Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

The Laundry Project – Define Phase – The Voice of the Customer

One of the first things to do in a Six Sigma-type project is try to understand what the problem really is.  Customers speak in the language of emotions.  Process improvement leaders need to be able to take those emotional comments and discern what needs to be fixed.

For example, “I just want a good cup of coffee,” is not very clear.  What temperature should the coffee be?  What should the taste be like (strong, mild, sweetened)?  Does the type or size of cup matter (It does to me.)?  How can a coffee shop owner make sure the customer is satisfied from these types of comments?

And, what does this look like if your “organization” is your home?  You still have customers.  In my family, the customers are my husband, myself, and to a lesser extent right now, my little girls.  (I say lesser extent not because they don’t matter, but my 2-year-old would be happy enough running around without clothes at times, and my 10-month-old can’t tell me if she’s upset that her favorite outfit isn’t washed yet.)

What are the comments, said or unsaid, that come up in our house regarding laundry?

Running out (or almost running out) of clean underwear for me or my daughter makes me feel a little uneasy.  Seeing the hamper start to overflow makes me feel somewhat overwhelmed.  Having the clothes partially folded or fully folded but not put away causes some friction.  A messy, cluttered laundry room can be a problem (though not one I really saw.  I have “slob vision” as Nony at A Slob Comes Clean talks about.), potentially a safety issue even.  And, I don’t know if it’s the engineer in me or what, but I feel I have to wash clothes as directed on the tags, and I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to trying to remove stains.  (That stain-fighting perfectionist part of me is getting more relaxed, thank goodness!)

And, that might be it.  Remember, I told you in the last post, I don’t see the laundry process as my biggest problem right now.

Your annoyances or problems with laundry may be entirely different from mine.  What might be some other laundry-related customer comments?

I’m drowning in laundry!

I’m always finding stains – after the clothes go through the dryer.

There is always a mountain of clean clothes to fold at my house.

I can never find a clean shirt for my son.

I don’t have time for laundry!

If the laundry process is something you feel can be improved at your home, take some time and write down the comments you hear or the thoughts you have regarding any complaints about the process (or lack of a process) you currently employ.  In the next post, I’ll talk about how you can look more closely at those comments to find out what the real problems may be so you can tackle them.

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Baby Steps

No, my ten-month-old isn’t walking yet.  I’m talking about the changes I’m making myself as I continue this continuous improvement journey at home.

First, let me clarify something.  My husband thought that as I wrote about rolling up my sleeves and putting on my hard hat in the last post that I’d be digging into work with noticeable change just around the corner.  Unfortunately (?), I don’t work like that.  I’ve been trained in the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) methodology that helps me resist any urges like that, urges that may lead to treating symptoms for a time, but never finding the root cause of the problem.

Poor project selection is one way Six Sigma initiatives can fail quickly.  (If you’ve never heard of DMAIC and Six Sigma, stick with me.  I think this will all still make sense.)  The criteria I learned suggested that the solution should not be known (If it is, then just do it.), the project should be something that can be completed in four to six months, and the focus should be on improving quality in some way.  Early projects as Six Sigma (or probably any process improvement initiative in an organization) need to be successful to build momentum for the new approach.  A project failure or a project that drags on and on doesn’t do much for morale.

So, what did I decide my first project would be?  What have I been working on for the last month?

Laundry.

I don’t think I have a real problem with laundry, but there are some issues.  The volume of laundry at our house will likely increase before it decreases, so working on this project makes sense.  The solution was not known.  It is something that should be able to be solved in less than three months.  If successful, it will help me feel encouraged to try to battle solving some of my larger and more persistent problems in the house.

Rather than tell you what I’ve done and think it may give you ideas and work for you, too, I will try to focus on sharing my process for approaching the problem, clarifying what my situation is (from the layout of my house to my personal pet peeves), sharing the solutions I came up with, and describing how the implementation of the solution worked.

With the next post, I’ll explain the Define phase for this laundry project and how we can use it to really identify the true problem before we start trying to implement new ideas.

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