Lean Diaper Changing


    Sean Michael's World: Lean Diaper Changing

    This isn't from first-hand experience, believe me. Here's a post that linked to me from the blog that's tracking a baby who was born just two weeks ago. Dad is a Six Sigma black belt, but it sounds like he's getting into Lean and applying it to the baby.

    I love how Dad has done his best to define “value” in the baby's terms:

    Sean is our customer. What's valuable to him is a clean diaper change as fast as possible. As we organize the changing table and process, it should all be designed to deliver that clean diaper efficiently. Change Sean when he needs to be changed. Keep trying to do it better.

    My first attempts were clumsy, at best, as I figured out the process. Undress, open diaper, cover Sean with a cloth, apply baby wipe, apply clean diaper, re-dress, calm screaming infant. It took a few tries to learn that:

    • Sean really only complains when he is getting undressed. Try to minimize the amount of time that he is undressed, i.e. arrange all materials before undressing him
    • Sometimes the cold air has an effect on him – cover him with a cloth to prevent an unpleasant accident.
    • Those baby wipes are cold! Heat them up, will ya? (Best $23 we've spent so far)
    • Get that diaper closed properly (one blow-out brought this error to my attention)

    Without getting out the stopwatch, I think we're down to about 60 seconds for the whole process. Take that NASCAR pit crew (another excellent example of Lean).

    A nice example of Everyday Lean! He's practicing “external setup” by having everything prepped (5S-ed even?) before undressing the baby.

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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.


    1. Actually, I find this concept rather sad. I am an opponent of “everyday lean.” Lean is not a way to live our lives. Lean is a business enterprise system, not a philosophy of life. NASCAR is a business, therefore the analogy fits, but everyday life should not be an experiment in lean systems.

    2. Mike, can you elaborate on why you think it’s inappropriate to apply lean outside of business? Your comment comes across as a curmudgeonly “I just don’t like it.”

      How is it sad to try to minimize a baby’s discomfort during a diaper changing?

      How is it harmful if I have my home supply of paper towels and toilet paper on a 2-bin kanban system in the garage, ensuring that we don’t stock out?

      Don’t get me wrong, I don’t run my whole life through lean principles (for instance, is this typing that I’m doing “value added?”), but I don’t see what’s wrong with applying some principles to solve problems we face in real life.

    3. I’m with you, Mark. I’m always trying things at home, usually when others aren’t involved (so I don’t drive my wife crazy). If nothing else, it’s good practice for bringing the ideas to work.

    4. Two thoughts:
      1) The prepping must be to 6S standards. Little hands find all sorts of things to bring to the face.
      2) Time reduction is a very desired outcome for the changer as well as the changee. Whatever can be done to reduce the contamination, temperature discomfort, and time away from more rewarding activities is value gained.

    5. Having my first baby recently myself, I personally have had fun applying lean thinking to diaper changing. My wife and I actually designed and built our own changing table setup using a plastic bin and plastic drawer setup from Walmart.

      We had one of those plastic bins in the hospital, and it seems to be a much better design than the usual flat changing table. You can step away from the baby without needing a strap. Plus the whole setup is light and easy to move for cleaning under it. And you can hang your wipe, clean diaper, and fountain-of-youth cloth right on the side for quick one-handed deployment.

      Current pinch point is redressing. That’s partly because we are careful to count shaps for the little guy so that come kindergarten we can start on algebra.

      We had fun bringing our newborn into Walmart to find the right size bin. We had them layed out on the floor and tried the little guy in 2 or 3 of them. It probably looked a little strange even by Walmart standards!

      I think lean thinking is lean thinking. It’s not like you can turn it off anyway. Might as well have some fun with it. I often advise people to consider that before learning how to see waste. It really can become an obsession, but rarely is that harmful in my experience.

    6. Note to Sean: I am on baby 3 and can change him with a 4 year old climbing on my back all the while watching a football game and yelling at my 2 year old. Oh, and I am around 28 seconds too. Also we used to do the warm wipes, changing table, etc. Now we just plop the kid down and get on with it whereever we may be. You’ll get the hang of it. Congrats on your baby. They are the best blessing you will ever have! Oh and the guy who said this is sad… all I can say is Lean rocks! Just ask Sean’s kid.


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