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My Swiss 5S Kitchen Experiment

by Hal on July 14, 2005

in lean

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I moved to Switzerland in 1989 to Work for ABB for two years. I went ahead of my family. That gave me the opportunity to get the house ready for their arrival. I had plenty of time on nights and weekends in the two months before they arrived to tinker with the organization of our stuff. Two years earlier I had the fortune of visiting Japan for 3 weeks where I was introduced to 5S. What a perfect opportunity (I thought) to organize the kitchen along the lines of what we would do in the kitchen and quick access to what was needed for doing it.

We had (what I thought was) a good-sized galley kitchen. All the cabinets and appliances were along one wall. There was also a large pantry cabinet on one end. I started by storing the pots and pans in the lower cabinet between the dishwasher and the range. It made sense to me. It was the largest of lower cabinets. It made for short movements when retrieving a pan and when putting it away when emptying the dishwasher. I then moved to the coffee and tea. I placed the coffee, tea, filters, French Press, espresso cups, sugar bowl, coffee mugs, and tin of cinnamon above the coffee maker. Everything we needed was in short reach of where we would use it. I felt so proud. I went on to organize the baking items all together. Sugar, flour, canned fruit, preserves, baking powder, baking soda, shortening, mixing bowls, and measuring spoons together on the shelf above where I thought my wife would do the baking. I was on a roll. I then organized glassware alongside the canned juice, cereal, breakfast bars, and cereal bowls in a lower cabinet in easy reach for the children. I continued with this 5S approach until everything was in its place. I couldn't wait for my wife and children to arrive.

I was sure Rita would be so impressed. She wasn't! I had organized for high efficiency of access based on the task we (normally she) would perform. The problem was everything was of different sizes and shapes. It was terribly inefficient in the use of the quite limited space in that galley kitchen. While there was plenty of airspace in the cabinets there was little we could do with that space. It had to be done over. It turned out to be a blessing. Rita and our next door neighbor got a good laugh and became close friends as they completely rearranged my handiwork to get all our stuff organized in the way she was used to working. That was my big lesson with 5S. You can't organize without including the people who will be doing the work.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andy W July 15, 2005 at 6:28 am

You might want to recheck the word “panty cabinet” in the S5 article. I’m sure your wife has one, but in the kitchen…probably not. :) I’m sure you meant Pantry. Great Site – keep up the good work.

2 Hal July 15, 2005 at 8:35 am

Thanks Andy. Spell checkers only go so far!

3 Michael Marx July 15, 2005 at 10:58 am

What a great example of Everyday Lean. I often ran into a similar situation when I tried to pack the car for a trip. I’d pack it tight and fill in all the empty space only to find that I packed certain bags out of the reach of my wife. I focused on space vs utility. I learned the same lesson as you did…I must include the “reacher” in the packing process.

4 Katie July 15, 2005 at 11:47 am

Hal…how quickly you forgot about involving those who use/do the work. You left ABB (us) with that lesson (smile!)…..remember also our “Adopted Improvements” list (it/they gain momentum under this same lesson.)

5 Hal July 15, 2005 at 12:25 pm


What was I supposed to do? Rita was in NH. And I wanted to surprise the woman I thought I knew so well. C’mon, at least give me some credit for thinking to make her life easier even if I didn’t know what I was doing!

I’ve never forgotten about the adopted improvements list. There’s nothing like accomplishment to fuel more accomplishment. I continue to bring that practice to my clients.


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