash water, she moves the nozzle to fill the rinse sink, already holding several washed items.
"You see, I don't wait to get started like you do.  I don't get it the water in before I wash.  I just get going and the water takes care of itself.  It's a lot faster."  She smiled and walked away.  I chuckled and dried all the rapidly-washed pots and pans.  
Two key but simple lessons here, one technical and one behavioral.
In Lean terminology, she eliminated virtually all of the "set-up time" from the process of washing the dishes.  By doing the value-added work of washing the pots as the sink filled, the total time to wash the dishes was nearly the total time of the entire process.  It was a rapid changeover, done instinctively.   
Behaviorally, she demonstrated the value of getting started sooner rather than later.  Extending the old Nike slogan a bit, she said "Just Start It."  In many cases, the sooner we start, the sooner we get done, particularly on more routine tasks. 
Keep learning.  Even in the kitchen. 


Scott said...

I've found washing dishes (and kitchen work in general) to be a good proving ground for lean activities. I'll give you a couple of other things to chew on that I've observed, and have changed my process to include:

1. Start the wash process at the same time as (or even prior to) the cooking process. Wash a couple of things while something else is going on.

2. To leapfrog onto your wife's observation, start washing as the sink fills up, and use the water that is filling it to do the rinsing rather than putting items into a rinse sink and doing them later (this is a good lesson in single piece vs. batch processing, and more importantly, saves water). Only fill while you have rinsing to do. On the other side of the single piece/batch processing coin, if you're dealing with small quantities of items to wash (since you're basically washing the cooking ustensils as they get dirty) why not scrub 3 or 4 items, and then rinse them together while you're filling up the sink further for bigger items? Sometimes it makes sense to batch process when time isn't a constraint, but resources (the water) are.

3. If you use a dishwasher, a little care in the loading process goes a long way toward speeding up the unloading process: Put all like silverware in the same part of the basket, facing the same direction. Put like dishes together, etc. as well.

4. Most importantly, if you have the opportunity to design a new or remodeled kitchen, make it so you can reach what you need to use from where you are using it!

That's my two cents' worth, thanks for giving me an avenue to toss out some things I've been thinking about.

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