Lean Thinking in an Office

A warm welcome to our new guest blogger, Jim Desrochers. Jim is the Associate Director for Employer Relations in Michigan Tech’s Career Services. He is also training to become a campus Lean Facilitator.

In a manufacturing setting, waste is measured in terms of factory efficiency and scored by the accounting measurement system as part of the financial reporting process. In an office setting, these measurements are harder to define but they “show up” in wasted effort, frustration, frayed nerves, and people staying late to help make the event a success.

Our Career Services group is known for coordinating our bi-annual Career Fairs. Managing logistics for hundreds of companies, nearly a thousand recruiters, and several thousand students leaves very little room for error.  Most importantly, the future careers of our students are on the line. With the economy improving and the excellent reputation of Michigan Tech students, the size and expectations for Career Services events have continued to grow.

Career Services Huddle Board

As our department’s first step in our lean journey, we decided to start a morning huddle.  Initially, the primary focus of the meeting was our event-planning calendar. This grid is a look ahead for the next few weeks to ensure everyone in the department knows what is coming next. To make this happen, we repurposed a dry erase board and moved it to a central area. A few dry-erase markers later, we had the beginnings of a communication structure!

In an office where everyone is extremely busy, we had reservations about everyone sacrificing 10 minutes of their day. We also were concerned that we would not know what to talk about! These concerns turned out to be unfounded! After a month of using this new process, the information on the dry erase board has changed. Some things we initially placed on the board aren’t used anymore and we simply erased them. New items are added as we develop new educational programming. Using only markers and bad penmanship, the board continues to be dynamic. We are starting to use rulers and magnets to make the look neater – but we don’t want to lose the flexibility of just getting the information communicated.

Our implementation of Lean Initiatives in our offices continues as time allows. As we continue to add process improvements, these items will find their way back to the central huddle board. It will be interesting to see what the board looks like a year from now!

 

Developing Students, Improving Universities

This post was originally published at The Lean Post. Our own Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Assistant Vice President for Administration, is the author. 

Today, lean thinking in higher education is uncommon. As a rule, institutions that teach lean continuous improvement in their academic curricula or that have centers or institutes to educate the public struggle themselves to be practitioners in their own administrative processes. There’s the challenge of teaching lean thinking and the challenge of practicing it ourselves in the administrative processes of a university system.

In 2008, when Michigan Technological University’s own lean journey began, President Glenn Mroz introduced the principles of lean thinking to his administration and asked that a transformation begin at the university. Mroz knew what Balzer pointed out in Lean Higher Education (2010), which is that institutional processes link to the overall success of universities and directly benefit all constituents, particularly students. Our intent was to begin this journey by first using lean thinking in our everyday operations and also begin exposing students to lean principles through participation in improvement events. This directly aligned with our directive to “prepare students to create the future.” It also aligned with our strategic intent of distinctive and rigorous, action-based, experiential learning, responding to the needs and challenges of the 21st century.

At Michigan Tech, we’ve found many compelling reasons to seek out a continuous improvement methodology we can use as a foundation upon which students could build academic and career success and that would also be effective in improving our own administrative processes.

                             Value Stream Mapping
                             Fishbone Problem-Solving

Here’s where we’ve focused our energies:

  • Accreditation. The University’s accreditation is dependent upon demonstrating continuous improvement in both academic and administrative areas. We’re working on creating and sharing demonstrable methods for improving administrative processes. Demonstrating and measuring improvements builds our credibility and strengthens the assurance argument necessary for university accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission.
  • Cost of Education. As is the case in many states, Michigan has experienced shrinking state allocations for higher education. To keep the resulting rise in tuition costs as low as possible, employing lean continuous improvement methodologies help contain costs. Cost savings that can be used to offset tuition increases have been generated through a variety of improvement events ranging from reducing days of inventory on hand in our dining services to reducing fuel costs at our golf course by adjusting mowing patterns and frequencies.
  • Quality. Improved administrative processes elevate and strengthen the student experience. This is done by saving time, reducing waste, and avoiding cost while delivering the expected service to students. This helps Michigan Tech retain students.
  • State Initiatives. Since 2010, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has supported service and process optimization and lean practices through the Office of Good Government. As a state institution, at Michigan Tech we’ve aligned with these efforts.
  • Universal application. Lean thinking and practice have daily application in all aspects of the business and academics of the university. Part of our work has been about simply spreading this thinking throughout administrative and academic offices.
  • Pull. Companies recruiting Michigan Tech graduates have told us they are looking for students with exposure to and proficiency in lean continuous improvement. We’ve worked to share this information with students through employing students in our Office of Continuous Improvement, by including students in kaizen events, and by sharing lean knowledge through our Leaders in Continuous Improvement student organization
  • Academic curricula. Most importantly, adopting a continuous improvement methodology integrated with an academic curricula is what makes a difference for students’ overall learning experience. Currently, we have 22 quality-related courses on different aspects of lean and continuous improvement being taught as part of a diverse curricula on our STEM campus.

