Lean and Religion

In Zen Buddhism they have this concept known as “shoshin” or the “beginners mind”. The beginner’s mind is one of endless possibilities and connections to be made. It is the biases we learn over time that limit our ability to think outside the box.

I am currently in the beginning of my Lean journey and I want to always keep it that way. From here, I see an infinite set of paths to be followed that will lead me to success and the continuous improvement of both my professional and personal self. When striving to be successful, there are a lot of mental roadblocks that can get in your way. Fear and worry are natural occurrences, but it is what you do with these feelings that really matters. If you go forth with excitement, using these feelings as motivators instead of detriments, you will find yourself doing things you never expected to do (climbing that mountain, boarding that plane, nailing that proposal!).   The brain is something that can always be rewired, so if you spend your time going forth positively, new connections will be created and you will spend less of your time anxious about things that cause you more harm by overthinking about them than the actual task itself.

Growing up I was taught to live my life by the Wiccan principle known as “The Power of 3”. This is the concept that whatever thoughts/energies/ideas/actions you put into the world will come back to you threefold over time. Think outside of the box! If you put creativity out there, you will find yourself feeling more creative in the future. Put understanding out there and you will find yourself being understood (even if it needs a little explanation). If you find yourself always moving forward, you will find yourself leagues ahead of the competition.  Lean is a journey, as is life. If you’re always curious, always live in a shoshin-like state, new things will be discovered every day.

 

Justice for All

Lean

Above is a quote that I stumbled upon recently. When I saw it, I became aware of a change within myself. I couldn’t look at this simple statement from Tom Ford without feeling as though “lean” was leaping from each word.

With the recent holiday weekend at a close–a celebration of the United State’s independence from Great Britain–I found myself reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The part that I’d like to highlight is the closing line, “with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty meaning that we are not to be enslaved by another nor are we to enslave another. Justice for all, meaning that each individual person is given an equal opportunity to succeed. I’m aware that the Pledge of Allegiance wasn’t written about or for lean, but I do know that it was written under the umbrella of structured common sense which happens to be a part of lean. These concepts along with the concept of striving for perfection have created (what I feel) to be an appropriate depiction of the lean culture.

Before taking on this job as a process improvement coordinator I would’ve classified myself into many variations of personalities, however, obsessive would not have been in the mix. I think that the reasoning may be due to a negative connotation regularly associated with the idea of being obsessed or “perfect.” I was no exception to this stigma until I began working here in the office of continuous improvement. I will say that I now would classify myself as having an “obsessive personality” simply because lean, continuous improvement, and the utilization of waste elimination has taught me that striving for perfection is not condescending, but rather commendable.

Without coincidence, I’ve found that all of the factors for this change are rooted from lean, whether it be from the abundance of tools, the endless room for growth, the “personalities” within lean itself, or simply the growth of a culture. These have all had an active role in how I view the world now compared to how I viewed it months prior. It’s irrelevant as to how I’d describe my personality traits, however, as I briefly mentioned before, lean also has a personality. To me this personality shines through in it’s encouragement of devotion, improvement, and above all it’s accountability regarding respect. These three areas are the specific root causes of why and how I have transitioned from the negative norm to thinking outside of the box to get whatever the day’s job is done in the most precise and efficient manner.

“PDCA Yourself, Before You Wreck Yourself”

… This is plastered on a sign taped to the front of my desk and they are words I live by. PDCA is a tool that every lean practitioner should use on a daily basis. Plan Do Check Act is used primarily when tackling projects or completing tasks in a timely, orderly fashion. However, I have recently found that it does wonders for your personal life.

I am a social butterfly. I pride myself in my ability to surround myself with genuine, caring, successful people… and a lot of them. However, sometimes it grows overwhelming to be this social all the time and I find that I spend less and less time caring for myself, because others tend to be more important to me. Eventually, I found that I was being walked on, that I wasn’t acting my normal happy-go-lucky self. PDCA saved the day! Now, I try to incorporate it into my daily routine to balance my tasks for the day. I plan my day out thoroughly and analyze each task, as well as how I am feeling, as I do them. After all of my necessary tasks are done (which now also includes thorough self-care) and I feel satisfied with myself, then I try to incorporate other people into the plan. At the end of the day I check how I am feeling again and go over the events of the day to see where things went wrong. Now I act by adjusting my plan for the next day, if need be!

