Lean Home Improvement

Last year after reading the fabulous Lean Startup by Eric Reis, I started to adopt concepts of lean and batch size to my home improvement projects. I realize by saying that, I’ve established myself as an uber-geek in at least three categories.

I’ve recently moved house and have finally got the study that I have wanted for 20 years. Before I had even moved into the house I went out a bought a desk and display cabinets for it with the intention of putting in some wicked LED lighting.

My first thought was to buy the lighting from Bunnings or IKEA, even though the price was just this side of stupid. These are quite nice and they have a bar of LED lights with a silver coloured plastic front that keeps the light from shining only into the cabinet and not directly into your eyes.

Now, a lot of cabinets are built in the 600mm and 900mm sizes so I was expecting on my trip to IKEA to find that the lights would be in sizes such as 550mm and 850mm, adjusting for the sides of the cabinets and a little gap. However, the “designers” at IKEA decided that the sizes should be 550mm and 920mm. Seriously?!?

So, I hopped onto e-bay and went down to Bunnings for a good old-fashioned DIY job. So, the basic job looks like the following:

  • 9X 865mm Aluminium Carpet Brackets
  • 9X 865mm LED Strip lights
  • 9X 1M Gaffer Tape
  • 9X 2M Wire Leads
  • 9X Set of Mounting Screws

In case you hadn’t noticed yet, there are 9X shelves.

So, what does this have to do with Lean? The concept of doing things in large batches is so ingrained that even the lists we make assume large batch sizes. Previous to lean thinking, I would have tried to parallelize the light building project in the attempt to get some sort of economy of scale. However, in doing so, I would have missed out learning opportunities, built an inferior product, sworn heavily and retired to a bottle instead of finishing the job.
The design of the job was fairly straightforward. I needed the lights mounted to the top front of each shelf mounted to a strip of aluminium to prevent it from shining directly in the eye. The basic parts and strip being tested demomstrate the general idea:

Lighting Build In Progress

I followed the advice of Donald G. Reinertsen in his indispensable book The Principles of Product Development Flow. I reduced my batch size to 1. I did the first light from cutting aluminium to lit shelf in its entirety. I then reflected on how it could have been done better and I repeated the process. Here’s what I learned

  • Iteration 0: Prototype dry fit with Blu-Tack, found that light bleeds through the holes in the carpet strip. Will fix with gaffer tap
  • Iteration 1: First light put in place, realized that I mixed up the signal and ground wires. Made up a mnemonic to help remember.
  • Iteration 2: Wires strained at junction with LED; fix with gaffer tape over joint.
  • Iteration 3: Smooth sailing
  • Iteration 4: Cut length of wires too short to reach top of cabinet
  • Iteration 5: End of LED strip shorted out against aluminium, apply gaffer tape under ends.
  • Iteration 6: No problems.
  • Iteration 7: Finally, having worked out the kinks, I upped the batch size to 3 and finished.

Finally, my Lean lighting is complete:

This is just one little personal example and doesn’t explore the many ways that lean thinking benefits software development. Please do the world and yourself a favour and get these books!

Adrian Akison Written by:

Adrian is a serial CTO, hobbyist game developer, 3D printing enthusiast and all around maker.