Successes So Far

Michigan Tech’s lean transformation has its foundations in a network of over 20 trained improvement facilitators from all areas of campus. These volunteers range from hourly employees to executives who work to facilitate improvement events requested by departments. Initially the university engaged outside consultants to provide facilitator training, some of which was funded by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services through a labor/management-focused grant. Currently an Office of Continuous Improvement is staffed by a Manager and a team of student Process Improvement Coordinators that provide training and support the lean efforts on campus.

A student organization called Leaders in Continuous Improvement was formed two years ago and continues to grow in size and interest. Over 650 university employees have been exposed to lean thinking and over $250,000 in savings have been identified through formal improvement events.

Ongoing Challenges

The culture of higher education poses challenges when rolling out a lean transformation. Some are unique to higher ed and others are more universal. Here’s what we’ve experienced:

  • Unwillingness to view students as “customers”
  • Difficulty translating lean’s manufacturing history into knowledge work
  • Discomfort in learning as you’re doing
  • Focus on the visible use of tools instead of the underlying thinking
  • Oversimplifying Lean as the application of just one or two tools (5S and visual displays)
  • Push back on standard work as “dumbing things down” and wringing out creativity and intellectual freedom

What’s Next

We plan to continue designing courses to prepare lean-certified students who are ready to work in industry. This will require the endorsement and participation of academic leadership, as well as continuing to also practice lean improvements in the administrative processes of the university. Our goal is to serve as a co-curricular learning laboratory for students, teaching lean thinking while also assisting in the university’s success.

We’d like to hear from you. Do you think that higher education can provide students with an immersive experience that brings together both the academic curriculum and the co-curricular companion piece of administrative processes and extra-curricular activities? Tell us your thoughts in the comments. We’re particularly interested in hearing success stories that we can learn from!

 

The Quarter Pounder

During a recent Auxiliary Services Report Out, Bob Hiltunen gave an incredible teachback demonstrating the benefits of one-piece flow over traditional batch and queue. He was able to do this through an exercise we call “The Quarter Pounder.” One-piece flow refers to the concept of moving one work piece at a time between operations. This may also be referred to as the OHIO method (only handle it once).

To learn more about The Quarter Pounder activity, read a previous blog post by fellow Process Improvement Coordinator Nate Hood by clicking here.

The group of participants really enjoyed this fun, hands on exercise. It was great to see the mental light-bulbs going off when each participant saw the difference between batching and one-piece flow.

QP

No matter who is participating in this activity, the results are always the same. By eliminating the batching and implementing one-piece flow, the team is always able to decrease the total process time, and the time it takes for the customer to get their first item plummets. During this round of the exercise, the team was able to decrease total processing time by 289%!! How can implementing one-piece-flow in your organization benefit you?

Fire Prevention Is the Key

Do you spend your day putting out fires at work? Running from one emergency to the next? Trying to contain the damage? This is an exhausting way to live, and unfortunately, all too common. You might be the hero for the day, but another emergency is just around the corner. Fear of failure is always looming. What if I told you there’s another way to do things?

During the Michigan Lean Consortium‘s annual conference, I attended a breakout session called “Making Improvements Soar with Value Streams” presented by Rob Pease and Brad Brown. Rob and Brad were Lean champions for the Grand Rapids Fire Department.

Firemen2
Rob and Brad introducing themselves at a breakout session for the Michigan Lean Consortium’s annual conference, last summer.

 

As they were introducing themselves, they talked about how firefighting has evolved. Initially the work involved running from one fire to the next (real fires, for them!). However, fire fighters soon realized they could spend less time fighting fires if there were fewer fires and if they were able to put them out more quickly. Fighting fires is risky business–the less time spent fighting fires, the less personal exposure to danger. In addition, fewer fires means fewer injured citizens. As a result, fire departments work hard to find new ways to prevent fires (attack the root cause) and provide the best possible training. The Grand Rapids Fire Department’s Residential Safety Program won the 2013 Leland Gayheart Prevention Award from the University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center.

