Lean, Personal Continuous Improvement

Kaizen in the Kitchen

We have all been there. You pick out a color of paint for a room in your house thinking that it’s going to look great. After a few strokes, you notice the color is not quite what you thought it would be. That’s okay, you think. It will look better when it dries. So you spend the majority of your Saturday painting the entire room, but lo and behold – the finished product is not what you had envisioned.

I found myself in this situation after painting my kitchen. What looked like a soothing, neutral beige color turned out to be akin to a shade of pasty human skin. I gave myself time to adapt to the color, but I could not accept it. I mustered up enough motivation to overcome my innate inertia and decided to repaint it this past weekend.

The first time I painted the kitchen, I did it in stages over the course of a week. Each time I got the supplies and area ready, then started with putting tape down along all of the edges and around the cabinets. Next I cut in all the trim with a paintbrush, followed by a roller for the larger sections. Each painting session was concluded by cleaning the brushes, disposing of the unused paint, pulling up the tape, and putting away the ladder. It took about 4 sessions of 2 hours each to paint the entire kitchen for a total of 8 hours of work.

This description of the painting process likely sounds familiar. Or maybe you’ve found ways to apply kaizen to streamline the work, as I did this past weekend. I’ll share what specific improvements were made and what the results where in both the time and financial savings.

We’ll start by saying the estimated cycle time would have been 16 hours, including the first unsuccessful paint job. Let’s see how much I saved with a little continuous improvement.

Improvement #5: Avoid rework by making the right product the first time. Savings: 8 hours and $30 of paint (potentially)

It started when I selected a color that I had used previously in a different room of the house. I knew that I loved the soft gray shade, and that it would complement the colors of my kitchen. This decision potentially saved me 8 hours of ‘rework’ due to not liking the final product – and a gallon of paint. Another option would have been to purchase a sample color and paint a smaller section of the kitchen to see if the color was acceptable prior to committing to it.

Improvement #4: Avoid unnecessary setups/teardowns. Savings: 1.65 hours

It’s obvious that multiple setups and tear-downs are wasteful if they aren’t necessary. I decided to dedicate an entire day to starting and finishing the paint job. I estimate each setup to take 0.25 hours and tear-down to take 0.3 hours. By reducing the number of cycles from 4 to only 1, this is a time savings of 1.65 hours. There were benefits of the multiple cycles, though – for example, it gave me a chance to see how the paint dried in between sessions. However, I already knew that I would like the color as I had used it before.

Improvement #3: Leverage equipment to eliminate waste. Savings: 1.25 hours and $3

It’s common practice to lay down blue painter’s tape around the borders of the area to be painted to prevent painting other surfaces. However, a friend told me that if I used an angled, short handled paint brush, it was possible to paint cleanly without the aid of tape.With practice I learned the technique and only had to use tape in a couple of tricky spots. Even with the investment of time in learning the skill, I still saved about an hour in the process plus an additional 15 minutes of taking down the tape at the end. The special brush cost $2 more than a regular one, but I avoided spending $5 on a roll of tape, for a net savings of $3.

Improvement #4: Implement ‘one-piece’ flow. Savings: 3.1 hours.

This was by far the most beneficial improvement. One of the most fundamental lean concepts is that of ‘one-piece flow’ – instead of producing product in traditional “batches”, which leads to excess inventory and other wastes. Although I’ve championed the benefits of one-piece flow at work, there was a discontinuity to my application of it to my painting process at home. I would cut in all the trim first, then cover the larger sections all at once, essentially batching the work.

Jess, I admonished. You can’t say one thing and do the opposite, even if you’re in a different setting. At least give it a try. What struck me was that even though I knew from experience that one-piece flow was a proven best practice, I was still resistant to giving it a try! This exemplified the disconnect between our intellectual knowledge and our willingness to apply that knowledge. It was fascinating to experience the internal resistance that I have observed from process owners when I initially encourage them to try one-piece flow.

Finally, I reluctantly gave in. I started on a 4’x4′ section of the wall, cut in the trim, and then used the roller to finish it. At first it felt awkward to switch between tools. I mitigated some of this by using the roller tray to supply paint not only for the roller but the brush as well, eliminating the need for an additional smaller container. I set the painting ladder to my right. When I finished the lower 4’x4′ section, I would then move on to the higher 4’x4 section to my right. When done with that, I again moved the ladder to my right to clear the lower 4’x4′ section so I could paint it, while simultaneously setting up the ladder for the next higher 4’x4 section. In this manner, I went around the entire room.

Instead of having to set up the ladder twice for each section (once to do the trim, and again to do the rolling), I only had to set up the ladder once. Although it was hard to quantify the impact of this improvement, the results spoke for themselves. It took me only 2 hours to complete the painting. Since the other improvements had saved a total of 2.9 hours from the original 8 hours, this means that one-piece flow was responsible for saving 3.1 hours – that’s 39% of the painting time!

In total, some relatively simple process tweaks enabled me to get back 6 hours of my Saturday, keep $33 in my pocket, and reminded me that ‘kaizen’ isn’t just for work.

Visual results:

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