I saw an article the other day on whether you can apply lean principles to your kitchen. It was called Determining the Overall Productivity in Your (Wife’s) Kitchen and came with an amusing video, sepia-tinted to make it look old. Now I know that lean is more of a way of thinking than a set of rigid principles but the piece amused me as I reflected on my own time in the kitchen over the last week or so. For one reason or another I have found myself ‘in-charge’ while I am on holiday. I’ve been doing most of the cooking and the cleaning (as well as I can!).
Somehow I have managed to change our food supply and production systems though I never set out to do so. Where we used to have a batch system I have replaced it with just in time. Shopping used to be a weekly affair, buying in bulk resulting in us having very heavy stocks of some products but running out of others mid-week. Instead I now go to the shops every day and buy only what we need. This can be either something for our meals that day or something that we have nearly or actually run out of.
I’ve set up a Kanban like approach to stock replenishment. If I use the last of something I write it on the list. If I have got to the point where I will run out of something within the next couple of days I write it on the list. (When I say write, I have set up an Outlook task to record everything we need on my smartphone). Instead of going to the shops and seeing what I fancy to eat (and overbuying) I see what we fancy before I go and buy just what I need. If I have to buy something we don’t normally stock (keep in the cupboard) I buy as little as is needed as I don’t know if I will ever need it again.
Supermarkets however aren’t geared up for this kind of shopping even though they adopt lean principles in their own distribution systems. Everything is set out to tempt you to buy more. Packets are larger than you need, special offers promote bulk purchasing, products are packed by weight yet we tend to eat by number. So even with my ‘lean’ approach to purchasing I have had to have a leftovers day where we eat all of the odd bits of food that has been left. The fridge has never looked so empty yet we are eating very well.
Without thinking about it I guess that I have adopted some of the Toyota principle within the kitchen. I haven’t set up a conveyor belt to assemble meals as they go slowly past me and I haven’t uprooted the white goods to improve the flow around the golden triangle of the fridge, cooker and sink but I have rearranged a couple of cupboards so that fast moving items are closer to hand and stock with a slower turn is further away.
So within a week I have reduced inventory levels, cut waste, increased stock turn and improved product flow. Taiichi Ohno would be proud of me.