Prevent mistakes with better sorting

[With a title like this, I’m certain your hands tremble with scant contained excitement…]

I’m very taken with a knock down garden cart kit that Mr. Fashion-Incubator bought. As you know, DIY construction from store bought kits can be an exercise in futility if not frustration but this garden cart kit was designed to minimize confusion in one ingenious way; namely through hardware sorting and organization:


The hardware supplied with the kit was sorted according to each step in the instructions and laminated to a piece of cardboard (above). All the parts for step one in their own section, ditto for step two et cetera. This sure beats opening a plastic bag of parts, sorting them by size and function based on instructions that are poorly or incompletely illustrated and then wondering what you’re missing. Maybe other companies are also doing this but this is the first example of it I have seen. It’s a very simple idea that didn’t require a complex or expensive solution making it all the more remarkable.

This concept is used by lean manufacturers in other industries.  Which brings me to the point: Do you have any ideas as to similar ways we could bundle garment components so as to reduce construction and or omission errors?

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Theresa in Tucson says:

    Kathleen, your garden cart produced a grin in this household. Years ago my contractor friend said, “When your next at the Depot, get me another garden cart.” Well I bought two, one for us and one for him. All the parts were bagged and the instructions were, shall we say, a bit confusing. Or maybe it was because my assistant was the resident infantryman. We had three disagreements putting together the first cart and it took us an hour. The second cart took ten minutes and when it was done we looked at each other sheepishly, it was so simple.

    Yippee! The resident infantryman just walked in with a package. The awaited drafting book and we are doing sleeves in drafting class. Wish me luck.

  2. Donna says:

    WOW! I really like the sorting. Only problem is getting them out of those sealed packages. Now if Ikea would do this their products would be perfect. They have some of the best locking pieces for tight assembly of their products.

  3. Rose in SV says:

    Whenever I have to assemble stuff from Ikea, I use a muffin tin sort all the nails, screws, nuts and bolts. It’s a great method to make certain that I don’t accidentally use the wrong fastener.

  4. Sorting and organization is definitely a universal problem. I think the basic principles are the same for any industry and even for home organization. Organization isn’t just about placing things, it’s about conveying information with the placement of things, information like which thing goes first or what items go with what other items.

    First, determine the information that people need to know. In the case of the garden cart, it is which bolts and nuts go with which step. For garment production it might be left side pieces and right side pieces.

    Second, create a way for them to easily determine that information. The garden cart did this by laminating the hardware to a piece of cardboard. I’ve also seen it done by packaging hardware, Legos, etc. in smaller bags clearly labeled with numbers according to the steps in which they are to be used, which solves the earlier-noted problem of removing hardware from lamination. Labels that are hard to read, hard to find, or that remove themselves at inconvenient times do not convey information.

    Third, make sure that whatever system you use to relay the information comports with people’s general understanding of order. E.g., don’t number the packets 1, 2, 3 and have packet #3 be used first, then #1 and #2. Things that are to be done sequentially are best numbered/lettered in order, not marked with squares or circles that don’t have a standard order. Marking things with shapes works best in a non-sequential sort, such as sorting children’s toys. Grocery stores sort items by standard associations of what goes with what, which is why vinegar, mayonnaise, and olives are usually on the same aisle even though vinegar is also used for cleaning, mayo is in chicken salad sandwiches and olives in martinis.

    Fourth, communicate the steps redundantly. Even the best-written directions will be unclear at some times to some people. Redundancy provides both a backup system for when one line of communication fails and a “check” to create a feeling of reassurance in those who are able to follow the main set of directions. Make sure your redundant system uses multiple methods of communication, and that the parallel communications are consistent. For example, written directions to assemble furniture might include a picture of a piece with a letter A on it. The actual piece should also have the letter A on it in approximately the same position and orientation for maximum effect. Tools organized on a pegboard might have the name of the tool on a label and the outline of the tool on the board. Items used in the same step can sometimes be color coded to confirm that they are to be used together. Directions shouldn’t just tell people how to do things, they should also tell them how to know if they’ve done it right; they should *teach* people how to do things, and one of the principles of good teaching is to provide affirmation when the student does something correctly. Redundancy is the closest thing to affirmation that you can do without a personal interaction.

    Fifth, make it as impossible as you can to do things out of order. Stack first-used items on top of later-used items, and make commonly-used items more accessible than infrequently-used items. This ties in with the previous point, as being unable to do something out of order is a way to check if you’re on track.

  5. Barb Taylorr says:

    May I add that putting the hardware in an obvious place is nice too? That seems so obvious, but I have found them in very odd places. I once bought a futon and my son & I spent at least 1/2 hour looking for the hardware needed to assemble it. Just before I left to return to the store for it, he discovered it was zipped into the bottom side of one of the upholstered cushions. The only purpose for that zippered pocket was to store the screws & bolts! (Or maybe it is supposed to be a secret place to store the TV remote if you want to be sure no one turns off your program?)

  6. Rose says:

    When I disassemble things, I put all the fasteners in egg cartons and label the inside of the lid with the important information about where it came from. Then, I can just put the fasteners all back in reverse order, and the fastener information is what tells me what parts to put back in where and when. Except most recently, when I closed the carton, moved it, and then turned it over, completely discombobulating things. Ugh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.