This is where Lean comes in. Finding the time to search for the root causes of workplace emergencies and applying problem-solving techniques can result in a permanent reduction in the number of “fires” you have to put out. This will reduce your exposure to possible failures. You can begin an upward spiral of reduced stress and more time for planning and prevention.

If you’re ready to move into fire prevention, click here, answer a few short questions, and we’ll work with you to find solutions and improve your processes.

 

Defining and Creating Customer Value

At the heart of Lean is a focus on the customer and a spirit of continuous improvement. In this post, I want to discuss the concept of customer value.

Many people think they have a firm grasp on the concept of value, but in reality understanding how value is created, applied, measured, and translated is a difficult task. This is because each and every person has their own perception of what constitutes value and this belief of what value is changes over time. Though it may prove difficult, identifying what creates value for the customer is the very first principle of Lean; it’s a task that must be completed before beginning any process improvement efforts.

Upon the completion of this task, not only will you know what your customers value, you’ll also have a basis for defining your day-to-day activities. Having that level of definition will help answer 3 important questions:

  1. What should I be doing?
  2. How should I be doing it?
  3. Why should I be doing it?

Everything we do on a daily basis, no matter how small, should create some kind of value for our specific customers. Defining said value forms the foundation upon which you build Lean processes to deliver that value and satisfy your customer. For an activity to be value added, you must meet all three precise criteria:

  1. The customer must be willing to pay for the activity.
  2. The activity must transform the product or service in some way.
  3. The activity must be done correctly the first time.

If an activity does not meet all three value-added criteria, then it’s deemed officially to be non-value-added.  In Lean, non-value-added activities are further broken down into two types of muda (or waste):

  1. Type-1 waste includes actions that are non-value-added, but are required for some other reason. These are typically support activities that allow those critical value-added activities to take place.  These forms of waste usually cannot be eliminated immediately.
  2. Type-2 wastes are those activities that are non-value-added and are unnecessary. These activities are the first targets for elimination.


Many activities may seem as though they’re necessary or value-added, but on closer examination, viewing them through the eyes of the customer, they’re not. For example,  if you are completing paperwork to pass on to another department, or creating reports for your supervisor, the first order of business should always be to define what information is of value to the person receiving the documents you’re creating. You may find that a portion of the information you’re collecting or reporting is of no value to your “customer,” and therefore collecting and documenting that information only serves to create waste in the process. 

Identifying customer value and seeking out and eliminating waste takes effort — it’s a journey that begins with challenging the status quo. If you’re ready to accept this challenge and begin your journey, call the Office of Continuous Improvement at 906-487-3180 or email us at involvement@mtu.edu. We will work with you and give you the tools you need to get you headed in the right direction.

Reference
     – You are welcome to check out this book and others from our Lean Library.
Sayer, Natalie J., and Bruce Williams. Lean for Dummies. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2012. Print.

Menlo Innovations’ Business Value of Joy Workshop

Thank you to our returning guest blogger, Kaylee Betzinger, a former student process improvement coordinator here at Michigan Tech and currently an intern at Amway in their Enterprise Excellence Department.

Menlo Innovations Daily Stand UpI recently had the opportunity to go on an industry tour to Menlo Innovations. Menlo Innovations is a custom software development company that utilizes a High-Tech Anthropology approach and incorporates continuous improvement principles in their day-to-day activities to develop and build new and innovative programs for their customers. Richard Sheridan, Menlo’s founder and CEO, is the author of Joy Inc. (How We Built a Workplace People Love). Menlo has won numerous awards, including Inc.’s 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies in American (Inc. Magazine), 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For (Metro Detroit), and the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Flexibility (When Work Works).

A hot topic lately at Amway has been Visual Management. Several different departments at Amway Headquarters have expressed interest in Visual Management, so we (Enterprise Excellence) thought, what better way to teach Visual Management than to go to a world renowned company that is known for their culture and visual workspace (AKA, go to the Menlo Innovation Gemba). Menlo welcomes companies to come in and take one of the many tours or workshops available and learn more about what it means to have Joy in the workplace. We were able to take the Menlo Innovations Business Value of Joy Workshop, which is a private workshop geared toward a topic of our choosing (Visual Management) and is given by one of the partners.

