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 the 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!

Farewell Post – Elizabeth Wohlford

It has been a great journey over the past two years as a process improvement coordinator (PIC) and as graduation is just two weeks away this will be my last post. I have really enjoyed working with so many different people and being a part of real changes across campus.

Since starting in July 2014, I have helped out by being a Lean facilitator for 3 on-campus events and a PIC for 14 campus improvement events across 5 departments at Michigan Tech. These events have helped campus save over 400 hours of time for Michigan Tech’s staff, and over $4,000.00 in waste, along with alleviating countless amounts of stress all around. The projects have ranged from helping employees 5S their workstation, to aiding the Van Pelt and Opie Library staff in standardizing the archive binder process, to helping student organizations like the MTU FilmBoard come up with standardized processes for their equipment set up. I have also been able to assist in 5 office projects ranging from informational wall posters which can now be seen outside our office, to marketing videos that including a cameo appearance by Michigan Tech’s President Glenn Mroz!

I first learned about Lean from my co-op with Kimberly-Clark in one of their manufacturing mills located in Ogden, Utah, and I have been able to take it with me as far as Boston when I met up with John O’Donnell for the second time at the Lean Enterprise Institute headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A selfie of that visit can be seen below (I have blogged about it before). I love Lean because it not only promotes order and information transparency, but also underlines having respect for people.

twitter_farwellpost

I would like to thank the entire Office of Continuous Improvement for the time and patience they poured into me upon my arrival, as I was becoming more fluent in my understanding of a what a Lean culture really is. After graduation I will be trading Houghton, Michigan for Seattle, Washington, all the while spreading the Lean spirit that I have learned to love over these past two years. Best of luck to the newly hired PICs–I have full trust that you’ll continue down the great pathway this office is on and fall in love with Lean as much as I have.

Leaders in Continuous Improvement: Gemba Walks

About a year ago, Leaders in Continuous Improvement (LCI) had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Parker-Hannifin facility in Manitowoc county, and five of our members got to experience their implementation of Lean and continuous improvement. This year, LCI has had a great year and our membership has grown tremendously, and on April 15th we will be going back to the Parker-Hannifin facility with 10 enthusiastic members. Our members have learned about Lean through our hands on gemba walks with the Muffler Shop, Pettibone and Systems Control. Members have also helped advance the interest in Lean and continuous improvement on the Michigan Tech campus. Going over topics such as 5S, root cause analysis, visual management, kanbans, waste, and process mapping at the Parker-Hannifin facility increased our members’ knowledge, allowing them to then share with other students on campus.

We would like to thank Parker-Hannifin again for hosting us and we look forward to deepening our relationship over the years to come.

 

 

Spring Cleaning the Lean Way

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the trees are budding.  Spring is in the air, and spring means it’s time for spring cleaning! Traditional methods of spring cleaning involve hours of cleaning and organizing that can sometimes leave us very overwhelmed. Today I want to talk a little bit about one of our Lean Tools, 5S, and it’s application for continuous improvement in our homes.

The 5S System was developed for the manufacturing environment, but can be adapted to any environment since it is all about organizing a space to be clean, tidy, efficient, and safe. The 5S’s are as follows:

  1. Sort
  2. Set in Order (Simplify, Straighten)
  3. Shine (Clean)
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain

Sort

How many times have you said to yourself, “I might need this one day?” This reasoning has successfully created mountains of unused items in all of our homes. There are certainly some things you would not want to throw out, but there are many things that you can do without. So, take some time to go through your house and find out what it is that you are holding onto so dearly that you could really just live without.

Set in Order

Once you’ve figured out what you want to keep and what needs to be thrown out, you can begin straightening each area of your home. The idea behind this step of 5S is “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Take some time to arrange needed items so that they are readily accessible and labelled so that anyone can find them or put them away.

Shine, Standardize, and Sustain

Once you’ve eliminated unnecessary items and given everything else a place, the next steps are all about getting the area clean (shine), maintaining its appearance (standardize), and using preventive measures to keep it clean (sustain). The last three phases of the 5S go hand in hand; so take the time to plan what needs to be cleaned, when it will be cleaned, and who will do the cleaning.

Benefits of 5S

  • Increased efficiency and productivity
  • Improved Safety
  • Sustainable changes—no decline back to the previous way of operating
  • Simplification and increased flow of tasks
  • Reduction in waste
  • Control through visibility

5S_Quick_Point

This year, take a Lean approach to your spring cleaning…You won’t regret it!

For more information about 5S, check out the 5S Quick Point on our Lean Tools and Templates webpage, or contact the Office of Continuous Improvement at improvement@mtu.edu!

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