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October 9, 2009

Lean in Everyday Life

My last few blogs have been around lean principles as applicable to businesses. This blog is a little different and dwells on using lean thinking to see if some improvements in our day to day processes and transactions can be obtained. Lean philosophy advocates improving process by removing the non- value adding activities and if we take a few examples, we can see how we can apply lean in our daily lives and improve some of the processes.

To give an example, a few years back, I had read somewhere on the Internet about a guy who explained how he reduced mistakes in his bill payment process. This guy had an utility bill amounting to certain dollars and some cents. He had to pay something like $23.1. He was making an online payment, and instead of entering 23.1, he mistakenly missed the decimal and entered 231. So he ended up paying about $200 more than what he had to pay for that month. So he ofcourse followed up and the extra amount was credited back but he made a decision to never pay another bill in decimals. So if he had to pay $23.1 he would either pay 23 or 24 and the few cents would automatically be adjusted by the provider in the next month’s bill anyways. By doing this simple thing, this guy reduced his chances of making mistakes.

A personal example- there is a guy who delivers us bottled drinking water for household consumption. Now this guy does not deliver at fixed intervals, nor always a certain number of bottles, instead, when needed, we give him a call and he delivers. This guy collects his money erratically- sometimes at the end of a month, sometimes in two months etc.. So we need to keep a track of how many bottles of water we need to pay for. Earlier, everytime this guy delivered bottles, we used to make a mark with a pencil in the wall calendar- circling the date and writing the number of bottles delivered that day, and when he would come for payment, we would go look up the calendar, flip to the last month, find out the marking when the last payment was made, and then count the total number of bottles from that date and make the payment. The process was pretty much workable, but not very easy. So one day, we thought, why not collect the disposable caps of the bottles in a box, when the guy comes for payments, just count the total number of caps and once the payment is done, throw the caps away (or build something useful with them J ) . That way, we do not need to use a pencil to record the date, number of bottles, and not have to keep flipping the calendar to the past month. So we started doing that and it has been working fine so far for us.

In both the above examples, simple changes have lead to improved and easy transactions, still achieving the desired result. Though these examples do not use the lean framework to achieve the improvements, the thinking to improve the process using simpler methods lead to simpler ways of achieving the intended result- making the process lean. I am sure there are several such examples the readers can share from their everyday lives. Looking forward to learning about some of these.

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