James Goebel, Menlo’s Chief Architect and a Partner was our workshop facilitator. Before our tour even began we were able to participate in their companywide daily standup meeting. Their daily stand up (see Figure 1) takes place every morning at 10:00 am. Everyone gets up from what they are doing, forms a large circle, and explains what they will be working oMenlo Figure 2 Open Workspacen for the day and if they are in need of any assistance from other team members. I was astounded that everyone was able to participate (60+ employees) and keep it under 10 minutes. What a great way to kick-off our workshop!

After the stand-up, James began talking about the Menlo culture and the
different behaviors they’ve incorporated, such as an open and collaborative workspace (no walls, cubicles, or designated stations/desks, see Figure 2), estimation without fear, and making mistakes faster. Making mistakes faster is (what I believe) a key in any continuous improvement culture, so I inquired further and James explained that you have to create an environment where problems are obvious. When the problems are obvious and visual, you can fix them and generate results much quicker. A perfect example of this is in their Weekly Project Tracking Board (see Figure 3). For each day of the week they’ve laid out exactly what each project pair will be working on, on what they call a story card. The story cards are a simple, Menlo Figure 3 Project Trackerhand written description of what is needed for this piece of the project, an estimation of how long this will take, and a status in the form of a colored dot. They have 5 different colors with a different meaning for each (as seen in the upper right hand corner of each story card). The colors and meanings are as follows: yellow—currently in process, orange—done in the eyes of the team and waiting for QA approval, red—needs additional attention, question/need assistance, or waiting for a response from the client, green—completed, and blue—cancelled. This project tracker is an extremely simple and effective way to track projects. Anyone in the building can walk over to the board and see the progress on any given project.

Anywhere you look in the building you can see how Menlo has integrated visual management and visual cues. You can feel the Joy in the air when you walk in, and that is something to be cherished and striven for. I would recommend taking a Menlo tour to anyone interested in learning more about a continuous improvement culture and what it looks like to have Joy in the workplace (plus you get a copy of Rich Sheridan’s Joy Inc.).

 

 

Trend Prediction

Hello, this is Elizabeth, one of the student process improvement coordinators at Michigan Tech. This semester one of the classes I am taking within the department of mechanical engineering is “Engineering Design Process.” Within the class we are charged with designing a way to change the landscape of the moving luggage industry. Innovation is one of the main objectives. I decided to look at how I could integrate my course work and job. Taking advantage of the Lean Library in the Office of Continuous Improvement  I checked out the book The Innovators Toolkit.

Book

The book starts off with having the user define the opportunity. It stated that, “Taking thousands of shots at an undefined target (unfocused ideation) won’t result in any innovation goal”.  From here the book is broken up into four parts; defining the opportunity, discover the ideas, develop the designs, demonstrate the innovation. Within these four parts there are different techniques to be used. I chose to focus on part two – discover the idea and more specifically technique 16: trend prediction.

In this age of rapid change and a push towards innovation it is important to be able to accurately predict where future trends will be in order that one’s invention matches the needs and wants of those trends. After searching around online I found that a lot of the organizational templates used in the book are available to the public for free. I would encourage you to look at them and use them to your advantage

 

 

Network Drive 5S Best Practices

Most people practicing Lean know 5S–Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize and Sustain–and they know it can be applied to many things. Here at Michigan Tech we have applied this thinking to shared network storage spaces. I have now facilitated 4 of these events.

At the first one I facilitated, I obediently followed what I was taught and started with Sort. We went through all the files and worked on deleting the garbage. For Set, we worked on putting the remaining files into a logical order and making things easier to find.  Shine involved going back through the files (again) and renaming them consistently. When we came to the Standardize step it basically turned into documenting what we had spent a lot of time doing–what should be kept, for how long, where to store things, and naming conventions. Finally, the Sustain phase, including setting up regular audit schedules and procedures for making sure the drive stayed neat and organized.

In the end we did leave with a well-organized, easier to navigate shared drive, but the process itself was frustrating and extremely long. The team spent an inordinate amount of time during the Sort and Set phases strongly “discussing” whether a specific file should be kept or deleted and what folder it should be in. We also did think of metrics, kind of. We looked at the overall size of the share and, in the end, did make it smaller. But if you are only measuring the size of the share and your goal is to minimize it, then the simple answer to achieve perfection of that measurement is to just delete everything and use zero GB, right?

