Guest Post – #LeanProblems


Mark's Note: Here is the second guest post from Christina Kach. Read her first contribution here. Today's post builds on last week's “Chuck Norris” meme post. And see more “Lean Memes” here.

If you've spent any time online recently, it should be no surprise that Internet Memes of all shapes and sizes are taking social media by storm. I'm always impressed by the creativity and humor of these memes; wishing I could tap my inner comedian to develop the next big thing. Well, lightning struck one night as I was reheating leftovers in the microwave. In the tradition of #FirstWorldPains and #WhiteGirlProblems, I took to Twitter to share my new idea of (drumroll) #LeanProblems.

@ChristinaKach: For 1 minute in the microwave I type 60 instead of 1:00. Same result, less motion, more efficient. #LeanProblems

Coworkers and career coaches  will tell you that at the end of the day: leave work at work. For Industrial Engineers and Lean practitioners – no can do! Discovering opportunities for improvement and being bothered by waste everywhere we go is part of who we are and how we think, even after we've technically left work. These are what I mean by #LeanProblems.

As I mentioned in my last guest post, when I was in the 4th grade I mapped out the best route around Walt Disney World. Years later, with my fellow Industrial Engineering classmates in college, no queue line or facility layout was safe from our scrutiny. I specifically remember a time when catering had dropped off food for an IE club meeting, which we promptly reorganized to create a better flow.  We complained about roommates who didn't store the pots & pans in the cabinet next to the stove (the horror!) and a common joke was “I need to put ‘make To-Do list' on my To-Do list.” And now, close to three years out of college, I still find things that I am itching to fix, even when I've left my Lean job for the day. It is how Lean minds see our surroundings. We just can't help it.

I want to share with you some of my personal #LeanProblems. I'm sure you can relate:

  • You watch the bartender fix your drink. And make a mental spaghetti diagram as he travels behind the bar
  • The “top shelf” liquor is located higher than the suggested ergonomic height
  • We don't window shop, we window strategically plan
  • A trip to the mall includes printing out a floor layout and highlighting the stores you need – then drawing your intended path
  • We Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain our desks
  • We don't clean the house. We 5S the house.
  • Your favorite movie is “Toast Kaizen” starring Bruce Hamilton from GBMP
  • I suffered through learning about “exponential” distributions all through college, please don't use it as an adjective (no the fleece pajamas are not exponentially more comfortable than the cotton pajamas)
  • You've been working in Lean for years and still haven't quite figured out how to explain your job to family and friends.
  • Your habits are starting to rub off on your family…. case in point, the next example is from my little sister:

You battle with the dilemma of wasting time circling the parking lot to reduce motion walking to the door versus wasting motion walking to the door to save time by parking in the first spot you see (I say go for time savings)

  • The coffee flavorings are not located next to the coffee pots at my local coffee shop. I want to move them.
  • When someone says to you “we are doing Lean” – a little piece of you dies
  • You don't count calories, you calculate Return on Investment of the calories
  • Other than the Super Bowl, you haven't watched a commercial since the invention of the DVR. I can watch a 60 minute show in 42 minutes? Cycle time reduction = 18 minutes
  • Out of the 1 million products produced…you took home one of the 3.4 defects #SixSigmaProblems
  • When no one is looking, you move things to where “they should be”
  • You catch yourself saying “But I've always…” and feel guilty
  • You level load the chores. While water boils for pasta you can make the salad, chop the onions, set the table, check Twitter and email your Mom.

A few weeks back I was watching a favorite show of mine, Modern Family on ABC, and Cam remarked to Gloria “As a thank you, I took some time to rearrange your kitchen so it makes sense.” Looks like no one is safe from #LeanProblems!

So, what are your #LeanProblems at work or in everyday life? Share them with Mark and me here through the blog comments or reach out to me on Twitter at @ChristinaKach.

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Christina Kach is a Senior Business Analyst on the Continuous Improvement team for a financial services company in Boston, Ma. Christina held her first Lean position as in intern in 2006. Since then she has continued to seek out varied roles of increasing responsibility and actively pursues further Lean education. She recently held the role of Continuous Improvement Lead for a Government Defense Company based in Massachusetts, focusing on Lean implementation and process improvement in a manufacturing environment.


  1. LOL! I watched that Modern Family as well, and when that happened all I could think of was ‘that fat guy must be an IE’

  2. I’m not sure if you’re married or not, Christina, but when a spouse enters the picture a whole new dynamic is introduced with the concept of lean in every day life. Caring, commitment, compromise, patience, aesthetics, and many more factors – maybe we can call it the “Spouse Factor” – make it interesting.

    Entertaining post!

    • Haha Thanks Mark! No, still very much single…I suppose I’ll have to make a #LeanProblems: Spouse Edition down the road.

      • Adding a spouse is akin to adding a new person to a process – there will be some time needed for getting acclimated and learning the process as well as incorporating his or her new ideas for improving the process.

  3. Nicely written, and very true! Could be a “You know you’re a Lean practitioner when…” checklist (and one of the items could be “…you’re always making checklists.”). Looking forward to your next post!

  4. After fumbling with the light switches in my classrooms most of the semester, I took a sharpie and wrote “F” above the switch for the front lights and “B” above the switch for the back lights. I point this out to my Operations Management students every semester.
    Please don’t tell the administrators! ; )

    • I like it Gary! I won’t tell the administrators! Unless of course they read this blog, in which case you are on your own. :)

  5. Excellent list, Christina.

    I have labels on my kitchen cabinet doors so others know where to find items (if my living quarters weren’t a rental I’d remove the doors period).

    Also, my mom keeps her coffee filters on the opposite side of the kitchen and fills the coffee maker with a pitcher – I moved some of her filters to the cabinet above the coffee maker and always fill it with the sink water sprayer (because it can reach the reservoir).

    I’m also trying to get my parents to put labels on their switch panels as well – they often forget which switch controls what gadget.

    • Chad – I’m different in that I wouldn’t go that far in my home. It’s only me and my wife and we (generally) know where things are. I think the argument for labeling is stronger in a workplace that’s shared by a bunch of people.

      In our upcoming Healthcare Kaizen, we have a chapter on Kaizen at Home – including examples from my co-author’s organization. There are a couple of home coffee kaizens like that. Joe’s organization encourages people to do kaizen at home (and document them to share at work, if they want) because it’s good practice for kaizen thinking and reinforcing the idea of small improvements that make your work easier.

      I don’t watch Modern Family, but somebody rearranging another person’s stuff is more “L.A.M.E.” than Lean, in mindset.

      • Mark –

        I concur that labeling cabinets can be a bit overboard for one or two people in a living arrangement but my labeling was done for the benefit of others so they don’t have to scrounge around looking for something…just like in an office. Besides, I would feel a bit hypocritical if I didn’t practice at home what I practiced and preached at the office. :)


  6. Good blog Christina, yet I think that behavior used to be called obsessive compulsive! In fact, Cam has been called that by another of the characters.

    • Mike, I went on a job interview in college, where the gentleman interviewing me was also an Industrial Engineer. He told me, “When I was younger I thought something was wrong with me. When I grew up I found out Industrial Engineering was a major for people like me”

  7. Great Post! My favorite Lean Problem is stirring cream and sugar in Coffee. Total waste! I have standardized on putting cream and sugar into my cup BEFORE I pour the coffee. The action of the pouring mixes the drink and there is no need for wasting the time and material of the stirrer!


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