Life’s Spreadsheet!

Toyota started using a set of principles and behaviours in a certain way that would help make the company better, efficient, profitable, productive and successful in general. Obviously, they put in terrific efforts to make it happen. Our lives are equally complex, but we handle things more in ad hoc way than doing them systematically. When we get married, there are two of us involved in almost everything. But we treat life like a game of tennis, that too, singles and not doubles. If husband and wife can work in tandem life quality will be superior to the “singles” way of life. At least switch over to the game of doubles! I am going to say something that you may find a little too theoretical.  

We can apply the famous Japanese principles of Kaizen and 5S principles to our lives. Kaizen is about continuous improvement. 5S is part of Kaizen and is a way of organising a shared workplace. Sounds good? Now, do you think these two principles can be easily applied in our day to day life? Yes and No. Knowing the principles is okay, using them in the workplace is fine, but how do you apply them at home? Well, it needs to be done the same way it is done at the office. 

For this, we need to collect data! Oh, I am so drab! What am I writing? We just got married, it is not even a month since we came back from the honeymoon and Pramod is telling us to collect the data! So unromantic! But friends, the honeymoon period tends to end as it is a finite timeline. Then starts is grocery, laundry, office pressures, missing of periods and children being born! The real life starts now and not during the honeymoon.  


I have mentioned very few things from the unending list, and life is already looking complex. Add the children’s schooling, business travel, guests at home, illnesses, parents getting older and yes deaths! All these things are going to start happening, and we do not have much control over their timings. Does your home environment feel like a factory atmosphere? Too many things to do, timelines are tight, and on top of that, we are playing a singles match and not the doubles!  

Improvement in the factory working looks for profits and market share but improving in the working at home is to look for happiness. Achieving happiness is not tangible; hence, it is difficult to achieve and define. But like in factories, we will need data to start changing things. What better way than collecting data using excel sheet? I had written a blog regarding who is the primary worker at home. You may read it if you want. 

We have been brought up in a patriarchal society, and the “home” workload is expected to be taken up mainly by the lady of the house. So why not start with the list of chores that are required to run a household. The tasks could be daily, weekly and monthly. Unless you put them down in an excel sheet, you may not even remember them. It is possible that you may forget to do infrequent tasks. So, the to-do list is equally essential for all. We have reached a stage where we now agree to create a to-do list.  


How will the ultimate goal of happiness be achieved? First and the foremost step to me is equal distribution of chores between the two. This redistribution will give both additional times, which can be used as “me time.” When we start noting down tasks, we realise that commute time can be converted into exercise time by going to work using cycle. It is changing the method to achieve two goals. It can happen by rescheduling and evolving practices; we may be able to spend more time with family and friends, resulting in happiness. There is a possibility that you have a home from where both are required to travel long distances for work. I know of a couple who jointly travel almost six hours every day for work. Over a period one of them changed a job, and they changed home. Their travel time is now one and a half hours. One of them needed to exercise for health reasons; now it is possible to do it.  

Before this exercise, there were fights, resentment, unpleasantness because time was at a premium. It is possible that some of the tasks you may never have done before marriage. You are learning to do them “on the job”. If you note down the tasks in details, you can find ways of doing things more efficiently. Maybe you were using the dishwasher and washing machine on alternate days. If you could change this frequency to twice a week, you will gain additional time. You had to rush regularly to buy groceries at the last moment, track its usage, and you will find that there is no emergency rush to buy things. Happiness?  

Still, do not believe in spreadsheets; let us understand things further. From singles, you have started playing the doubles game. A glance here and a signal there would tell your partner what to do or what you will do. In the initial phase, this looks efficient. You are playing a doubles game with home and office. These are your two formidable opponents. Then you have an addition to the opposition team as children arrive on the scene. One of you starts travelling outstation for work; the complexity goes on increasing. The glance and signal do not work as you have to go for PTA and on the same day, you have a critical presentation! Oh, on the same day the wife’s car was to be given for service. Complexity goes up geometrically.  

So, now listen to the expert Pramod! I am just kidding! We also learnt to do things the hard way. Why not try Kaizen? It is a continuous improvement of whatever you are doing. It may be household stuff, office job, handling kids patiently! “Hey, dad, what happens if I write on the walls with my Crayons?” Losing your temper is not going to help you; find out improved methods to convince them to change their mind. Maybe take wife’s help; she may be better than you in this aspect. Keep your ego aside. But are you going to change things as you face them? Why not gather data in that elusive excel sheet? You can start by analysing major chores and the way you are doing them. Give marks, say 7/10 or 2/10. According to importance and scores see how things can be changed. Decide what score will reduce your stress, open up avenues to get free time, reduce the temperature of the system. Home is the reverse of IC engines. IC engines run more efficiently as their temperature goes up and stabilises. Home engine runs efficiently at room temperatures.  

