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Make:cast – Recipes for Organizing a Makerspace

Episode 2: Tom Root on Operational Thinking for Makerspaces

Tom Root and Dale Grover are co-founders of MakerWorks, a makerspace in Ann Arbor MI.  They have published a new book on how to organize a makerspace based on their own experiences over nine years. The Intentional Makerspace: Operations is available for purchase on Maker Shed.

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In this conversation with Tom Root, we discuss how makerspaces can empower people to do things, from the small things like using tools safely to the big things like solving the world’s problems.

Tom calls himself a process geek, and we’ll geek out with him about writing standard operating procedures which should become central to managing a makerspace. We also talk about: Rosie the Riveter, lean manufacturing principles derived from Toyota including the 5Ss; and how to make it easy for people to do the right thing, like putting tools back where they belong.

Tom Root brings 21 years of experience working in the mail order/fulfillment side of Zingerman’s.  He’s adapted lean manufacturing principles to operating a makerspace.

Book front and back covers


Dale: In some ways, running a business, particularly a food business, it’s based on recipes.

Tom:  Absolutely.

Dale: It’s getting many people, many different people over time to make the same thing and make it well.

Tom: You have hit on the key concept to any restaurant. Any successful restaurant figures out how to eliminate variability or increase consistency. And the primary means is recipes, that’s right.

Dale: But there’s not just recipes behind food production.

Zingerman’s are masters at defining what they call “organizational recipes.” At Zingerman’s, there are recipes for how to provide great customer service, how to build and maintain culture, even how to achieve financial success.

Dale: What the book is about is recipe development.

Tom: Back in World War II, we had to replace the workforce in this country with people who didn’t have any experience working. And we had the iconic Rosie the Riveter. We had to train Rosie the Riveter in a way of approaching the work that wasn’t just about maintaining the work, but was about improving the work.

And what Rosie was taught was that the only way you can improve something is if we all agree on the way it gets done in the first place. So without standardized process, there is no way to make improvements. So to your point, standardized process enables a lot of things. The first thing you mentioned was consistency, eliminating variability. The other thing it empowers us to do is make improvements. If you and I don’t agree on the purpose of this tool or the steps of this process, we’re never going to agree on how to improve that process. So having a standard, a recipe that we can both agree upon, it empowers a bunch of things: easy transfer of knowledge, repeatability, consistency, and a foundation on which we can make it better.

Standard Operating Procedures are recipes for anything you need to do more than once. Makerspace members use SOPs to maintain machines, process membership transactions, and teach classes

Dale: You say that Maker Works has about 240 SOPs, something like 2100 pages of documentation. One of the things that I think we all care about is safety. When someone comes up to a new machine, which could injure them, they may not see the danger to them or to the machine or to the environment. And I’ve always felt like not a lot of makerspaces do a good job on this. Talk about how you particularly use SOPs at Maker Works?

Tom: Rolling back to the real laboratory was Zingerman’s mail-order and this empowering 600 people to come in and be effective. Our measure at mail order is I want to be able to take someone who has never done this job and make them an 80% contributor in 30 minutes or less.

Now I tell you this because this sounds very similar to what the experience is of someone coming into a Makerspace. We want them to be 80% of better. safety-wise on the equipment in a really short period of time or else our risk is very high. So the lesson that we learned at mail order was that we could use these SOPs, standard operating procedures, to make people effective, efficient. But at Maker Works, we wanted to use the SOP is to keep them safe.


The term “5S” comes from 5 Japanese words that map roughly to English as follows: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

Tom: The organization has to explain itself. It has to be obvious, apparent, and transparent. So 5Sing is actually a technique that’s borrowed directly from lean manufacturing of the Toyota production system.

Basically the five S’s are as follows. The first one is to sort. So, in any given work area, we want to sort what is necessary from what is not necessary. And we want to remove anything that’s not necessary. Now, one of the things you got to remember is that the first thing we got to know is what is the purpose of that area? It seems simple to say, but then it’s complicated.

The next one is to set it in order and that’s to say, clean things up. Organize things a little bit. Put them where you believe they should go. We’re going to shine. We’re going to clean. We’re going to repaint. Maybe all of us have the uncle or the aunt, who has the little outlines on the tool board.

That’s shining it and cleaning it, but more importantly, it’s the fourth step, which is standardizing. I can’t say enough about this step.

So the moment we take something out of that space, we can’t figure out how to put it back in. That means that we’ve sorted and shined and organized, but we have not standardized and therefore it cannot the fifth step be sustained. And in a maker space, we need to standardize so it can be sustained. Anybody knows where it goes.

Once you’ve spent all this time to get it, and it’s the shape and this is the standardizing, this goes here. That really facilitates the sustaining of it. So, in the makerspace, the use of 5Sing does a couple of things for us. One is it radically increases the probability that the member is going to put the tool back where it goes because first and foremost, they know where it goes. There is a home for it. There’s a designated spot for it. The second is it makes it very easy for the staff to recognize when something isn’t where it belongs. When they do a nightly walk around the shop and they look at the tool board and they see an empty hole, they don’t have to wonder, is there something missing?

Dale Grover at Maker Faire Detroit (photo: Dale Dougherty)

Tom: Makerspaces are supposedly ordered around this notion of empowerment. We want to empower people to do these things. I think that we’re trying to take this concept of empowerment all the way down to the level of put the tools back. And our rule is that we need to make it easy to do the right thing or hard to do the wrong thing. That’s the only way to guarantee people will do the right thing is if it’s the easy thing or if it’s incredibly difficult to do the wrong thing.

Learn more online at Maker Works about Using Recipes for a Great Makerspace. Or buy the book, The Intentional Makerspace: Operations on Maker Shed.

If you have comments or suggestions for the podcast, email me at


DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty