The lean secret of … Indian bread?

I never fail to be reminded that lean thinking makes sense anywhere – and everywhere. The latest occasion was at a friend’s house a few weekends ago making an Indian bread called paratha. I had made them in the past, but this was the first time it really registered to me as a process. Just watch how lean thinking takes over in the kitchen.

My friend began the setup by making a large dough ball, kneading wheat flour,salt and water. The process steps entailed

bread making
The Indian bread paratha takes teamwork – and some lean principles – to make a successful meal.

her making a small ball from the dough, rolling it flat and placing it on a pan where I cooked it. I then removed it from the pan, placed it in a casserole to keep it warm.

Here’s where it gets tricky – just like any process a few steps away from its future state. Initially, we weren’t synchronized to create one-piece flow. If she slowed down, my pan sat empty and overheated, creating waste in the form of time and human potential and winding up the pitch for a defect. If I slowed down, she already would have rolled the bread, standing there and waiting for my pan to be empty. As a countermeasure, my friend kept a plate between the pan and her rolling unit where the rolled bread  began to stack up. With the pressure on, I pushed to cook the parathas faster, turning up the heat and burning the bread. When I turned the gas down, the bread would be undercooked. More defects. If you’re still with me, you see her countermeasure covered up a symptom of the problem but didn’t get at the root cause.

It took us time to get things under control, but we “stopped the line,” huddled and came up with the most efficient way of cooking the bread. This involved using the correct amount of heat so I wouldn’t burn or undercook the bread. We paced our share of work so we produced at the same rate, or takt time. We decided the empty pan would be the kanban for my friend to start rolling the next bread. If the pan was filled, she would use that time to undertake some standard work: Making the ball for the next bread.

Voila! The lean recipe worked for our recipe: Warm parathas with delicious egg curry. Take a stab at it yourself – and learn from our mistakes.


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