5S is a method that is easy and complex both. It deals with house-keeping methodology on the shop floor. House and homes are the same, are they not? So why not try 5S at home. I will not go into details of 5S, but it will suffice to say that if used correctly, our homes will become clutter free! Try with some of your cupboards. You will see many handkerchiefs, pairs of socks, innerware. How many of these were not used for the last three months? I have taken three as a random number; you need to select the number that will suit you. You may find that 50% of this stuff was never touched in those three months. Why not give these to charity? There are many such nooks and corners in our home which can be declogged. Your mind is clogged by the physical clutter in the surroundings. 5S will help you declogg your mind too! Serenity is one word that comes to mind that you will achieve by removing clutter.  

Friends, I have too much in my mind about what I want to say so maybe I should stop at this stage. I have chosen the Japanese methods for their simplicity, and these are really useful in real life. So open that Laptop and start creating an excel sheet!

The first item, “Don’t waste time on reading Pramod’ blogs”! Or maybe you should read them!  


Small is also big!

Whenever we discuss progress, we talk about the contribution of large-scale projects; they help the nations in a big way. Yes, the contribution of such projects is enormous, but we tend to forget the small contributions made by the tiny business. Their changes can be called incremental or delta changes (In mathematical terms). There are hundreds of thousands of small companies that also help society and nation to grow. These small businesses together also make a significant contribution.

In Marathi, there is a term called खारीचा वाटा, a contribution made by a Squirrel. Squirrels are very tiny, and they can carry small things held their mouth. But they are busy animals and do a lot of work in a short period. The term खारीचा वाटा has come from a mythological story. Lord Ram was trying to cross the sea to go to Sri Lanka. Sita was taken to Lanka by the demon Ravana. An army of monkeys led by Hanuman was putting large boulders in the sea to make a bridge. A squirrel saw this and helped in her own way to build the bridge. He picked up small twigs and made many trips to support the bridge creation. Ram was impressed by squirrel’s contribution. He picked him up and caressed him by using three fingers on the back. Squirrels have three lines on the back as a result of this caress. Ok, enough of mythology.

Small contributions, small improvements, small habits can all contribute in a big way if done consistently. Small continuous improvements are made famous by the Japanese technique of Kaizen. (カイゼン) Kaizen is the Japanese word for “efficiency”. In business, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organisational boundaries into the supply chain. Healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government and banking sectors implement Kaizen.

How do small changes improve things? How are they helpful? I read about the British Cycling team. Till the year 2003 British team was also-ran team in all the tournaments. Their reputation was so bad that the reputed cycle companies avoided selling any bikes to them. In the year 2003, the British Cycling Association appointed Dave Brailsford as new performance director. Since 1908 they had one gold medal in the Olympics and had never won the Tour de France race in 110 years.

Brailsford had a relentless policy known as “the aggregation of marginal gains”. He felt that everything involved in cycling should be looked into for improvement. Even if it gave 1% improvement, it was used. They tried different massage gels which improved recovery time of muscles. They determined what type of pillows and mattresses should be used so that athletes slept well. Many more such changes indirectly affecting the cycling performance were made. But these things improved the lifestyle of athletes which in turn helped them develop better cycling skills. They also used improved seats, quality of tyres and such things which directly affected the performance.

In five years after Brailsford took over, the British team dominated the track and field event in 2008 Beijing Olympics and won 60% of all the Gold medals. In 2012 London Olympics, the group broke nine Olympic records and seven world records. That same year, Bradley Wiggins became the first Britisher to win Tour de France race for the first time. Next year his team-mate Chris Froome won the race and went on winning for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017! Between 2007 and 2017 the British team won 178 world championships, 66 Olympic medals.

The above records show the contribution of 1% improvement model. Sometimes improvements are quite small, sometimes these are not even noticed. These minor improvements are helpful when they are done consistently. Imagine 1% improvement every day for one year, i.e. 365 days. See the maths. There will be an astounding improvement of 3.7 times compared to what you were doing on the first day. The reverse is all equally true. Imagine you are doing 1% worse every day. You will not take much time to reach the zero level.

The small habits that we form are like compound interest earned on money deposited in the bank. It is better than the simple interest earned. Don’t do good things once in a while; if you want to become a good reader, read every day, every week.  If you’re going to remain fit go to the gym every week. Go for those long walks you tried to take, regularly. Maybe going on every Sunday is a good idea.

Look at the way how Kaizen helps. Consider a process in which the operator has to bend twice, per cycle. At some stage, the operator will get tired, and his efficiency will go down. Study the process and try to eliminate at least one time bending to start with the improvement. The change is bound to improve productivity. All the Kaizen methods are based on common sense and are quite cost-effective. But for this, a detailed review has to be made for the process. There is a case study where using common sense, a significant cost saving was achieved. Two equipments were kept next to each other. A component processed on the first machine was fed to the next device. It was done manually. The simple solution was provided by increasing the height of the first machine. The component was pushed to the following equipment by providing a chute!

I wrote about habits in details in my blog last week.