So far this has been a great system of checks and balances for me. I highly recommend everyone PDCA all aspects of their life, not necessarily just professional. I myself am slowly learning that life will be more efficient and your time will be spent far happier if you pay attention to how you are feeling and adjust accordingly.Dont let the best youve done so far become the standard for the rest of your life

An Apple a Day Keeps the Problems Away

Lean is like eating an apple. There’s the skin that we all see-it has a color, a texture, and a stem. However, once you break through the skin with your teeth you see a different color, texture, and the core. This is the same principle in Lean and problem solving through the use of the five why’s.

You’re given a scenario (the skin), you see the results of the problem (the color), you see the repercussions of the results (the texture), and you may even see a sliver of the actual problem (the stem). Yet, until you sink your teeth into the scenario you won’t truly see what’s underneath. By taking a bite you slowly begin revealing a new color, a new texture, and eventually the core, or in this case the root cause.

For a moment let’s pretend that it only takes five bites to get to the core of the apple. Each bite represents one of the five why’s.

Imagine a woman who cuts off the ends of a ham before putting it in the oven. Her husband asks “Why do you cut the ends off of the ham before cooking it?” *Bite* She replies, “because it’s how my mother cooked it.” So the husband goes to his mother-in-law and asks, “why do you cut off the ends of the ham before cooking it?” *Bite* She replies, “because it’s how my mother always made it.” So the husband goes to the grandmother and asks why she cooked ham this way *Bite* here he got the same answer that he got from his wife, and his mother-in-law. Finally, he asks the great grandmother “Why have you always cooked your ham without the ends on?” *Bite* She replies, “so I could cook as much ham as possible,” the husband then asks, “why couldn’t you cook the whole ham at once?” *Bite* and she replies, “because the pan I had was too small.”

For generations, the women thought this was how they were supposed to cook a ham simply because their mother before them had cooked it that way, but not once did they stop to recognize that there may be an underlying method to their madness. Over the years this resulted in much ham, time, and money wasted for no real reason.

By asking ourselves five why questions we allow ourselves to get to the root cause. Now, if the husband had only asked four why questions, his last answer would’ve been, “so I could cook as much ham as possible,” this really wouldn’t have answered his question-it would’ve gotten him closer but not to the root cause. The same is true with eating an apple-by taking few too little bites you don’t ever see the core, all you recognize is the apple in your hand. However, if you take another bite you may just find the seeds, and your perspective and appreciation for the apple in your palm has changed.

*Note: The example of the ham is one that was introduced to me by Daniel Bennett of Public Safety and Police Services here at MTU.

What are some areas of waste around you? Have you properly identified the root cause? If not, try utilizing the ‘5 why’s” they may be able to help you find a problem you didn’t originally see.

I’ve been Ruined for the Better

I’ve been on board as a process improvement coordinator (PIC) for about three months now and believe me when I tell you I’ve been ruined… for the better. I truly had no idea what  I got myself into by taking this job, let alone any idea of how much it would change ME so quickly. I’ve always been a well organized person, but with three months of lean in my life I’ve gone a little over the top.

When it became undeniable that I had changed and will continuously change was after I learned how to make an A3. It all started because I’ve been working on a project with our database so that it can be ready to be used to create our updates and annual reports for the board of trustees. That being said, there’s a lot of little things that have been creating tremendous amounts of waste within our current system. To be able to get to the root cause(s) appropriately is where the A3’s came into play. An A3 is a structured problem solving and continuous improvement tools that is outlined on a piece of A3, or ledger, paper (an example of the outline is below). To kick start this project I created six A3’s total, a parent and five daughters. The parent has all of the vague information of what’s happening, where each daughter goes into detail on one or several of the problems identified on the parent. Currently revisions are still being made to the parent and daughters. Revisions help in thoroughly planning out the project and ensuring all of the details are correct before making changes.

A3 template

Going back to how lean has ruined me- I’ve recently moved into my first apartment and I’m noticing waste all around me. From clutter under the kitchen sink, to disorganization in my pantry and refrigerator, to how I store my shoes- there’s a lot of waste and unnecessary movement of things to get to what I actually want, causing a lot of wasted time. The moment that I noticed I was ruined was after my first draft of the database A3’s. I went home and noticed the waste of time, movement, space, and inventory. Having lean in my life I naturally began wondering where all of this waste was coming from, so what did I do? I created A3’s for myself and I’m on the road to improvement in my own environment. An example of one of my personal A3’s is shown below.

decluttering groceries

Feel Good with Lean

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Lisa Hitch, Business Manager and Technical Communications Specialist, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Michigan Technological University.

