Putting Dinner on the Table with Lean Six Sigma

— Submitted by: Aqua Porter, vice president, of Lean Six Sigma Strategy at Xerox

When I read Dr. Carol Marchetti’s blog post back in June about the ways Xerox is using Lean Six Sigma methodologies to improve business processes, I started thinking, if Lean Six Sigma can help the business world, what could it do for my home life?

If anyone followed me around Wegmans, my local grocery store, they would see I don’t exactly take the most direct route around the store. Perhaps if I used some of my lean learnings I would be able to map out the most efficient and effective way of running through the aisles, trim several minutes off my shopping trip and get dinner on the table just a little bit faster.

It seems I’m not alone in wondering if there’s a way to apply a different mindset to my personal life, as many of my colleagues have done the same. Jeff Koff, director of Lean Six Sigma Learning for Xerox, identified a fair amount of wasted time when cutting his grass (he argues that even cutting it is a waste, but his wife disagrees).  He uses a walk behind gas powered mower so every time he got to the end of a row he would slow down his walking pace, stop, change the direction of the mower, and speed up his walking pace again, all non-value added activity and inefficient.

Jeff modified his mowing pattern to start in the center of the yard and cut the grass in a spiral, thus eliminating much of the non-value added activity. He has since developed several variations on the theme; besides the spiral he found a few efficient oval patterns. Jeff said the patterns may look a bit like the background on a ‘60s black light poster, but it’s worth it because he can now use the time saved for something more productive.


Andrea Jacobs, a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt at Xerox, used a Lean Six Sigma approach to reduce her home energy consumption and expense. She started her analysis in 2008 and used the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) method of Lean Six Sigma to cut her energy expenses by 25 percent and shave more than $1,000 off her energy bill. She tracked data and investigated the root causes for high energy consumption and identified solutions to bring down those numbers.  For example, Andrea started to unplug unused appliances and set her water heater to the lowest setting for normal use and to “vacation” when away from home for more than a few days. She even has a chart tracking the projects progress from 2008 to today.

Jeff and Andrea have given me inspiration. No more weaving back and forth and up and down the same aisles at the grocery store. My Lean Six Sigma project starts today! Now I just have to decide what’s for dinner…

—  Aqua Porter, vice president, of Lean Six Sigma Strategy at Xerox   Twitter: @AquaXerox

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  1. C Yvonne Hickey August 28, 2010 - Reply

    Hi Aqua – I like this thought starting post a great deal. I am currently working on my Green Belt certification… just hatched from an incredible week of deep dive instruction in Tarrytown, NY. I now want to “process map” everything as a result! 🙂

    It seems from my perspective that people tend to “bucket” their lives: work non-work (play).

    I pose the following thought: So, when do we “explore”?

    I would argue, in my personal observation, that there is a tendency to explore more during “play” time, both consciously and unconsciously.

    We also explore when we are inspired to do so… and that fervor needs to exist in both worlds for greater overall benefit.

    If we are on constant deadline (take the word itself: “deadline” = kill + limit) and do not have breathing space in our work days we would likely explore less during work… and to satiate that need to explore we wander in the supermarket or in our front yards hoping to catch a neighbor on the turn while moving the grass.

    Efficiency at the sake of exploration… is one resonating theme bouncing in around in my cranium – as I have a fear around inhibiting creativity by limiting experiences through over structuring. (Yes, I am an off the chart “plant”) 🙂 Those that know me would concur that I am an advocate of efficiency through use of technology. One may suggest the more efficient you are the more time you have to explore. There is something powerful about learning in the moment.

    In order to assemble the life we want, it would reason that one would need to stretch and retract the proverbial rubber band at times in the worlds of both work and play.

    One could argue the brainstorming inside of LSS provides for creativity. However the “breathe of possibility” inside of a brainstorming session is born from the perspective of those contributing: those close to the process… furthest point away and all the wonderful points in-between. Perspective is gained through both knowledge and experiences – that’s why Belbin’s principles are on point about having a cross section of varying types involved in a project.

    LSS gives us the tools to toggle a powerful switch… because, if I was to pause and think about what you suggest in your post, I too can get in and out of that supermarket very efficiently. I could (and do use) the “new deli kiosk” and reserve my DVD online via RedBox prior to even stepping foot in the store. I’d even be willing to use the online shopping service… with saved lists on occasion. I am indeed enabled to architect the day and maximize the precious “play” time in such a way to develop what I want – additional time with my family.

    My ultra “efficient” husband historically cringed when I went food, as would be gone for hours and would spend a lot more money on average than him. But it was time to “explore” (I am an advertisers mark – I know it… and I embrace it!). And through that exploration I may have made a meal more special for my family or found something “new” worth sharing with others. And because I was exposed to new technologies and offerings in the store I can be that much more efficient when I “need to be” the next time around – like when I need to “fit” food shopping into a day. For the record – my husband typically does the food shopping!

    If you are moving the lawn and not talking to your neighbors… then absolutely start the swirl… and take out the NVA.

    Need to assemble a day with specific requirements (be here at 10:00am)… process map the moments you can make more efficient – we all know there is opportunity to do so.

    As we look to gain efficiencies during the non-work time we need to be more open to exploration at work… as there is an inherent need in people to “explore” albeit to varying degrees. LSS projects will be born that will positively impact the overall – both work and play as they seep into each other.

    I spent 11 minutes being distracted by your wonderful post Aqua… I better go adopt that spiral lawn-mover technique right now at the chagrin of my neighbors!

    Enjoy ALL your dinners and have a little dessert too!

  2. Aqua Porter August 31, 2010 - Reply

    Thanks for sharing Yvonne, this is great! I love hearing about ways people explore Lean Six Sigma outside of business. Keep it up!

  3. regime facile rapide May 5, 2011 - Reply

    Salut Pour moi les chiffres de ce rapide post méritent certaines avis. Votre idée me semble bonne quoique je ne valide pas les autres posts ci-dessus. Pensez a apporter d’autres affirmations pour être plus crédible. Je vous remercie

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