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How I Solved My Shoe Addiction Using Lean Six Sigma -

I write this blog at the risk of disappointing many people – okay, women – across the globe who love to buy shoes and amass gorgeous shoe collections.

I hear you! For a long time, I reveled in the joy of buying snazzy shoes and spent plenty of time admiring my growing inventory. But something changed. Over the years a few things happened that altered my footwear paradigm and “shoe hoarding” propensity.

How my shoe addiction came to an end

First, I ran out of shoe space and I was wary of stealing more closet space from defensive family members. They’re all male, but they needed some room for their shoes.

Second, my feet were becoming increasingly discerning about the kinds of shoes that were acceptable. I’ve been in the middle of countless arguments between my feet and my head. My feet want to wear comfortable shoes while my head wants to strap on sleek, ill-fitting Jimmy Choos.

Alas, as my feet won more and more of the arguments, my shoe collection became a museum of fashionable relics that harkened back to my stylish days of yore.

When I realized I needed to Lean out my collection

The last thing that changed my penchant for stowing more sling-backs was that I knew there was a tool from my process improvement background that could easily manage my shoe inventory. I could no longer deny it – I wanted to create a Shoe Kanban in my closet.

“Kanban” is a Japanese term that translates to “card” or “board” and is typically a visual signal that triggers action within a process. In manufacturing or office environments, Kanbans are physical or electronic triggers indicating that it’s time to order inventory, build a product or unit, or move a component to the next step in a process.

“Kanban” is a Japanese term that translates to “card” or “board” and is typically a visual signal that triggers action within a process.

A commonly recognized Kanban is the one that lives in our checkbooks – remember those? For those of you who still write the occasional check, There’s a re-order form on the first page of the last batch of checks. It’s a visual signal that triggers the ordering of more checks before they run out. The benefit of the Kanban is that you’re never without checks. Ordering new ones just-in-time prevents you from ordering too many.

Kanban - Check Reorder -

So how does the Shoe Kanban work?

In this case, we’re trying to solve the issue of “buying too many shoes” – excess inventory – rather than the issue of “running out of shoes.” If the Kanban works correctly, I would only buy a pair of shoes if I got a visual signal from the Shoe Kanban.

Shoe Rack - GoLeanSixSigma.comTo set up a Shoe Kanban, first designate a space that holds a set quantity of paired shoes. Ideally, all shoe storage can be seen at a glance.

If all the spaces are filled, this indicates that “no more shoes are needed.” There’s not a shoe lover out there who has ever said, “I have enough shoes!” No problem, the Shoe Kanban says it for you!

When do you get to buy a new pair of shoes? If the Kanban is working correctly, you get to buy a new pair only if a space opens up. That means you have to remove a pair in order to buy a pair. (And no, that doesn’t mean moving them to your secret shoe stash in the garage – they’re gone for good!)

About four times a year, at the end of every season, I stand in front of my collection for a “purging” session. During these sessions, I assess how often I wore each pair within the past season. If it wasn’t that often, I determine why the frequency was low and decide whether to keep the pair or donate them to Goodwill or for the next garage sale.

About four times a year, at the end of every season, I stand in front of my collection for a “purging” session.

Shoe Kanban Trigger -

A more manageable closet – and life!

So far, the Shoe Kanban is working. I confess there are times I circumvented the Kanban, purchased a pair of shoes, came home and then removed a pair after the fact. That’s not how it supposed to work, but I had a few weak moments – I still love shoes!! Now I have a moderate – rather than colossal – shoe inventory and I assess the inventory four times a year to purge shoes as appropriate.

I’d recommend creating a Shoe Kanban if you know “someone” with out-of-control shoe inventory. If you do implement one, I’d love to hear about it! I recommend caution if this “someone” is a significant other. You may not have the critical family buy-in needed to implement a Shoe Kanban in your own home or closet space. We all know a quality solution must be accepted first if you want it to be sustainable!

Are you going to try a Shoe Kanban?

Do you have a Shoe Kanban and you didn’t even know it? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.
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