Lean management techniques are used mostly by business establishments. However, these techniques can also be used by families at home increase productivity.
By Rangashree Srinivas
Picture this. A much hassled mother of two children: a foot-dragging 13-year-old and a mischievous 6-year-old. The mother has a bad night, sleeps through the 5:00 am alarm and wakes up at 6:00 am instead. The school bus arrives at 7:30 am, and she has to prepare breakfast, pack a snack and lunch, and help the younger child get ready for school. The older child has to prepare for the class test in the morning. Horror! Both children are still sleeping. The tension builds up. If the husband had been in town, he might have woken them up and helped with the snack-packing.
All hell breaks loose, as the stressed-out mother loses her cool and transfers her tensions on to the children. The younger one has wet her bed again! The older one is not coming out of the bathroom! The younger one does not go to school as it is too late; the older one has stormed out of the house in tears, with a semi-packed school bag and the previous day’s leftovers for lunch. The mother is left with a migraine and a cranky child to manage during the day.
Many households experience similar morning madness, ranging from mild to utter chaos, setting the tone for the rest of the day. This takes a toll on everybody’s productivity and peace of mind. Parents and children alike lead stressful lives. Children experience disturbance, and do not get a chance to learn these life-skills with a positive attitude. Parents have health-related issues and they go through feelings of inadequacy, guilt and self-doubt.
There is a way out of this vicious circle through 'lean management': a Japanese style of managing resources efficiently and being more organised. Though commonly used by corporates, it can also be practised at home by families, says a Kaizen consultant and Lean management expert, S Durairajan. This can be done through better management of emotions and demonstrating good practices.
Introduced by Toyota Motor Company, the key elements of Lean are:
Durairajan explains, ”Corporate organisations and families need to be managed well in order to run without hiccups. Delayed starts, under-preparedness and unexpected events interrupting the manufacturing processes result in short delivery to some customers (mother oversleeping and child bedwetting, in our family example). Delivery failures leave dissatisfied customers and create a negative image of the company (the entire family). To add to this, labour issues can cause additional headaches for the management (mother). This is further aggravated by the untimely absence of a key manager (the husband) and the lack of alternate processes to make up for the lost time. Complexity actually increases in the households due to the intense emotions evoked between the members.”
5S is a key factor in practising lean management. They are illustrated here with tips on how this applies inside the home.
Remove unwanted things and retain only the items that are needed.
In the kitchen: Store only the vessels and food items needed for weekday use in easily accessible shelves. Put away reserve supplies on the shelves above; rarely used items in the harder-to-reach areas. Definitely do a monthly clean, and throw away things that haven't not used for at least six months.
Systematically arrange in the sequence of use.
In the bathroom: Run a weekly check for essentials such as toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shampoo etc. Likewise lay out your clothes and the children’s uniforms the night before. Encourage your children to take responsibility for towels, ironed clothes, underwear, clean socks and shoes. Introduce the concept of checklists to them when they are young, as a game. Teach them to keep their things in an easy-to-reach orderly way.
Keep the place and items sparklingly clean.
In the kitchen: Half-an-hour of extra effort cleaning the kitchen the night before, will save you from a day’s worth of tension. If you have a maid to wash utensils, rinse out the used vessels. Stack them neatly in a pre-assigned area so that they don’t come in the way of your morning kitchen work. Wash what is needed and set them aside in an accessible place. Enlist the help of your children and spouse in taking on different cleaning and arranging assignments.
The practice of regularly sorting, of systematically arranging and cleaning.
In the house: Plan and fine tune the sort, sequence and shine processes in every area of your home. Involve your family one Saturday night on a pretend play of board-room strategy where each family member is an important board member contributing key ideas and strategies. Evolve a game plan on a white board with different coloured markers for each family member. Develop a strategy that works for your family with ideas pooled in by everybody, with individuals taking on specific responsibilities.
Demonstrated by you as an adult, and involving the children in sorting, systematically arranging and standardizing processes.
At home: If your children see you sorting out your wardrobe at regular intervals, they will do the same. Resist the temptations of impulsive shopping; this will de-clutter the house and help you gain contentment with fewer possessions.
Ideally, she could have had a backup plan for breakfast and lunch – something easy to prepare, in case she woke up late. Instead of losing her temper, she could have asked the older child to eat at the canteen or deliver lunch at school if that was possible. She could have ‘empowered’ the children to take on greater responsibility in the absence of her husband – like encouraging them to wake up at the first call; pack their own lunches; complete school work the previous night. In short, planning and organizing for the next day should be the last activity of the day to ensure success in everyday activities. It is very important to prepare oneself and the children mentally about the activities of the next day and plan out a sequence for doing them.
Lean management requires consensus and bonding, to be practised well. The entire family should eat dinner together; talk about the day’s events, discuss interpersonal issues that arise during the day (without blaming one another); and follow it up with ideas for a better and smoother tomorrow. This way, a culture of continually improving the processes and the self, can be ushered.
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