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?


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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The Need for Strategy

I caught myself doing it again this morning – thinking about what I can do to use my technical skills on the side to earn some extra income.  I tend to have a flood of ideas from tutoring to consulting to teaching part time to baking…  The list goes on, and my thoughts fly from one to another.  And all of this before I’ve even finished my current job.  And, honestly, I was thinking on these things this morning after praying last night for forgiveness for this compulsion I seem to feel to have some plan in place to earn money.  I think this compulsion is coming from a few various sinful areas in my life – stubborn independence, pride (partially in that independence), and probably some insecurity, feeling I need to prove my value or contribution to our family in some way through a pay check.

This morning, my reading in Ezra and Haggai brought me back to reality a bit.

This is what the Lord Almighty says:  “Give careful thought to your ways.  Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord.  “You expected much, but it turned out to be little.  What you brought home, I blew away.  Why?” declared the Lord Almighty, “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.”  (Haggai 1:7-9)

Haggai is only 2 chapters, so it’s quick to read the whole book.  The message of the entire book spoke to me significantly today as we approach this new season of our lives, and I encourage you to read it, too.  The phrase in bold (above) is what stopped me for a moment, though.

Even if I don’t work outside the home in some capacity (or work at home for a profit), I will be busy in my own house trying to make improvements to our systems at home, trying to optimize efficiencies, build memories, coordinate schedules, teach the children, work on handcrafts, and likely many other things.  No, I’m not physically building my paneled home before the temple construction is finished, but am I losing sight of what my priorities really should be?  I’m not at all saying that being busy at home is a bad thing!  These verses are about priorities.  Who is coming first in my life?  Dana?  God?  Someone/something else?

In Six Sigma training, I remember being trained to help hold back a team from jumping to solutions when a problem appeared.   Six Sigma practitioners, known as Black Belts and Green Belts, are called such because of the discipline required to methodically go through the problem-solving steps of Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC).  I have emphasized again and again to my students the importance of that Define step.  If the team doesn’t really know what needs to be worked on and how it will help the organization meet its strategic goals, how can improvements be made?  I thought I was pretty good at this…

That is, until they were my problems I was addressing.  I find myself jumping to solutions to without first evaluating what is best and why.  Even worse, I’m working to solve problems that aren’t even problems yet.

Our main motivation for me leaving my job to be at home is to invest myself in our children out of obedience to what we feel God is leading us to do.

So then, why I am I spending so much time brainstorming these ideas that really center around ME, when our desire is to center our lives and our family around CHRIST?  (Sigh)  I told you I’m a work in progress…

It’s time for me to take a step back and seek direction through prayer, not my own ideas.  God has been so faithful to me over the years!  The greatest steps of faith He’s guided me toward have not made logical sense to me from a worldly or financial perspective (e.g. The time I resigned from my job as an engineer to go back to school full time.).  His ways are not my ways, and His are so much better!

In the days to come, may I be still and seek Him first to find what the Lord would have as our mission and strategy and only then may I set to work.