Our internal “Reward System” is a collection of brain structures that regulate our behavior by making us feel good when we achieve a goal. Everything necessary for the survival of our species–eating, mating, sleeping, and physical perseverance–is rewarded by a neurochemical called dopamine that makes us feel good. And the drive to feel good wins out over avoiding pain in most cases.

The problem is that we have evolved to the point that we are able to survive without our internal reward system. For example, we can just stop by a fast food drive-through on our way home from work to get our dinner–no big victory there. An inactive internal reward system can cause minor side effects such as procrastination, lack of organization, and missed deadlines. Moreover, low dopamine levels can also lead to serious conditions such as depression, attention deficits, anxiety, fatigue, poor concentration, and more.

Neuroscientific research shows that higher levels of dopamine might support the internal drive some people have to persevere while lower dopamine levels may cause others to give up. But dopamine can be harnessed and used as a prime motivating force to help us keep pushing and achieving our goals. The use of Lean tools and methods can actually help to create feel-good habits that increase our natural ability to produce dopamine.

Lean tools and methods help us to visualize our work, break tasks down to manageable pieces, stay focused, and–here’s the big one–finish our tasks, which rings the bell for our internal reward system. One such Lean tool is the Personal Kanban.

Image by NOMAD8

This image shows the basic concept of a Personal Kanban. Tasks are broken down and categorized into milestones or phases, such as “things to do,” “work in progress,” “waiting,” and “done.” Color-coded sticky notes help to separate the tasks between types of work we need to manage, “administrative,” “communications,” and “HR,” for example. The sticky notes can also be of different shapes and sizes to indicate levels of importance or flow of work. In any case, the movement of the task through the system and into the “done” column reinforces our internal reward system.

There are many other Lean tools and methods that can be found on Michigan Tech’s Continuous Improvement website. I encourage you to check them out and start rewarding yourself today!

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201112/the-neuroscience-perseverance

http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/04/02/low-dopamine-levels-symptoms-adverse-reactions

Moving Waste

Recently I have done what most college sophomores do- I moved out into my own duplex with a few friends. The experience has been liberating and I am excited to see what the year brings. However, I haven’t been excited to see the waste I have brought into my new lifestyle of blissful freedom. While unpacking boxes I found myself wondering “When was the last time I wore that shirt?” “What on Earth are these random bits and pieces of paper?” “I don’t even remember the last time I was even interested in this!” Needless to say, I have a lot of junk that doesn’t need to hang around any longer.

Fortunately for me, my job is centered around continuous improvement! Instead of immediately jumping to the conclusion that I need to throw all of my possessions away and start over again to get away from this overwhelming mess, I came up with a game plan for this weekend that will surely get my things in order. I will be doing an overhaul of my things using 5S- Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, Sustain. I will start by going through all of my boxes and removing the things that I don’t need. Then I will make sure it is all clean (going out of order here, so I’m not putting dirty clothes away in my closet) and put it away in various locations around my room. In order to sustain my soon to be limited collection of valuables I am going to refrain from hoarding clothing and going through my things every 2 months to ensure that I am not to accumulate a surplus of unnecessary items. Daily, I am going to tidy up my room and this will keep my worldview from growing cluttered and overwhelmed.

Continuous improvement has brought a lot more to my life than just a job. It has given me a new way of looking at problems, fragmenting them into manageable pieces, and fixing them without jumping ahead of myself. I recommend that everyone who has trouble with waste, use 5S to help tidy their surroundings- I promise you’ll be able to breathe easier afterwards.

Dont let the best youve done so far become the standard for the rest of your life

5S poster

Aspen Holmes
Student Process Improvement Coordinator
The Office of Continuous Improvement

Staying organized during chaos

With the start of a new semester upon us and one behind, I got to thinking about how Lean can be implemented into finals week to not only help the stress of the student, but also their grades.

When finals week rolls in students can be found in just about every nook and cranny on campus. Whether they’re stressing over studying or stressing about not having enough time to study, students can be found with a frazzled look on their faces, myself included in this norm. This stress comes from the lack of organization of material, time, and areas to apply focus. Being in an environment of disorganization and structure simply adds to the stress and in turn takes a toll on both the student and sometimes their academics.

During the spring semester,  I began my own studying for finals about a week earlier then most. While studying I began noticing that I wasn’t getting very much done in my drawn out hours in the library. I had a textbook open in front of me and I was taking notes, but I wasn’t sure what I was trying to learn let alone how to get there. I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to go very well especially because I wasn’t sure what it was that I was trying to achieve. I realized I was wasting my time and energy  and I also noticed that this waste likely wasn’t going to have a desirable product, my grades. Thankfully I am familiar now with Lean and Continuous Improvement and was able to resolve this in a timely manner by implementing lean and 5s into my studying habits to achieve as much value added as possible. By implementing Lean and remembering improvement tools, I became more productive, organized, and stress free.