Around that time, I read an article, “5S Shakeup” by John Casey on the Quality Progress website, and had a revelation–perhaps we should be starting with the 4th S instead. On my next network drive 5S event I was able to try this out. We started by creating the standards document. I began this discussion off with one simple question–what is the purpose of this drive? We talked in general about what should be kept at all, how long to keep files, and how to name them. This completely focused the whole event and eliminated the extended discussions on specific items. The Sort, Set, and Shine could all be done in one pass through because the rules were already defined, and these steps were split up and done as homework instead of in a big group. The individuals returned to the next meeting with just a few files they were uncertain about, and the group made decisions on their disposition together.

I also worked on the metrics. At the pre-meeting with the team leader, we dug more into why they wanted to attack this problem. This helped to identify various metrics that would actually measure what they needed them to. If the why was because new staff can’t find things easily, we did several before and after time tests to see how long it took to find various files.  If the problem involved just too much stuff, we still looked at the overall size, keeping in mind that zero is not really the goal, but more like reduce and then maintain that reduced size. We looked at the number of root folders, total number of folders and total number of files.

This event went much smoother, and I heard a lot of comments from the team members that they really enjoyed the experience.  When another campus facilitator was slated to do one of these events she asked me for some tips as she knew I had done a few, so that prompted me to write some Best Practices, which I have made available here: Network Drive 5S Best Practices January 2014.

Lean Principles and Tools in Industry: Part 2

Thank you to our returning guest blogger Mary Fogelsinger-Huss for another excellent article on how Lean is used in industry. Mary is an ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt working for the Dow Corning Corporation in Midland Michigan. She has nearly 30 years experience in the chemical industry, with nearly half that time involved in quality practices for various product lines in the company. She holds a bachelors in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Technological University.

Many Lean devotees are very familiar with the idea of 5S and the benefits an orderly work space provides.  Not only does the 5S tool make the work better, it provides a much less stressful working environment.  To take that thought to another level, the work process itself needs to be studied. A very powerful tool in identifying waste in a process is the Process Map. There are many types of maps that can provide insight into the workings of a process. One of the maps used frequently in a Lean activity is the Spaghetti Diagram. It’s called this because if it’s done correctly, your drawing will look like a plate of tangled up spaghetti! This tool helps you understand the route the product, or operator, takes through the process. The idea is to trace the route over a period of time, to actually see the movement. The map is typically done with paper and pencil, and follows the movement through the physical space, so they’re usually quite messy!  They are also very revealing.  This example is in a test lab:

spaghetti diagram

The different lines represent the number of trips a person took in performing a test.  The background is the layout of the lab, with the test equipment noted by numbers (or dots in this poor image). This shows that the operator performing the test walks back and forth quite a bit between the different pieces of equipment.  Depending on your goal, this could be good or bad…good for exercise, bad for productivity!

The project team recognized the “waste of motion” in the process, using the spaghetti diagram, and was able to move equipment around to minimize the trips from one bench to the other throughout this test. This change allowed the test to be completed in less time, improving customer relations (production buildings want to know results FAST!) and increasing testers’ productivity.  A simple tool, providing impressive results.

 

 

Let’s Ditch the Report Out

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Robert Hiltunen, Director of Auxiliary Services at Michigan Technological University.

What did you say? Ditch the report out? Are you crazy?

Reporting Out 3A normal feature of organizations that use lean methodology is the expectation that projects regularly “report out.” A report-out event allows the organization to recognize and celebrate the achievements of the various project teams and their members. Perhaps more importantly, others are able to learn from what the project teams have accomplished. In this way, we continuously improve our systems, share and build on knowledge, and reduce duplication or “re‐inventing the wheel.”

After some deep reflection about a blog I read by Dave LaHote entitled “Say Goodbye to the Report Out,” I came to realize that there are different types of report outs. With this headline I am talking about the report out that is elicited from people closest to the work during my gemba walks, when I ask “How is it going?” For those who know me, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is “How’s it going?,” “How’re you doing?,” or “What’s happening?” Of course, not using open, probing questions causes the employee to naturally report out what is going on. Then I will ask how I can help, and the response is “I’m fine; no need for help.” This type of report out causes a transition of problems from the employee to me, and I then offer suggestions that might help solve the problem.

Instead, I should be asking about a specific observation which would lead to follow up questions that would increase my understanding and help coach the employee to solving their own issue. So I must learn to ditch my report-out eliciting questions and take a deeper dive into the real issues at hand.

Easier said than done, so if you see me asking an employee at the gemba “How’s it going?” please remind me that this is not the time or place for a report out.