The Kitchen Sink

Washing Vessels – An Operations Approach

I’ve been washing vessels. This is not news to anyone who has spent time in the lockdown. Like many of my fellow countrymen, I’ve been living the charmed life, with hired help taking care of everyday household tasks. With the coronavirus lockdown, we have been left to fend for ourselves. We are the lucky ones – the most hardship we have to endure is that we have to wash our own clothes and vessels.

However, it is not safe to leave tasks such as vessel washing in the hands of a former operations fellow like me. You see, the trouble with operations folks is that they cannot meet something without wanting to organize it, streamline it, reduce it to a set of processes and sub-processes and then embark on a tweaking journey to increase the efficiency of aforementioned processes and sub-processes. And that is what happened with me and vessel washing.

I am not new to vessel washing – my parents very cleverly introduced me to its joys when I was but a mere stripling, but never got to take too much advantage of my vessel-washing prowess. In the intervening years, I might have washed a plate there and a tumbler here, but never too much, not more than a couple of vessels at the same time. Definitely not sinkfuls of heavily encrusted cooking pots, chai vessels and oily kadais that were just used to make bajjis. So yeah, while I was familiar with the theory of it, I was as used to it as a General is to digging trenches.

So, on day one of the lockdown, faced with a full sink of vessels and armed with a PowerScrub and a Vim bar, I set to it. I took one look at the overflowing sink and said in my best Ops manner, “This will not do. We need separation of the different types of vessels.” And so the spoons and forks and knives went in a bowl of Prilled water; the plates stood, in height order, against one side of the sink; bowls stacked together, in order of size, to one side; the greasy kadais and tawa had their own corner. Then, with great gusto, I tackled it the same way I would a list of tasks – hit the big ones first – the big hairy goals, the frogs that have to be eaten. In this case, the big, heavy, greasy vessels. Then I moved to the lesser challenging ones, then to the plates, and the ladles, and finally the spoons, the forks and knives. I was ecstatic – I had the kitchen sink beat!

A clean sink, with the washed vessels in the background!

There was also the matter of measuring the quality of the work that I had set up – very quickly I realized a built-in quality system – running my finger along the side of the vessel as I was rinsing it – was none too effective. So I instituted a quick quality check as part of the post-rinse routine for each vessel which involved both tactile and visual confirmation of spotlessness. At the end of the wash, I had an external quality check by Vidya done, and she was able to catch less than 50% of the errors made on a daily basis by the domain specialist who usually handled this process – our scullery maid. I was proud and rightly so – I had, in a process-driven, consistently replicable, measurable manner, operationalized a process that had been for years done in an ad hoc manner with no documentation or knowledge management whatsoever.

The next day was the day I faced my biggest challenge. The tea strainer. Now on day one, I had not encountered this specimen – for whatever reason we’d just rinsed it and used it again. But this time I was stumped by it. It wouldn’t fit into any of the piles. So I exiled it into a pile of one called Miscellaneous & Sundry Items (to be cleared after all other items). I would deal with it later.

The Offending Tea Strainer

At the exhilarating end of a productive session of vessel washing, I was brought rudely down to earth by the one-item pile that was the tea strainer. It looked at me cheekily before lazily slipping into the now-empty sink with a wet thunk. I wasn’t going to let this little whippersnapper spoil my successful session of vessel washing. In the blink of an eye I had seized the PowerScrub, opened the tap to soak it and taken a dab of the Vim bar. I would show that upstart who’s boss. I quickly snatched it up from the floor of the sink and held it up by its scrawny neck and… I stopped short. Where in the name of all that is sacred and civilized were you supposed to scrub a tea strainer? There wasn’t a single tangible scrubbable surface for me to vent my perfectly reasonable and righteous anger on. I was flummoxed, but wasn’t going to let my dab of Vim go to waste. I had set out to scrub and by golly I would scrub. And so the tea strainer bore the brunt of my attack – the rim and the handle were scrubbed so vigorously that I’m sure it was cleaner than the day it was manufactured. But the netting was annoying. It couldn’t be scrubbed, and it had little bits of grit on the edges I couldn’t get to at all. I was well and truly defeated. My carefully set-up system could not handle the tea strainer.

An Unsegregated Kitchen Sink

So the next day, I went in without a care. No segregation of vessels, no eating the frog first, no big hairy goal first – I just stuck my hand in the sink and whatever I could grab was the next vessel to be washed. I abandoned all the operational rigour I had built and just went with the flow. I had a sparkling and clear sink in pretty much the same time it took with the carefully arranged system. I knew this because I was still measuring time – who abandons metrics? I’d thrown the system to the wind, but I still had the numbers – I’m not a barbarian!

And so there you have it, backed by data – all my operational experience had only come to prove that it was of no use when it came to washing vessels. One just had to go with the flow, even if one were an operations person!


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