Kitchen Lean: Standardized Oatmeal?


I'm often challenged by people (including my wife sometimes), “why don't you apply lean concepts at home, Mr. Lean?” I haven't shadowed my kitchen items (that would look bad), but I do apply some general 5S concepts, including keeping most commonly used kitchen tools closest to the stove and workspace, etc.

One lean lesson I've thought of comes from packages of instant oatmeal, of all things. At my doctor's urging, I'm eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast each morning to try to help get my cholesterol down. I have about four different boxes of different flavors of Quaker instant oatmeal. All of the packets are single serving and seem to make the same amount of oatmeal.

Would you believe the amount of water you add isn't standardized? Some packets call for 1/2 cup of water, some call for 3/4 cup, it depends on the flavor. It makes me wonder how highly engineered these oatmeals are or why “Cinnamon” would be that much different than “Blueberry.”

After one really dry bowl of oatmeal, I realized a mistake and learned to read each package (referring to the “standard work” I suppose).

But, if this were a factory and I had similar production parts with a difference like that, I would probably either:

A) Go back to the supplier and ask them to standardize the “amount of water” required. I would want to reduce human error by eliminating the need to think about “how much water do I add” (or whatever's equivalent for a real part)

B) Eliminate the component options that required “a different amount of water” to keep things simple and consistent in the factory.

I know your factory doesn't make oatmeal, but do you see the analogy I'm making?

Time for coffee!

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.



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