Continuous Improvement Blog

Lean Principles and Tools in Industry

We are pleased to present this guest blog by Mary Fogelsinger-Huss. Mary is currently 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.

Lean Six Sigma has been widely accepted in the industrial setting as a method to improve many types of processes. The Lean Toolset is easily applied to nearly any setting that you can think of. The basic fundamental ideas of “making value flow” and “eliminating waste” can be as appropriate for a manufacturing company as it can for your own home. The first idea that many people like to apply is the “5S” concept:  Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. The first three are usually pretty easy to accomplish and are pretty straightforward in many settings…it’s that Standardize and Sustain thing that many of us struggle with. Here is an example, using a receiving dock at a manufacturing site:

1-beforeNotice the stuff piled on top of the drums, and the inability to access many of the drums. In working with this team, they realized that many of the items had been in the area for far too long, and they weren’t sure why they were there.

SORT will eliminate the items that are not needed or are in the wrong spot. Remove those items to a different location by keeping in mind the idea of “Runners, Repeaters and Strangers.” Runners are items used daily, and should be kept close at hand. Repeaters are items used weekly and should be kept in an easily accessible storage area. Strangers are those items that are rarely used and should be in a designated location. Anything that doesn’t get classified as one of those goes to the “Red Tag” area, and is either moved to the appropriate location or disposed of.

STRAIGHTEN  is the organizing of the area in accordance with the Runners, Repeaters, Strangers strategy and determining the optimum positioning of items. This is much easier with all the excess (waste!) removed from the area.

SHINE is the process of cleaning the area and upgrading the surroundings to a level that encourages pride in your work area, and making sure all your work items are in a usable condition, when needed. Whether that means replacing cabinets or a simple coat of paint…it all adds to increased pride in your work space.

STANDARDIZE the area to ensure items are returned to the appropriate spot and that any “nonconforming” item is recognized right away.  This is usually accomplished by labeling areas, creating shadow boards, or marking an area with text for what goes there.

SUSTAIN is one of the “5S’s” that we all struggle with. Everything goes great for a while, then we get busy or rushed and just “put this here for a minute”…then never get back to take care of it. One way to manage this is through the simple reminder of a photo.  Many of our areas have a photo of what the area should look like, and at the end of the day (or shift) we make sure it’s returned to that image. The photos are posted in a prominent place like a bulletin board or on a wall near the process area.  Also, in a more formalized 5S program, a monthly audit can be used1-after to ensure the gains made with the 5S activity are maintained.

Here’s how the area looks after the 5S. Notice the paint lines on the floor and labels on containers. All unneeded equipment and materials have been removed and, as you can see, the floor just shines!

Which area would you rather work in?

4 Major Pitfalls of Process Improvement Initiatives

I came across an article a few days ago discussing some of the key reasons why Lean initiatives are unsuccessful. Anyone on a Lean journey has probably encountered one or more of these problems at some point. I wanted to share four of the pitfalls discussed in the article that I see most commonly in my work in process improvement. The article includes the author’s thoughts and suggestions on ways to avoid these pitfalls.

This is an excerpt from Paula Riley’s article, Ten Pitfalls to Avoid in Process Improvement Initiatives.

Pitfall No. 1: Lack of upper-level management support for process improvement initiatives

This can have a number of causes, including lack of understanding of the potential value, a poor implementation process, insufficient sustain controls, inadequate validation process, or loss of focus on the bottom line.

There are a number of things that can/should be done to minimize this. For example, you can schedule an orientation session with upper management. Or better yet, encourage them to become trained and run a project. Routine project reviews should include participation, not only from the process owner, but also from those over him/her. Ensure that improvement initiatives always maintain their focus on the business’ bottom line.

Pitfall No. 8: Team make-up not including all relevant functions

This problem has a variety of causes, including resource constraints, siloed functions, and the failure to recognize the value of other functions in obtaining an all-encompassing view of the process. As a result, a narrow view of process results in narrow improvement plan and minimal results — or none at all.

