Engineers are expensive. It’s my job to train them to be effective returns on that investment. If you hired an engineer to perform a task, and they showed up without the proper instruments, tools, or equipment for a specific purpose, would you hire them again? Enter a wonderfully simple word:

There might not be a more simple, yet important word in the English dictionary. You’re likely benefiting from kits of various forms right now and unaware:

  1. Wallets/purses/billfolds/backpacks
  2. Lunch box
  3. Dresser
  4. School supplies kit
  5. First aid kit
  6. and many more…

Just about any organization of things for a specific task is a kit. Kits are not only for the daily routines, but for the “hope to never have to use” situations of survival kits (The first hit returned on a Google search, “Hot to make a proper kit” was the emergency kit site). The greatest professionals I know have rigorous kits for their activities, ordered and manicured like a surgeon preparing tools for an open heart surgery. Given this importance of kits in our daily lives and activities, I was stunned when I typed into an Amazon book search “kit making” and the first two hits returned were, “Herbal Soap Making” and “Make your own last will and testament”. It seems the art of creating a ‘good bit of kit’ has fallen by the wayside in western consumerism.

When you need a good bit of kit

From the above list you can see that a kit could be made for just about anything, soon you’ll need kits for your kits. How do you decide when to make a kit with a specific purpose in mind? Ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What is the problem/need/intent of the kit? Another way to do this, what MUST and SHOULD the kit do? If you can’t define this, then you’re not ready for a kit yet.
  2. Does the problem require work of some kind? Precision? Accuracy? Speed? Thoughtlessness (i.e. error proofing)? Kits help you get work done. You don’t need a kit if you have infinite resources (including time) to go and find or purchase what you need ad infinitum.
  3. Can the problem be solved with another kit and a new procedure? Overlapping kits can result in waste.

If you can define and care about something, need to do work towards that end, and don’t have any related kits, it’s time to make a new kit.

Hot to make a good bit of kit

The 6S system used in HYPER of Sort, Sweep, Systemize, Standardize, Sustain, Safety is perfect for producing good kits. When you’ve identified the need for a good kit, work this order:

  1. Sort — pull everything out related to the activity/problem/need/intent. Then sort into three piles: green (keep), yellow (unsure), red (don’t keep). This should be fast. It’s either definitely something you’d use 80% of the time you do the activity (keep), something you’ll never use (don’t keep), or it’s in the unsure pile — we’ll come back to this.
  2. Sweep — clean the items of your kit to make sure they are functional and in good repair. The enemy of work is entropy (dirt, grime, etc.) and entropy leads to more entropy. This will keep your kit functioning well into the future.
  3. Systemize — there is likely an optimal order(s) or procedure(s) for using the items in your kit. Write the procedure down in an order of operations guide to include in the kit. This order of operations could help organize how the items should be stored in your kit. Another way to determine this order is to use the kit at various speeds, this will help you have everything in the right place. Generally you’ll want to minimize wastes like excess movement and unnecessary storage. Go back and look at your yellow (unsure) pile from the Sweep phase. Will you use the item in the kit from time to time and is the storage cost to keep it in the kit minimal?
  4. Standardize — Once you have your kit systemized about as good as it can be. Break out the label maker, bins, baggies, and Kaizen foam. Most workbenches have storage bins for small items. Most first aid kits will have many small and similar items lumped into pouches or baggies. Kaizen foam is a handy system for cutting out places/receptacles for tools or other hardware in your kit. This prevents items from being placed back into the kit incorrectly, or items from wandering about the kit due to jostling and movement.
  5. Sustain — Review your kit periodically to determine whether additions or subtractions are needed. Revise procedures for continuous improvement. Have a system where if you dip into a reserve of consumables, you immediately order the next quantity so you never run out. Some things just don’t store well and systems tend to change/improve over time.
  6. Safety — First-aid kits, safety kits, survival kits, emergency kits are all kits for a reason. We can rely on them in an emergency, or when we’re tired or in a hurry with our mind on other things. Kits help you continue to perform, safely.

When it’s truly a good bit of kit

The best kits don’t get in the way of an activity, they only help. You may not even notice they are there or have learned to take them for granted. They may be so obvious that you don’t need a written procedure for use. You only notice when they rarely, if ever, fail to function correctly. These are good kits. A key trait of engineers is to solve problems by creating things that don’t exist yet. The longevity of that new solution depends on the kit that implements it. If it doesn’t have a kit to define the boundaries of the solution then the kit will soon be lost to entropy. When someone makes a kit for something new for the first time, that’s cause to compliment them on a good bit of kit.

Get started kitting

Grab your backpack, dump it on a table, start the process above. You’ll find you’re carrying extra items that have become a literal burden that drags you down day in and day out. Start the process above and you’ll have a little more pep in your step.

Making a kit takes work. The common responses from novices is, “My work is too custom for a kit,” “We only do one offs around here so kits are pointless,” and “Kits get in the way of my creative process.”  News flash, Bob Ross had a paint kit. In the moment, I can’t think of a professional that doesn’t have a kit of some kind. Even comedians will carry a notepad for writing down and sketching out new joke skits — now you know the origin of that word — comedic acts are simply psychological kits. You might even find you create a place for making kits in, let’s call it a kitchen.

Kits are an investment in the future. Yes they’ll take work, time, and money now. But they’ll likely save multiples of that work, time, and money in the future.

Students are an investment in the future. Yes they’ll take work, time, and money now. But they’ll likely save multiples of that work, time, and money in the future.

Let’s get better at teaching our students how to make a good bit of kit.