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How to Apply Lean Principles Beyond Work

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Dec 18, 2018 7:12:00 AM

home leanWe promise not to turn this blog into the next big thing in lifestyle content, but a recent conversation sparked an idea. Everyone here at KaiNexus is a massive fan of the Lean business approach - and for good reason. It helps companies reduce cost, better position themselves to compete, and develop leadership qualities in team members. Well, it turns out, that enthusiasm isn’t limited to helping our clients understand and implement Lean. After chatting a bit about it, we discovered that many members of our team have applied Lean principles to life outside of the office as well. In some cases, we didn’t even realize we were doing it; Lean thinking just took over.

Here are a few examples of how to leverage the power of Lean in real life.

Focus on Value

Lean doesn’t just dictate what companies do; it also tells them what not to do. Everything that doesn’t add value to the customer is considered waste and is eliminated. Consider your own obligations and activities. Are there things you do out of habit or guilt that don’t enrich your life? Maybe making snow angels with the kids will be a more valuable use of your time than putting the toys in the box – again.

Appreciate Incremental Improvement

One of the core ideas of Lean management is that small changes can add up to a significant impact. Processes are improved continuously with the ultimate goal of perfection, but you get there little by little. This applies to everyday life as well. You don’t need to work out an hour a day or cut out all sweets to achieve positive changes in your health. A walk every other day and smaller serving sizes can make a big difference. All or nothing thinking can cause us to put off change altogether and keep us from our goals, so think of the adjustments you’d like to make as an improvement cycle.

Apply 5S

5S is a workplace organization method popular in Lean companies. It is used to create and maintain an organized, clean, and safe workplace through the following five steps (all which start with "S," both in the original Japanese and in English): sort, straighten, shine, standardize, sustain. What might this look like at home?

Sort: Remove clothing and other items that you don’t frequently use so that you will have easy access to the things you do enjoy.

Straighten: Keep items close to where they will be used.

Shine: Immediately clean and carefully store small appliances and cooking equipment after use.

Standardize: Have a set day for tasks like changing the sheets or vacuuming the upholstery.

Sustain: Reassess your success with respect to the above regularly.

Use the 5 Whys Technique

Asking the question, “Why,” until you reach the root cause of an issue works at home as well as it does in the office. (You may be terrific at this if you have a three-year-old.) The advantage of this approach is that it helps to find the cause of a problem without laying blame. (It’s all about why, not about who.)

Here’s an example:

The kids are often late for school.


We don’t leave the house on time.


It takes longer to get everyone dressed and ready than we expect.


There is often a missing article of clothing or homework assignment?


We don’t get organized the night before.

Ah-ah! You’ve found the cause, and the solution is clear.

Use Kanban

Kanban is a form of visual management that is super useful at home. I use it to make sure I never run out of a few kitchen staples that I don’t have to buy very often. I keep my flour, salt, sugar, and Splenda in clear containers so that all I have to do is glance in the cupboard before I go to the store to know if I need to pick something up. (Looks like I need to grab some sugar.)

Minimize Waste

Lean organizations look for ways to eliminate waste by identifying processes and resources that add value, those that don’t add value but are necessary under current conditions, and those that don’t add value and should be eliminated. Doing this at home can simplify your life and save you time and money. An overcrowded fridge is an example of the waste of inventory. You may let food spoil because you didn’t know it was hiding in the back. The full fridge may be due to making more food than your family can eat, or in Lean terms, overproduction. Once you have an eye toward waste reduction, you’ll likely be surprised by how much you find.

As you ponder your New Year’s Resolutions for 2019, consider how you might incorporate Lean thinking into achieving your goals. Here are some ideas for making your kitchen more Lean in a post we shared a while back. We’d love to hear how you use Lean outside of the workplace.

Topics: Lean

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