Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Parenting

Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Parenting

In my job, I carry out business process reviews, with the aim of finding the “waste” in the way things are done, so that we can do them better, smoother, cheaper. I wear my Green Belt with pride. You might know Six Sigma as that set of tools developed by a Motorola engineer to make things work the same way every time in manufacturing processes. “Lean” is that waste-reduction school of thought developed in Toyota production (aka Kaizen) that minimizes the amount and time an energy spent. We hope to save time and / or money so that we can spend it elsewhere, on something that adds value.

At home, with my children, there are a few ways I can apply the same techniques, to get to a similar aim — of freeing up time and / or money to spend elsewhere.

Make Visual Reminders

In the home, I’ve found what makes the biggest difference is using visual management. The first part of that means putting your “tools” where you need them. For example, as I’m getting ready to take the boys to school, I put things we’ll need at the top of the stairs. As we head out of the house, everything is there to remind me.

Another really good example of a visual reminder system that helps a smoother family life, is this from Creekside Learning.

Organize Your Stuff With Pictures

Visual management works for reminders, but it also can help make sorting toys easier. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with too many storage boxes full of random toys, try this: Instead of digging through a mixed up box of all sorts of toys, use visual management to organize and label boxes with pictures of what’s inside. A photo of a ball for balls; dinosaur for dinosaur; cars for transport toys. You should be able to tell how a process or routine works just by looking at a space, and this way the kids can help to keep the room organised. It can also help them decide what they want to play with, so you might avoid piles of toys dumped out on the floor while they search for the item they want to play with. Teaching Mama has some free toy storage printables.

kids play with toys on floor

Sort By Colour, Type, Or Location

Your kids are all about visual management — especially those too young to read. We have a tall bookcase next to James’ Kura bed, so he can easily grab a bedtime story. It’s better to put the things you use regularly in easy reach, to minimise waste during transit or motion.

We also keep the kids’ snacks in a cupboard in the kitchen they can easily get to. When we bring the food home from the supermarket, they’re all turned out into a storage box. When that box is running low of snacks, it’s easy to see and Rob and I can glance at it to know we need to buy more soon. Before we applied this, the boys would eat all the cereal bars from the packet, and we’d run out since we can’t see through cardboard boxes that the bars are packaged in. This saves us money too – we aren’t running out and having to buy snacks under pressure because we’ve run out!

Everything In Its Right Place

Another visual management tool borrowed from the Japanese is the Poka-Yoke. It’s not a dance craze sweeping Tokyo — it’s making a task mistake-proof. For example, many cars have reversing sensors, which will alert the driver if they’re getting too close to an object when they’re going backwards. Noah’s nursery has applied poka yokes – the kids have a peg each, and a water bottle, which are labelled by a photo of their face. All the children know which is their own water bottle during the day, so they don’t get mixed up.

Now that we’ve applied some small elements of lean in our family — using all the visuals, setting things up ahead of time, putting stuff where you need it — it reduces the number of terse conversations based on tired irritation and gives us all quality time together.

lean six sigma family



  1. Rachel Craig
    April 21, 2018 / 8:25 pm

    Nice ideas. As we would like to spend less time on chores, etc. So that we can spend more time outdoors, exploring new places, activities, etc.

  2. kayleigh watkins
    May 20, 2018 / 3:44 pm

    I haven’t heard of this process before but it’s sounds very handy and easy to put into practice too xxx

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