Continuous Improvement Blog

Process Mapping Workshop

Posted by Kaylee Betzinger under Events, Lean Thinking, Lean Workshops

The Office of Continuous Improvement has begun a Lean Workshop series on campus. Thus far in the series we’ve held a 5S workshop, and another one is ready for you to sign up. The Office and the Lean Facilitators are working hard to plan regularly scheduled workshops throughout the year.

The next event in the series will be on Process Mapping. Process Mapping is a way to define the purpose of a process, who is responsible for each step, to what standard a business process should be completed, and how success can be determined. The workshop will take about 6 hours total on June 10th and June 12th. You can choose blocks of time that are convenient for you. For more information you can visit the Process Mapping Workshop page.

New Manager of Process Improvement

Posted by raarcher under Lean Thinking, News

Ruth Archer, Manager of Process Improvement

Ruth Archer, Manager of Process Improvement

Hello! I’m Ruth Archer, the new Manager of Process Improvement. I’ll be maintaining and building on the excellent foundation of continuous improvement using Lean principles already established at Michigan Tech. I’m responsible for the leadership and support of process improvement activities on campus. I’m pleased to be leading this highly skilled team and look forward to taking on the challenges of the position.

I believe that following a continuous improvement philosophy is an excellent way to be successful, both professionally and personally. Integrating continuous improvement into your work can increase your effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity. Bottlenecks and non-value-added steps can be identified and eliminated. Costs can be reduced through savings in money, time, and materials. In addition, continuous improvement can increase your job satisfaction because you’ll feel empowered. Decision making is pushed down to the lowest possible level. Employees are enabled to challenge the status quo and offer ideas for improvements. And the system ensures that people’s ideas are listened to and discussed, so, even if your idea isn’t ultimately used, you’ll still feel valued. Finally, continuous improvement increases customer satisfaction because the customer gets a quality product at the lowest cost. Satisfied customers will return for more and recommend your organization to other people.

The best part is that you don’t have to figure this out on your own! Our team of experienced facilitators and process coordinators will help you form the right team and lead you through every step to get your process improved.

I personally enjoy practicing Lean principles. When I was an aircraft technician in the Air Force, my shop lived by the 5S’s: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Our tools were carefully arranged, including our bench tools and our toolboxes. Our workplace was cleaned at the end of each shift, and our work on the aircraft had to be meticulous. We used technical orders to standardize tasks and regular inspections to sustain adherence to procedures. As a university instructor, I used continuous improvement as an integral part of teaching. I applied the Lean principles of creating value for the customer, eliminating waste, and respect for people to improve my courses. For example, reviewing the type and spacing of assignments to provide a steady work load for students, explicitly relating assignments to learning outcomes, and ensuring all assignments have a clear format and grading rubric are all continuous improvement processes for faculty.

Contact us and we’ll come and talk to you about how you can incorporate continuous improvement practices into your everyday activities.

Auxiliary Services Customer Appreciation Fair

Posted by nmhood under Events

On Tuesday, March 11th, the Office of Continuous Improvement participated in the Customer Appreciation Fair held by Auxiliary Services in the MUB Ballroom. This event was held as a small token of thanks to all of Auxiliary Services’ customers for their patronage this past year. There were lots of fun games, good prizes, and great food. It was a great opportunity to get out of the office for a few hours and enjoy an afternoon of fun!

Our booth at the Customer Appreciation Fair

At the OCI booth, we decided to incorporate lean tools and lean thinking into our game: Standardized Work LEGO Man Building. One participant was given verbal instructions on how to build the LEGO man while the other was given written and visual instructions. Every time, the participant who was given the written and visual instructions finished building first.  This was a fun exercise to show how beneficial standardized work and standardized  job element sheets are in making processes more efficient.