Using the idea of 5s allowed me to discipline myself to SORT out what material I knew and didn’t and also what seemed like it’d be important or not. After sorting through the material I was then able to STRAIGHTEN up how I was studying, I made a study schedule and also marked where all of the material I needed to study was in my textbook and/or notes. SHINE was next where I was continuously modifying the study schedule I had made to be able to stay on track and accomplish a lot at an attainable level, this changed a handful of times and  continued to be modified up until the day before my exams. Finally, I STANDARDIZED the previous steps several times to make sure I was utilizing the most of my studying, and then I SUSTAINED. Through the previous steps, I was able to organize my studying to a simplistic schedule that provided a lot of depth for grasping the knowledge in a stress free environment.

As a result, my scores on my finals provided satisfactory results that triumphed well over what I had even hoped to achieve.

 

A Lean Future Is Wonderful!

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Laurie Stark, Department Coordinator for the Van Pelt & Opie Library at Michigan Technological University.

While I was an intern at Honda I worked on several major projects within their Business Administration unit, including one that involved their key management process for the entire plant. Their current key management process was not working very well.  Keys were given out and never returned, they were not sure how many types of keys they used throughout the plant, their key box looked like a junk drawer, and if someone asked for a key, they might not have it on hand!

I was asked to help solve this problem during my time as an intern.  I was told that I would be taught all of the tools that would help me do so: root cause analysis (fish bone diagrams), going to the “spot,” gathering metrics (pictures and data), developing and prioritizing countermeasures, and creating activity plans.  Using these tools, I developed a standard process for key management, created a new form, reorganized the keys, and mapped out how many keys were used in the plant.  These countermeasures immediately helped solve most of the problems.

honda process

Almost ten years later, I started working at Michigan Tech and was asked if I wanted to get involved with the Lean movement on campus.  I started going to Lean Facilitator training this past fall and after the first two sessions, I had a lightbulb moment! I’ve seen this before…Honda does Lean?!?  How come they never talked about it?

During the four months I worked there, I did not hear the word Lean once, yet now that I look back, I can find countless instances where Lean was used every day.  Lean is their everyday way of solving problems.  Most employees who work there probably don’t know or realize that they are using Lean tools to solve their problems and improve their processes.  It is so embedded into their culture, it has just become the way they do business.

Michigan Tech is on a Lean journey right now, and I have seen a glimpse of the destination–it is wonderful!  At Honda, I saw employees who were very productive and engaged in their work.  Employees were not fearful to share their ideas on any matter, in fact, they were encouraged to do so!  If there was a problem somewhere, everyone went to the “spot” to help problem solve, they were encouraged to submit new ideas to their supervisors and HR reps and I got the sense that people truly enjoyed working there. I would love to see the day that Michigan Tech reaches this same destination.

What can we do in our daily work to get there too?

A Bittersweet End

It has been an amazing 2 1/2 years for me in the Office of Continuous Improvement. Throughout my time as a Student Process Improvement Coordinator (PIC) I have had so many opportunities that I never would’ve imagined for myself as a college student. I can say, without a doubt, that  I would not be where I am now without the knowledge and experience that I’ve gained from this position. I can’t thank my co-workers, supervisors and peers enough for their support throughout the years.

I came into this position with very little knowledge of any specific Lean tools or methodologies, however, before this job I had mapped processes, organized work spaces, and analyzed root causes. So shortly after starting my training I realized that continuous improvement had always been a part of my life. When I came to this realization, I began feeling much more comfortable in my role, knowing that Lean wasn’t some revolutionary new idea; but simply a set of concepts that draw on a person’s natural tendency toward improving their quality of life. From there, it became very easy to understand and then apply those concepts to processes all over the university.

Since starting in January 2014, I have facilitated 3 Kaizens, acted as the team leader for 2 efforts, and have coordinated 22 improvement events across 12 departments on campus. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities I’ve had to work with everyone from Dining Services to Human Resources to the Van Pelt and Opie Library and every department in between.

I will be starting my career with General Mills as a Global Sourcing Buyer and will look to carry my knowledge and experiences with Lean and continuous improvement and apply them in this new role. I will undoubtedly miss Michigan Tech and the Office of Continuous Improvement.

To everyone who has been apart of my journey…

THANK YOU!