The key is to ensure that all functions affected by the process are involved in the project. That being said, team size can be an issue. An ideal size is from six to 10 members. Any less may cause one to wonder if all appropriate functions are included. Any more can cause the team to be difficult to manage and result in a loss of focus. Therefore, where appropriate, some resources can be supporting team members, rather than full-time team members. This will allow them to be brought in to the improvement process when they are needed, but keep the team size manageable and allow them to focus on their other duties when not needed. Whether a full time team member, or supporting team member, all should be copied with minutes and other team documentation.

Pitfall No. 9: Not walking the process and involving the operators

Every project should start in the work area where improvement is expected. As improvements are implemented, additional visits to the area are in order to ensure that employees in the area understand and benefit from the improvements. At the end of the project another visit is needed to ensure that the control plan is fully implemented and effective.

Bonus: Ineffective control plan

Unless something is put into place to prevent returning to “the way it has always been done,” the process will slide back to what it was. The tendency is to put in more instructions, signoffs, control charts, etc., in an attempt to control the process. But this is not the way to go. The new process must be easier to run than the old. It must make the operator’s job simpler, better, faster. It must make going back to the old way undesirable or hard to do and the new way pleasant and a joy. This requires careful thought and ingenuity from the team, and close involvement and feedback from the workers in the process. But please don’t jump to an engineering solution involving capital. There are other, cheaper, ways to accomplish this — you just have to dig them out.

Looking at these various pitfalls, it seems that they are often inter-related and linked. As a result, like a set of dominos, one problem leads to another, leads to another, often exponentially. If you need to improve your process improvement process, make it a project. Get a team of the right people together, charter the project, and use the tools to make improvements. Look at potential (or existing) problems as opportunities for improvement — and go after them.

Sponsored Programs Kanban

Sponsored Programs Kanban for the end of the fiscal yearMichigan Tech’s Sponsored Programs uses a Kanban to keep track of all the tasks they need to complete at the end of the fiscal year. A Kanban is a visual management tool that shows you the status of a process at a glance. The university has two financial closes for the fiscal year–one on June 30 and a final close around the second or third week in July. This Kanban helps them keep on track. They review and update it in their daily 15 minute group-ups. Each horizontal space represents a task that must be completed. Each task and associated team are written on sticky notes. A task which has not been started is placed on the far left. The responsible team is next to it. As the task is completed it’s moved to the right, first to 25% complete, then 50%, 75%, and finally, 100% complete. Any person in the office can look at this Kanban and know what’s complete, what needs to be done, and who might need some help. Tammy LaBissoniere, a Lean Implementation Leader in Sponsored Programs, uses Kanbans to keep track of several different processes. Talk with her if you think this might work for you. Or contact our office anytime!

Batch-and-Queue vs. One-Piece Flow: Quarter Activity

At Wednesday’s (7/9) Lean Implementation Leaders and Lean Facilitators meeting, Bob Hiltunen (Director, Auxiliary Services) provided a wonderful teach back activity on the advantages of one-piece flow processing vs. batch-and-queue processing. 

Background

One-Piece flow is one of the most important principles of lean manufacturing. One-piece flow means that parts are moved through operations from step-to-step with no work in process in between; either one piece at a time or a small batch at a time. Once work on a product begins it never stops moving until it is a finished product.

As opposed to one-piece flow, batch-and-queue processing is the action of producing more than one piece of an item and then moving those items forward to the next operation before they are all actually needed there. Batching and queuing tends to drive up inventory and lead time, and creates inefficiency in an operation. It also increases the space needed for production.

Teach back Activity

LIL's and Facilitators Participating in the Teach back Activity

To complete this activity, 2 “directors,” 4 “managers,” 4 “workers, and 1 “customer” are needed. Each worker is a “station” at the table (as seen in the photo). The first three workers are assigned the task of flipping quarters and passing them to the next worker and this process repeats until the quarters reach the last worker who is asked to “stamp” them, and pass them to the customer.

The activity begins by simulating a batch-and-queue system with the first worker flipping all 30 quarters before passing them, in a batch, to the next worker and so on until they reach the customer. The batch sizes that are passed between workers are reduced after each subsequent round until each worker is flipping and passing only one coin at a time, to represent a one-piece flow system. 

