Single Minute Exchange of Bar

With all the gloom and doom of the Coronavirus, the divisive political climate and the Zoom fatigue, this has been a tough summer.  Here is a whimsical post to kick off the fall about applying Lean thinking when you’re stuck at home.  

Maureen (Mrs. Toast) and I have found some respite over the last six months in an occasional visit to our outdoor pub, situated on a porch to the side of our house.  There, with a backdrop of our favorite music from Spotify, we can enjoy some lighthearted conversation and laughs.  Back in March, when it became apparent that we’d be spending a lot of time sheltering at home, we resolved to build our own mini-resort – mostly from scrap materials.   The open air was a soothing balm and, especially on a warm evening, we almost felt like we were on vacation.  But there was one problem:  Our little oasis was not waterproof – especially in heavy wind and rain.  After the first storm we tried buttoning up the leaks, and covering with a tarp. But alas, the weather played havoc.  When a second storm was forecast about a week later, we frantically carried all libations inside, fire brigade style, stacking them anywhere and everywhere.   We emptied the bar in about 15 minutes, but setting it up again after the storm took more than an hour. 

Always Kaizen-minded, Maureen was unhappy with this haphazard approach, and set about to simplify and standardize the pub changeover.  First, she sorted out excess or seldom-used materials and then created set locations for the remainder.  (This probably also reduced the time to mix a drink, but that was incidental as we really don’t drink that much and mixing the drink is part of the social experience anyway – i.e. “value-added.”) Next, she created an order of assignments for both dis- and re-assembly of our haven.  A couple old tubs that I once used to drag Lego simulations to customers were more than adequate for transport to a dry location.   Our first-time trial was 10 minutes for breaking down the bar and 15 for setting it back up, but we were making small adjustments for both steps during the trial. Then we waited for a storm.

On April 13, the day after Easter, we had the first opportunity to test Maureen’s quick-change system.  This was a live operation as there was approaching thunder in the air. Time to breakdown the bar was 8 minutes, as was setup after the storm had passed.  Not that time mattered that much in this case.  It was more a matter of reducing the frustration of a chaotic process.  Making the changeover easier was as important as making it faster.  There is a natural satisfaction in making a job easier – even something as frivolous as SMEB (Single Minute Exchange of Bar.)  Would Mr. Shingo approve? 


Hey OLD readers – as summer draws to a close and you begin planning for 2021, don’t miss the 16th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference.  Naturally, it’s virtual, which makes attendance from anywhere easier than ever.  And we’ve kept price way down to respect the hard times that many of our customers have experienced.   Our theme, 21st Century Lean, established long before the pandemic is almost prophetic in its objective to deal with the intersection of Lean and IoT.  As Covid-19 has accentuated the promise of the Internet of Things, it’s more important than ever to establish a balance between technology and respect of people.  Hope you can join us and some world-class presenters for that dialogue.  Here’s the link to the agenda and registration:

9 thoughts on “Single Minute Exchange of Bar

  1. Michael O'Flaherty

    I would like to start off by saying I love how you took advantage of the pandemic to create an outdoor styled bar in you own backyard. I also loved how you mentioned that you took a seemingly hectic process and applied fundamental principles of lean six sigma (ie. removal of waste) in order to make a smoother break down system.

  2. Michael O'Flaherty

    I would like to start off by saying that it was a great idea to take advantage of the pandemic to create an outdoor bar in your own backyard. I also thought it was pretty neat how you applied simple principles of lean six sigma (i.e. removal of waste) in order to make a smoother break down process.

  3. Luke Tomlinson

    Interesting, fun, and something I can relate to! It always feels satisfying to know that you have successfully simplified a process that has caused you a headache (or many). I bet after you did this you had a few (friendly) copy-cats asking you how they can mirror your ideas (which is also satisfying). What other at home situations have you simplified? Do you ever realize you have solved an issue, with out even realizing it?!

  4. Abigail Person

    Hello Mr. Hamilton,

    I would like to start by praising your family for creating a porch bar as an escape during this pandemic. I really enjoyed your wife’s take on such a happy problem. I believe that her initial approach of sorting out items that aren’t utilized often, is something that is essential to speeding up most activities. For example, when I clean out my ‘junk’ drawer, I always toss things that I have no use for, which makes it faster and easier for me to find things in the long run. I’m very impressed with your ability to cut down set up from 1 hour to 8 minutes! I wonder if there is anything else that can be done using lean six sigma practices to make this process even faster?

  5. toastguy

    Thanks for commenting Abigail. Here’s a video clip that will make you laugh about the “untensil” drawer. When we sorted though the drawer we found three different sets of measuring cups — everyone of them were missing the 1/2 cup measure 🙂


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