Friday, January 30, 2009

Moments in the snow.

We got buried on Wednesday the 28th. 12.5 inches of snow dropped on Indianapolis a couple days ago resulting in two days of closed schools. There was plenty of opportunities to use continuous improvement to make the big job of snow removal a little easier. Before we even started, I suggested that we take a moment to find ways to improve the process of clearing the snow...

My oldest son had a dilemma. He had to get out to the BMV to get his learner's permit for the driving part of his drivers ed class. Our street is never plowed since we live on a dead end so we didn't want to get stuck. His kaizen was to measure the height of the snow in the street and then measure each vehicles ground clearance to pick the car with the best clearance to improve the chance of getting out. As simple as this is, I praised him for his data based decision making process!

My oldest daughter had a kaizen moment as well. As all five of us were clearing the driveway, it occurred to her that our process of snow removal could have been improved. We had cleared most of the snow off our pavement when we started to clean off the two cars. She observed that since we didn't start by brushing off our vehicles, we had wasted time moving the snow twice. As I thought about what she said, I realized that she was right-we had wasted time by moving the snow needlessly. This lead to her"Top down" snow removal approach: Start at the highest point where there is snow and clear it from top to bottom. I was impressed at her observation!

Lastly, we helped four other neighbors to dig out of the snow. We had fun helping other people and our last exercise was for all of us to make snow angels before heading in for a warm beverage. Some of our improvements included shoveling between the tire tracks only, pushing instead of picking it up, and if shoveling, only moving snow the minimum height and distance needed. After returning to work, several of my co-workers complained of how sore and tired they were moving snow in their own drive. I had to chuckle...using kaizen, we helped our community, cleared our driveway, and turned this chore into a fun family memory!

What have you improved today?

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Applying Lean in the kitchen:World record time unloading the dishwasher

New World record time unloading our dishwasher and placing all dishes, silverware, and cups away: 1 minute and 30 seconds on 1/28/09.

It's fun to set world records. Guinness may not care but it's cool to turn work into a game which helps draw the kids into it. My youngest son and I have a two person unloading record of two minutes and forty six seconds but we should be able to smash based on what we have learned about standardized work. Here's a few lesson we learned:

  • We load our plates and bowls on the bottom rack.
  • When the dishes are clean, we can take the entire bottom rack out and set it on the counter for faster unloading.
  • Turning the silverware caddy around 180 degrees makes the unloading easier and faster.
  • Cups and large spoons are loaded in the top of the rack.
  • Placing similar cups in the same rack row makes for faster collection and stacking.

The kitchen work is getting simpler and easier because we eliminating the variability of how the dishes are loaded. The process is not perfect but it is getting better little by little. In fact, I am seeing more improvements everyday as we are moving slowly and building "kitchen consensus".

What have you improved today?

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Applying Lean in the kitchen: Kids loading dishes...

In my previous post, we have been working to use continuous flow to help make it easier to process the dishes. Here is my innovation to help the kids to use flow rather than "batch and queue" dirty dishes:

Yeah, it's not going to win any art prizes but it is effective in getting the kids to put their plates and silverware in the dishwasher. The sign was designed to cover the drain hole in the sink and I placed it under a plastic lid to keep it from getting wet. So, when the kidlets come to the kitchen sink, they see the instructions. This signage only comes out when the washer is empty and has room for the next load of dirty dishes. My process is the run the wash cycle just before bedtime and put away the clean dishes when the coffee is brewing first thing in the morning. Because of this, the dishwasher and sign are out all day capturing used dishes. I haven't measured the success rate but I believe it's about 80% of the dirty dinnerware gets put in. The kids follow the sign to the letter...which leads me to my next improvement and change the sign soon to read, "Rinse your dish and place it in the washer". ;)
My oldest daughter came home from college and told me that she was going to put her utensils in the sink but she saw the sign and put them in the washer. Even college students can be trained...
My next post is about shaving down the time to put away clean dishes and our "world record" unloading time. See you then!
What have you improved today?
Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Applying Lean to the kitchen; Fewer dishes, less work!

I have been using flow to reduce the work for dishes and reduce the number of utensils used in a day. Collecting some data, I determined that we were using around 21 cups a day as a family of six. In other words, we were using reusable cups like they were disposable. Also, the dishes piled up in the sink in a batch and queue system all the time making more work for my wife and I after a hard days work. So, kaizen to the rescue.
  • The device below is a small cup holder I made out of a shoebox to "meter" the cup use to reduce one and done usage.
  • In the morning everyone gets a cup-upside down means it clean so they get a fresh one everyday.
  • The cup is flipped over when it’s first used and remains upright and used all day.

  • Each hole has the initial of the persons name next to it for each person’s home position.

  • The rubber band has their name on it and they can put it on so if they take the cup away it won’t get mixed up with the others.