To measure the effect of the transition to one-piece flow, time measurements are taken at many times during the process: 

  • At the start of the process when the first coin is flipped
  • When each worker first receives a coin from the previous worker
  • When each worker flips and passes their last coin
  • When the customer receives the first coin
  • When the customer receives the last coin

As the activity progresses, the time each work station is active gradually increases, however, the time it takes for the coins to reach the customer dramatically decreases. In our simulation, the process time was reduced from 1 minute 30 seconds to 20 seconds. 

The ideal state for a production process is continuous one-piece flow. If you can’t manage to get down to one-piece flow, always the question … can you get two-piece or three-piece? The most important thing to remember is the idea of continually moving closer to the ideal state.

Create Constancy of Purpose

W. Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming

William Edwards Deming, a statistician and professor, developed a theory of management based on fourteen points that he considered critical for management to become transformational and thus lead their business to greater success. He published his ideas in a book titled “Out of the Crisis” and I recommend you get a copy for reference. His thoughts and published works have led to the development of systems like Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, and Lean. Deming’s work is not a blueprint for success, ready to be copied, but his fourteen points are a starting point for discussion, consideration and contemplation when it comes time for you to begin your journey of management transformation and improvement.

Let’s start this journey together, now, as we discuss Deming’s points and see how they may relate to you and your leadership style and business goals.

Point One: Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

Seems pretty simple right? Well, this one little sentence is packed with complexity just waiting for us to unravel. This point squarely puts the onus on Management to make looking out for our employees the number one job, while the responsibility of the employee is to improve their product or service. The focus is not on the product or service; rather, the focus is on choosing to dependably improve our product or service. Acknowledge that what you offer isn’t perfect and can be done better. And if it isn’t done better by you, reliably, your competition will do it for you and put you out of business.

Deming also advocates that you focus your business on being competitive and providing jobs. To truly improve our competitiveness, I feel we must recognize the value our staff bring to our business, and concentrate on allowing them to self-improve. People—not the thing we produce or the service we provide—are at the core of our operation. Without our employees, nothing is made, nothing is sold, and no amount of marketing nor motivational speeches will change that – our staff make our business. Empower them.

The secret to success...
Benjamin Disraeli said it succinctly

Benjamin Disraeli said it most succinctly – and I believe Deming would agree – that to truly succeed in your business Management must fully embrace continuous improvement as a living element in our operations, making it the basis of the corporate culture. Staff should be 100% supported by the the company and the management. Staff should be empowered to make positive changes to improve their working environment and better their product or service.  And there should never be any doubt that the company fully supports continuous improvement efforts.

As we continue this journey through Deming’s fourteen points, we’ll see how each point can easily stand on its own, while at the same time often reinforcing one another—much like management and staff have their own jobs to do but must work together to keep driving improvement forward to increase productivity.

Next Article: Point Two – Adopt the new philosophy

MICUP Internship

Today we’re cross-posting an article written by Wendy Davis for Michigan Tech’s Human Resources News blog.

NamGiao Tran just ended her six week internship with Human Resources.  Nam was a MICUP student visiting Michigan Tech from Grand Rapids Community College.

Nam’s internship project in Human Resources focused on making improvements to the internal flow of work related to a staff hiring.  Her first week began with learning about Lean philosophy and focusing on the concept of standardized work. She began by working with department staff to understand the hiring process and creating a swim lane process map.  The exercise of creating the process map identified specific improvement areas which Nam worked on for the remainder of her stay.  Her work supported the creation of standardized tools, forms, and checklists that will be implemented to improve the process flow.

Nam is pictured below with her poster that captures the work she did.  The photo was taken at the MICUP Poster Presentation on June 19, 2014.

Nam plans to transfer to Michigan Tech next fall to study Accounting.

The Lean Help Loop

The Lean Help Loop
The Lean Help Loop

When you’re improving a process, it’s important to make sure a help loop is in place. The help loop ensures that when employees encounter a problem they can’t fix themselves, someone will come and help. Without a help loop, the improvement will not be sustained.