A group of about 12 bees in their lifetime will produce a teaspoon of honey between them. The quantity is a negligible quantity, but thousands of bees together produce honey which is commercially sold. Similarly, an ant individually is tiny. But all of them together build their large colonies, take away things from our homes. It is the small contribution that does this work.

Friends, I have shared some of the methods about which I have come across, and I found out that consistent, small contributions are crucial to the success of individuals personally and professionally. Large companies are equally important, but that does not mean that small enterprises can be neglected. Both should be treated on par!

Think small consistently and improve significantly in the long run!

Goals or Systems!

Goooooooal! This is the loudest roar that you hear on a football field. The target while playing the football match is to score at least one goal more than the opponent! Of course, more the merrier! We always want to have goals in life so that we feel that we have achieved things in life. Some of the aims that we have are, getting into better shape, building a successful business, relaxing more and worrying less, spending more time with friends and family—is to set specific, actionable goals. Actionable is the operative word.

We all want to set our goals and keep on doing things to achieve them. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail. I remember having set many goals during different stages of life. They were

  • Making a certain profit in business, reaching a certain turnover in the fifth year of business.
  • As a sportsman, you may want play for your national team in the next four years.
  • You are going to the gym your goal will be to reduce weight by certain kgs, in a fixed duration.

For many years, this was how I approached my habits too. Each one was a goal to be reached. I set goals for the grades I wanted to get when in school, for the weights I wanted to lift in the gym, for the profits I wanted to earn in business. I succeeded at a few, but I failed at a lot of them. Eventually, I began to realize that my results had very little to do with the goals I set and nearly everything to do with the systems I followed. I wanted to represent the state in table tennis but I failed badly at a much lower level. A friend achieved the same easily.  His goals and my goals were the same. But he succeeded and I did not. I was always wondering why I did not succeed? Then I realized that though our goals were the same, the systems he followed to continuously improve, were very good and consistent. He would practice improving his service, return of service and his defense.

Sachin Tendulkar is a classic case of continuous improvement. In the season 2003-2004, he showed his real mettle. At that time, he was getting out hitting shots on the off side. He scored 241 runs in the first test against Australia and did not hit a single shot on the off side! He followed a perfect system that removed kinks from his repertoire. Scoring double century was not his goal!

Winners and losers have the same goals: Winners and losers always have the same goals but it is how the winners achieve this is important. They follow the same training regime as losers. They have put a system in place. It is the adherence to the systems that make them winners. On the way, if the winners lose they don’t give up or they don’t change their goals. They modify their system, they improve their systems. Japanese method of Kaizen tells us the same thing.

Kaizen is the Japanese word for “improvement”. In business, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. This means that it applies to the whole team. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. It has been applied to healthcare, psychotherapy, sport, life-coaching, government, and banking. By improving standardized programs and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste and improve continuously.

Achieving goals is only momentary: Suppose you enter a room full of clutter. You make a goal of eliminating the clutter. You work hard and do it. The room is spic and span. You are happy and thrilled. But to me, this is a temporary satisfaction. You do not convert this into habit (system?) of cleaning, making things spick and span, regularly; if your team,  does not get involved into Kaizen of daily trying to improve on the previous achievement, the end result will be clutter again, and momentary happiness, will remain, momentary. The room will be back to clutter.

Achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment. That’s the counter intuitive thing about improvement. We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem. What we really need to change are the systems that achieve those results. When you solve problems at the results level, you only solve them temporarily. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.

Goals restrict happiness:  Systems-first mentality provides the antidote. When you want to follow the processes rather than the end product, called goal, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. At every stage, when the system works properly, it is inching towards the final goal of success. The success of every stage is more important than the final goal. Sometimes the final result may be achieved even though the steps in between were not successful. But if each step is successful then the final goal is bound to be successful. In doing so, at the success of every stage in between, we reach happiness.

Goals are at odds with long-term progress: The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game, perfect the stages in between. True long-term thinking should be goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement, Kaizen! Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

Germany and Japan lost the second world war and their economies were devastated. Germany was split into West and East Germany. But Japan and West Germany were in pursuit of systems, perfect systems, sustainable systems, continuously improving systems. Both countries have done exceedingly well, in a short duration! The result of this pursuit in Japan, was the evolution of the system of Poka Yoke.

Poka-yoke is a Japanese term that means “mistake-proofing” or “inadvertent error prevention”. The operative word in this is “inadvertent”. In this system, if a component is missing, if a step is incorrectly followed, the process just cannot be started. With such perfect systems and processes, the end result, “the goal” is simply a formality.

Kodak had a goal to create the path-breaking product. They achieved their goal by inventing the first digital camera in the world. But probably because of their original dominance in the camera using films, they probably did not have systems to launch the product successfully. The end result, others raced ahead and Kodak had to shut down their business, they went into Bankruptsy. To me, Goals or Systems is not a question! We should be shouting Systeeeeeeem, instead of shouting Goooooooal!