Calumet Electronics Tour

Posted by meganj under Lean Experiences

Recently, Todd Brassard, Vice President/COO of Calumet Electronics, spent an afternoon giving our group a tour of their operations in Calumet, MI. During this tour, we were able to see the complex process (over 40 steps!) that it takes to produce a circuit board. In their manufacturing operations, there were several examples of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma in practice. I’ll talk about a few examples that we saw during our tour.

  • Many pieces of equipment had a three-color light (green, yellow, or red), that indicated the status of the machine, an example of andon.
  • Machines that drilled holes into the circuit boards automatically picked the necessary drill bit needed for the particular hole size it needed to drill, and tested the bit prior to drilling any holes into the circuit board. If a bit is damaged, then the red light on the machine comes on (andon!) so that a worker can come to the machine to inspect the bit and address the issue.
  • Workers that inspect the quality of each of the circuit boards worked in a left-to-right pattern in their work area to ensure that untested circuit boards don’t get mixed in with circuit boards that have either passed or failed the quality inspection (error proofing); only the boards that had passed the inspection made it into the stack on the far right of their work area. These workers also test the circuit boards in small batches of 25 that their computer confirms the count of; this ensures that the whole stack of 25 has been inspected before the next batch can be tested. The computer also says, in clear and large text, “Pass” in green or “Fail” in red (a visual control) when telling the worker the results of the inspection.
  • Todd also noted that for many of their process, they are tracking Cpk, which is the actualized process capability. As a rule of thumb, a Cpk of at least 1.33 indicates a capable process.
  • At the end of the tour, Todd showed our group some awesome data collection and metrics that they’ve begun keeping to track the “health” of their business. To the “data geeks” among us, this was pretty neat!

Lean Thinking Aligns with Deliberately Developmental Organizations

Posted by nmhood under Guest Post, Lean Thinking

This week’s post is a guest post from Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Assistant Vice President for Administration and campus Lean Facilitator.

I recently read the blog post referenced below that introduced me to Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDO’s).  Defined by Kegan, et al. (2014), DDO’s shape their culture through dedication to the “conviction that the organization can prosper only if its culture is designed from the ground up to enable ongoing development for all of its people”

The concept that work provides “as essential context for personal growth” (Kegan, et al., 2014) with the flipside being that personal growth or continuous development and improvement are essential to an organization’s success, reminded me of the foundational lean principle of respect for people and the sometimes forgotten eighth form of waste – knowledge waste.

Respect for people is often depicted in both the foundation of the Lean House and as one of the supporting columns, and can be simply described as putting people before products and services.  A DDO demonstrates this culture of respect for people by integrating the work of improving yourself as an essential function of all jobs.  It is visible through an infrastructure involving your own deep and forced reflection (hansei kai), one-on-one sessions with others who can guide your improvement work, and through meetings designed to identify your blind spots and then identify root cause so that appropriate countermeasures can be put in place.  It’s all designed to disallow you from being able to “unwittingly limit your own effectiveness at work.”  (Kegan, et al., 2014)

(Carroll, R., n.d., Box Theory)

In the 8 wastes of lean, Knowledge waste is alternately described as unused creativity, under-utilized people, not engaging all, non-utilized talents, and untapped human potential.  DDO’s are committed to developing employees so that their potential can be developed and fully tapped to benefit both the individual and the organization.  Whether accomplished through formal training or through a reflective, iterative process, the result is a happier and more productive employee.  In fact, DDO’s recognize that creating a no-blame culture where inadequacies are continuously and systematically reviewed as part of the work is in itself a waste-elimination effort since employees don’t have to spend time and energy “covering their weaknesses and inadequacies” and “managing others’ good impression of them.” (Kegan, et al., 2014)

DDO’s approach individual inadequacies as potential assets that have not yet been fully developed.  By putting people first, the respect and commitment shown by prioritizing development and dealing with it in a transparent manner helps to eliminate wasted knowledge and wasted time covering up shortcomings.  Is your organization on its way to becoming a DDO or do you need to shift some mental models and behavioral practices to get there?