This improvement alone has reduced the number of dishes used by a significant amount and we're down to about one washer load a day. So, we're using fewer dishes, less water to wash, less dishwasher detergent, and less energy because we are doing fewer loads. The other nice benefit is that we are seeing a cleaner kitchen and with the next kaizen I will show you, the kids are doing more of the work.

What have you improved today?

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Final tally: We saved $8,285.39 dollars in 2008 using Kaizen.

The results of my tabulation are in: $8,285.39 saved because our family looked for a way to continually improve and reduce waste. I am stunned but happy and our saving account is better for it, Here's some of the details...

Largest savings: Installing my own furnace saving $2,675 over the quoted contractor price. Using a technique that Toyota calls "learn by doing", I learned by helping someone do it and then did it myself. Believe me, I'm not the most mechanically inclined but with some help from my brother, we did it and got compliments from people that looked at the final installation. Learn more at

Second largest saving: $1791 in cash and gift cards recovered by selling items from the Great Household Purge. We've been thining out our household inventory and getting rid of the waste we have accumulated. Learn more from these posts:

Third largest savings: $1300 from mixing and matching employer benefits. See

Most caffinated savings: $5.56 from buying no new coffee filters in 2008. I developed a process to re-use paper coffee filters over and over and the coffee tastes just fine.

Dumbest savings: $32. Canceling the paper that no one read, no one used, and had to be taken to be recycled. Duh!

Most delicious saving: $30. Picked gobs and gobs of apple from wild trees and they were so good. These trees aren't sprayed so they were as good as organic although some looked a little gnarly.

Quickest savings: $20 in 3 seconds. When I had my Toyota's timing belt replaced at the recommended mileage, I asked, "Could I get a free oil change with that?"

Random savings: $30-$50. My neighbor would get surplus groceries and they would bring them over to us what they didn't need. I didn't keep real good track but it saved us a bunch on eggs, soda pop, hash browns and other food.

Wettest savings: $840. My wife save this much off our annual YMCA membership by teaching periodic swim lessons, something she loves to do.

Most fun cash recovery: $22.00. Going though items to donate in the basement and found cash in a old bag. Sweet.

Teenage cash kaizen: $100. Asking the bank manager for any coupons for free cash for my son opening his first account. She had one coupon left for a free $100 for a new checking acct of $100 or more. Cha-ching.

Try using continuous improvement or kaizen at your home in 2009. Ask yourself these questions to find ways of improving. Here's some easy questions to ask yourself and your family as you start your journey...

  • Can I do this easier?
  • Is there a better, faster, or cheaper way?
  • Is there an alternative?
  • What can we do to reduce wasted time, energy, and money?

Soon, you'll be traveling down the Kaizen Way!

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Chill out: Simple changes make your house warmer

Have you ever thought about how many times your outside door is opened and the Arctic air rushes in? Every time you or a family member does this, the temperature inside the home falls and the furnace has to run more to heat the air. It seemed that our home was a revolving door of people going inside and out and the indoor air was constantly getting chilled in certain areas. After studying this problem, I started to analyze the number of reasons we needed to go outside. So I broke the reasons down for needing to go in and out of the house. Here's what I found were the two biggest reasons:

1) To let the dog out in the backyard on his run line (we do not have a fenced in backyard):
First opening: Pull the line in from it's outside home position and hook up the dog.
Second opening: Let the dog out.
Third opening: Let the dog in.
Fourth opening: Unhook the dog and put the line back in it's outside home position.

So, the door had to be opened four times to put the dog out once!
Countermeasure: Place the line home position hook inside the screen door so that it doesn't have to be opened to hook him on the run line.
Countermeasure: Only open the door about one foot to let the dog in and out. Opening any wider than this is just waste.

Now, we only open the door twice to let dog in and out.

2) To walk the dog on his leash:
First opening: Pull the leash in from it's outside home position in the breezeway and hook up the dog.
Second opening: Leave to walk the dog.
Third opening: Return from walking the dog.
Fourth opening: Unhook the dog and put the line back in it's breezeway home position.

Again, the door had to be opened four times any time we need to walk the pupster!
Countermeasure: Place the leash home position hook inside coat closet so the dog can be hooked up in the house.

These two simple changes have reduced the number of times we need to open outside doors by about 10 times a day. I have realized that you have to step back and examine what you are doing to see the inefficiency and how things could be done better. A simple improvement, or kaizen, like this can really make a difference. By better insulating the doors leaks and reducing the number of times the doors are opened, everyone in the household has noticed how much more comfortable the kitchen air is.

What have you improved today?

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome to 2009

Another year has gone...

Another year has come...

I hope you have the best New Year ever. I'll post my resolutions as I reflect on the past year in a day or two. I wish all my family, friends and readers a blessed and happy new Year!

What will you improve in 2009?

Dan Lafever, Kaizeneer