Your most important processes should have both a Standard and a Visual Control. Establish a Standard so that it’s easy to see when the actual outcome doesn’t equal the expected outcome. Then create a Visual Control that allows everyone to easily know if the process is working properly (called an Andon). It  needs to be updated only as often as management is willing to both check it and take action if something is wrong. The Visual Control isn’t just for information. If actual is not equal to standard, management must not only respond, they also have to respond in a positive and timely manner. At this point, supervisors work through the problem with their employees, using the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) model, to develop countermeasures that will fix the problem, bringing the process back to Standard.

Process Mapping

The Office of  Continuous Improvement’s first ever Process Mapping Workshop came to a close yesterday. There were five Kaizen teams each working on a process of their choosing. Each team spent 2.5 hours on Tuesday and again on Thursday working on a current-state process map using a lean tool know as “swim lanes.” The groups reported out on Thursday afternoon with each map taking on its own unique form.

Our facilitating group was made up of Ernie Beutler (Dining Services), Kathy Wardynski (Dining Services), Laura Harry (Memorial Union), Ruth Archer (Office of Continuous Improvement), and Theresa Coleman-Kaiser (Asst. Vice President for Administration). Our team leaders consisted of faculty and staff from a few different areas of the university: Gina Dunstan (Humanities), Madeline Mercado-Voelker (Human Resources), Heidi Reid (Human Resources), Kathy Wardynski (Dining Services), and Sandra Kalcich (Dining Services).

Pathway to Permanent Residency Process Team

Dining Services Hiring Process Team

Our team leaders and facilitators were very excited to see and be a part of the process of process mapping, and were shocked to see just how complicated some of these Tech jobs really are. All in all, it was a great two days of mapping and we hope to see some fresh faces at our next workshop. More details on that coming soon!

Lean at Tech Update

Michigan Technological University campus

At Michigan Tech, continuous improvement is being integrated into the everyday operations of the university. A central Office of Continuous Improvement supports departments and individuals in their efforts and functions as a knowledge bank for people seeking more information. This office connects people who want to do a continuous improvement event with a trained facilitator; the university’s 24 facilitators are all volunteers.  

Training, workshops, and coaching help to develop a continuous improvement culture. The Lean facilitators and Lean Implementation Leaders attend monthly continuing education to keep their skills fresh. All new supervisors are required to receive basic training in Lean principles. In addition, periodic workshops on topics like 5S and Process Mapping make Lean immediately useful and accessible to university employees.

Michigan Tech’s Continuous Improvement program also increases campus and community awareness, exposure, and engagement. Initiatives in this area include an active website, this blog, a recurring article in the university newsletter Tech Today, a Twitter account (@Lean_at_MTU), and a Lean Library. A Lean Model Office tour showcases Lean practices in an office environment; stop by the office at 136W Wadsworth Hall to take the self-guided tour. Michigan Tech also organizes a quarterly meeting for the Copper County Lean Group made up of 26 area businesses who gather to learn more about Lean and continuous improvement, share stories, collaborate, ask questions, and celebrate successes.

Change is on the Way!

Often times you can’t help but overhear conversations between your fellow classmates, and regularly the topics of interest revolve around two things–how tough our winters are, and how bad our dining halls are. This unfortunate perception held by some students has sparked a flurry of improvement events currently being held on campus. The one I would like to highlight is the Residential Dining Blueprint kaizen that was conducted this week.

The cries have been heard and the dining hall managers spent 12 long hours over the course of three days creating a blueprint for “what makes an awesome dining hall.” As a student playing the “customer” role on the kaizen team it was very refreshing  to see just how much each and every manager is devoted to improving the residential dining experience. In creating the blueprint the team took advantage of a great organizational tool: the Fishbone diagram (click on the diagram to enlarge it).

The dining hall managers and staff definitely have their work cut out for them, but that isn’t going to stop them in their pursuit of creating the greatest possible dining experience. I look forward to seeing the improvements in the coming years.