Why 5S matters at 3:00AM

At 3:00AM a recent morning ago, my son woke up with a diaper that needed to be changed.  As go most nighttime childcare events between my wife and me, whoever says “you do it” first wins.  And, in this case, it was my wife that noticed his fussing and, half asleep, mumbled “your turn.”

Reluctantly, I rolled out of bed, staggered down the hallway and made my way to my son.  One thing that has forever irked my wife is that I can usually do all of this, crawl back into bed, fall back asleep, and by 7:00AM not even remember it happened.  But not this night.

I carried my son to the changing table and there were clothes all over it!  I’m half asleep, so I grab handfuls of neatly folded clothes and throw them on the floor.  My son, now full awake, is crying loudly and I’m hoping it won’t wake up my daughter. 

Next, the diaper?  Where’s the diapers?  Usually there’s a neat pile of them right there, but not this time.  I see them in a box, just out of reach.  I can’t both make sure my son doesn’t roll off the table and grab a diaper, so I have to pick him back up.

With a new diaper in hand, I undo the existing diaper to expose the disaster within.  I reach for a wipe, and… the container is empty!!!  I toss the empty container on the floor, cursing under my breath.  There’s another container, with a measly two wipes remaining in it under the empty one.  I’m sure my son got a less than stellar cleaning that night.

Were it mid-day when I had to do this, I’d probably not even remembered to write this down for you, but at 3:00AM, what could be a quick diaper change turned into a memorable ordeal.  5S matters because you shouldn’t have to think about these things.

One, sort out what you don’t need.  What were clothes doing on the changing table anyway?  We don’t dress our son there, and so using it as a temporary holding space for clean clothes resulted in the purpose of the workstation being ruined.  A changing table needs:  diapers, wipes, a garbage can, maybe a rash cream, that’s about it.

Two, straighten.  Things should have a place.  The diapers usually did have a place.  The wipes usually did have a place.  But in this case those places weren’t rendered sacred.  There were clothes where those things should have been, and the things I needed were somewhere else.

Three, sweep.  Clean up.  Empty packages of wipes should be thrown away.

Four, standardize.  We don’t have multiple changing stations, but if we did, they should all be the same.  That way, no matter which one I go to, I’d know where the diapers and wipes were.

Fifth, sustain.  Keep it that way.  Particularly at 3AM is not the time to find out that what once was a nice clean changing station is now a mess.

Now, you won’t be doing whatever job you do at 3AM, but there are going to be times when there are other things on your mind than the activity at hand.  Little distractions surround us, particularly in software development.  The last thing you want to do is lose flow while you hunt around for something which you should know exactly where it is.  5S matters at 3AM, but it matters every other hour of the day as well.

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