Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"It looks like a million dollars"

I took part of a Lean Event last week that ended in a pretty intensive 5S session. I was paired up with the facility Manager and our task was to clean the Maintenance team area (a big room filed with junk and items belonging somewhere else).

Truth is, it was really overwhelming for both of us. Not knowing where to start was our biggest challenge. We eventually decided on a small area containing car tools and equipment. We sorted the tool and put them back into their cabinet (that still needs 5S), thrown away what was empty or broken. We cleaned the area and put back what belonged there only. It took us about half an hour, but it felt really good!

Then the confusion was back: what our next step should be? We walked around the room and adopted two very different strategies:
  • The facility Manager started with what he knew of. Mostly small items or some straightening, but easily done.
  • I focused on the biggest objects: a bin, tires, big boxes... 
After another fifteen minutes, my partner in crime looks around and tells me "you've only touched a few things but it looks like a million dollars, where I've moved a lot but it doesn't seem like it".

The key when you start such a big sorting spree is to start with what will make the biggest impact. It will create a lot of space, but also enable you to see the smaller details better. Its like when you look at stars, you only see the major ones at first, but after a time you start seeing smaller ones. Mayhem is the same, your standards get higher the cleaner the place is. Also, if you need to stop quickly, you'll really see a change.

Same goes with cleaning up your house. Don't get me wrong, I do bleach and clean thoroughly my house on a regular basis. But daily, or before I start doing the cleaning, I focus on what makes the biggest impact: couch cushions and blanket back in order, declutter in front of the TV where all papers end up, put shoes back in the rack, empty trashcans (as it helps me cleaning after)... Making the bed has became one of my favorite new habits, as it easily triggers cleaning up the rest of the room and then the house.

Only after I'll focus on sorting the papers, cleaning windows and mirrors and all the tasks that don't make a visual impact. I can make my house presentable (though not cleaner) in fifteen minutes this way, then I have the bulk of the cleaning left. And it's easier to clean when you don't have clutter in your way.

Good luck with your sorting!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

16 packing tips for a Lean / Kaizen Event

I've been working as a Project Manager for over four years now, but next week will only be the second time I'll have to travel for a Lean Event. After under packing last time to Raleigh (where we got a 20 miles radius power outage and snow), I've decided to make a list and not repeat my errors.

Here are a few tips for packing for a Lean / Kaizen Event:
  • Adjust dress code accordingly: This is not your usual conference trip, you'll probably not be comfy wearing a suit and dress shoes (or a dress and heels) when following the production from step to step. Depending on your industry, you may get dirty (dusty in my case) or have to respect some standards (closed / safety shoes...). 
  • Review dress code with other participants beforehand: Everyone doesn't have the same definition of casual... I shown up in jeans, polo and Converse shoes to my last Lean Event when my colleague was in dress pants and shoes and a shirt. This time I've double checked that we'll be on the same page. Also, having a dress code similar to the on-site team you'll be working with will help you blend in and create a sense of team.
  • Keep temperature in mind: And not only outside temp, but also the facility's! Warehouses full of paper tend to be cooler than outside, except in the middle of summer when they're warmer than outside. If your industry involve strict temp control, cooking, cooling, etc. you want to be ready.
  • Make a list: It doesn't need to be fancy (or written), but having a list of what you want to travel with prevents you from forgetting things. Also, going over it a few time will help you spot the items you missed in that list. If you put your list in your suitcase before closing it, you'll be able to make sure you didn't forget anything when packing to go back home.
  • Choose the right luggage size: Obviously, if you plan on a carry on only, your suitcase size must fit requirements. I know I'll check in a bag, so I'll have to make sure my belongings are not crushed neither lost in a suitcase of the wrong size. I'll put everything I need on my bed and then decide with suitcase I need. 
  • Pack extras: If you're a Lean aficionado like me, you'll probably try to pack as efficiently as possible. But after a day walking the ground, you'll be happy to find a clean, dry pair of socks and a change of shoes.
  • Pack day and night outfits: Chances are you'll meet with your colleagues after hours, either to continue working or to relax. And even if you don't, you'll be happy to find clean and comfy clothes for the evening. 
  • Plan for the unplanned: I always have on me the basic meds in small quantity (pain and stomach meds, but also asthma and allergy meds), some band aids, gums, hair ties, tissues, lip balm, lint roller... 
  • Choose your method: Some like to fold, some to roll. I've tried packing cubes: very efficient but not wrinkle free. I've also tried to fold my clothes and putting them in a vacuum bag (obviously keeping air inside) and though it takes space in your bag, it was very effective. I'll try to roll this time (jeans mainly) and using the cubes for tops.
  • Prevent spills: I've bought some travel size products (tooth paste, dry shampoo) and some travel containers (to bring my own shampoo, conditioner, etc.). I also travel with some of my routine items (hair brush, make up...). I'll make sure they are closed tightly and will use a waterproof and spill-proof bag. That way, there shouldn't be any accident. 
  • Be strategic with make up: I usually use a lot of brushes and different products when I put make up on every day. When I travel, I like to bring a fluid foundation, an eye brow gel, a cream eye shadow, a mascara, a blusher and a brush. If I'm fancy, I'll add an eye liner pencil or an eye shadow palette and a couple of brushes. Usually, the team I'm working with is essentially made of men who don't care about my make up so I aim for the bare minimum amount to feel confident.
  • Working out or not working out, that is the question: I'll be working on routing, sitting in a room all day next week. Because I want to give myself an opportunity to stretch my legs and burn some energy in the evening, I'll bring yoga pants, a few shirts and runners. I'll wear my runners to travel and during evenings, the rest won't take much space.
  • Think about laundry: Add a big plastic bag to collect laundry during your stay and sorting your clothes coming back home easy. You can also steal the hotel laundry bag and turn it inside out so there's no confusion. 
  • Don't forget work essentials: Power cords and plug adapter are too often forgotten. Try to put them in your suitcase (unless it's too heavy and your carry on bag is half empty). Also, copy on your computer files you know you'll need and print time stamp / waste walk templates if needed. 
  • Print travel documents: I always have a printed version of my plane ticket, hotel reservation, car rental and any other key document (address of location, agenda if training...). I also have pictures of my passport and ID on my phone in case I loose anything.
  • Pack the right way: Shoes on the bottom of the suitcase, clothes on top, making full use of the pockets. If you gather / prep first and pack last, you should't need to add any last minute item that'll ruin your whole organization. 
When I arrive to my hotel, I like to unpack right away (including toiletries), because it make the generic hotel room feel more homey. It also help preventing wrinkle in your clothes. Just make sure you limit the number of places you spread your belongings in so you'll repack quickly and easily.

And finally, I like to leave my house clean before I travel, even though I can be in a laundry frenzy beforehand. That way, coming back feels much better!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The cost of life: France vs. USA

One of the questions I’m often asked (aside from why moving from Paris to Atlanta) is about the cost of life here compared to France. There is no simple and straight answer to that question: it depends! 

Writing that post has not been as fun as expected. First because it made me think about the way we live and maybe what we should change. Second because it felt like bits and pieces put together and no real "story telling". Hopefully I'll find a better way to write that type of article next time ! 

Here are some factors to keep in mind first:
  • Without credit score, driver or payment history, we have to pay more for some services and prices should decrease 6 months after our arrival (3 months to go, yay!).
  • We are living outside of Atlanta, a region known for its moderate/low cost of life.
  • We have our habits and even though we are adjusting, our way of life is still very much French, which must have an impact on our budget.
  • Taxes (usually 20%) are incorporated in prices in France, and we don’t tips above a couple of Euros (as staff is paid decently).

Household spends

Rent is quite difficult to assess rent as it depends on city, square feet available, neighborhood, demand, etc. It is overall in line with what we would have paid in France for a similar place in a similar area.
We pay electricity a small fortune because we didn’t had a national issued ID when opening the line, that should go down in 3 months, and we’ll get our deposit back. For the rest of utilities, prices are comparable to France.
For a small price, we’ve subscribed to insurance for our goods as the landlord insures the house. In France, we would have paid it all, spending more money than here.
TVs are a about half price here than France, but other major appliances can be more expensive because of their sizes, such as refrigerator, washer and dryer…

Car expanses

First, I need to point out that cars are more expensive here, maybe because they are bigger. Insurance (again, no driver history) is insanely high, as we pay nearly ten times what we used to. But gas on the other end is so much cheaper (around 1.50E per liter when we left compared to $2.20 a gallon these days).
Getting our driving licenses cost us less than $50 each. In France, including mandatory driving lessons and vehicle registration fees cost around 1500E minimum.
Don't start me on parking... I hate to pay for it and it is usually much more expensive here (you can always find a small street where you can park for free in Paris!).

Health expanses

France is famous for its healthcare policy paid by taxes on labor. Most of what we used to pay was taken directly from our incomes; otherwise it was some small amounts of money for auto medication.
While we haven’t had to go to the doctor yet, we spend quite a lot on our health insurance. We’re happy to find many more over-the-counter drugs here, which prevent us from useless doctor appointments (allergies, small colds, non-severe skin conditions…).
Overall, health, if taken seriously and without any chronical disease, is a lot more expensive here.


This one surprises everyone: healthy, fresh food is more expensive in the US than it is in France! On the other hand, junk food and poor quality processed food is cheaper here.
Butter is about twice the price here, fruit juice is about three times the same and milk is cheaper though. Tomato sauce is also twice the price, bread and "French like" cheese we don’t even consider buying as the price and quality difference is ridiculous. Chicken is cheaper, but beef is more expensive. Yogurts and cheese are also more expensive here, with a lower quality.
What surprised us more about food is how quickly prices evolves here (within a week price can double or be cut in half) whereas they are more stable overall in France.


We used to have a internet + TV combo with our French provider for which we paid less than 50E. Now with AT&T we have doubled our invoice for the same service (and about 500% more commercials on all channels at all times...).
I used to have a company cell phone and still have one now, so no change there. As for my husband, he went from 20E a month for unlimited calls, texts and data (including international calls for most countries) and we're now paying almost $100 for the same service. Though, LTE is way better than the 3G/4G I used to have!
In a nutshell, communications are as expensive here as they were in France 10 years ago, before a very competitive provider decided to drastically cut his prices. Can't wait for it to happen in the US too!

Beauty products and clothing

It usually comes as a surprise too, but both beauty supplies and clothing items are overall cheaper in the US. Or to be more accurate, you have more opportunities here to buy cheap make up/clothing items than in France. And outlets are packed with good deals.
Obviously, French brands are more expensive here. And the US have a lot of high end brands (maybe more than France as you get French brands here but France don't get American ones).
I also found many offers here that will encourage you to buy more. So even if it's cheaper and a good deal, you still end spending more.

Culture / going out

Culture in general cost about the same price, except for magazines. For some reason, when most feminine ones cost less that 2E in France, here they are worth twice that. The good think is that I can always go to Barnes & Nobles, order a Starbuck and read my magazines there before putting them back on shelves.