Carroll, R. (n.d.). Lean thinking for small business – Add value!  The Systems Thinker Blog.  Box Theory. [web log].  (Accessed February 18, 2014).  Retrieved from:

Kegan, R., Lahey, L., and Fleming, A., (2014, January 22).  Does your company make you a better person?  HBR Blog Network.  Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from:

The Juran Trilogy

Posted by meganj under Lean Thinking

The Juran Trilogy was developed by Dr. Joseph Juran, and it’s something I learned about recently in my Total Quality Management and Six Sigma course. The Juran Trilogy is an improvement cycle that is meant to reduce the cost of poor quality by planning quality into the product/process.

The Juran Trilogy

1. Quality Planning

In the planning stage, it is critical to define who your customers are and find out their needs (the “voice of the customer”). After you know what your customers need, you’re able to define the requirements for your product/process/service/system, etc., and develop it. Additionally, any plans that might need to be transferred to operators or other key stakeholders should be done during the planning phase. Planning activities should be done with a multidisciplinary team, with all key stakeholders represented.

2. Quality Control

During the control phase, determine what you need to measure (what data do you need to know if your process is working?), and set a goal for your performance. Get feedback by measuring actual performance, and act on the gap between your performance and your goal. In Statistical Process Control (SPC), there are several tools that could be used in the “control” phase of the Juran Trilogy: Pareto Analysis, flow diagrams, fishbone diagram, and control charts, to name a few.

3. Quality Improvement

There are four different “strategies” to improvement that could be applied during this phase:

  • Repair: Reactive; fix what’s broken.
  • Refinement: Proactive; continually improve a process that isn’t broken (like the continual pursuit of perfection in Lean!)
  • Renovation: Improvement through innovation or technological advancement
  • Reinvention: Most demanding approach; start over with a clean slate.

Image from:

Affinity Diagrams

Posted by Kaylee Betzinger under Lean Thinking, Resources

Lately Affinity Diagrams have been used a lot! So I thought what better way to showcase this improvement tool than with a blog post.

Affinity Diagrams are tools used by groups to gather and sort ideas and issues when brainstorming. Affinities provide structure to and help initiate action in brainstorming sessions. They also support teams by allowing them to work on a creative level with difficult or emotional issues.

Affinities are great to use and extremely simple! All you need are sticky notes, markers, and flip chart paper (if available, if not just use a wall). Tell your team/group what the topic is they are brainstorming on and ask them to write down their ideas or issues on a sticky note. This allows their thoughts to be private if the subject is sensitive. Once complete, gather all the stickies and place them into several groups (the groups will become evident when reading the stickies). It’s as simple as that. This information can then be easily created on the computer for storage purposes.

For example The Leaders in Continuous Improvement student organization used an Affinity Diagram when brainstorming different ideas and events for the upcoming semester. This allowed all of the members to come up with several different ideas without being persuaded by any other members. The results were fantastic! Once completed the different ideas were transferred into a computer document and sent out to the members. Another example of Affinity Diagrams was at the Termination Process Kaizen. Affinity was a great tool to get the group to “vent” about the many different issues with the current termination process. The end results allowed the facilitator and team leader to see where the majority of complaints/issues were coming from.

Affinities are great for all projects, so don’t be afraid to get out there and affinitize!

Using Lean When Transitioning Into a New Job

Posted by meganj under Guest Post, Lean Experiences, Tips

This week’s post is a guest post from Heidi Reid, Executive Assistant in Human Resources and campus Lean Facilitator.

It’s always a little stressful when one moves into a new job…

  • What do you do with all those old files from your predecessor?
  • Duties and activities your predecessor “did it just because…?”
  • Jumping into new projects with little training
  • Organizing your desk for the most efficient work flow
  • Where do you find the files or information you need?

These are all concerns when taking on a new position. The good news is it doesn’t have to be a scary transition if you start out the right way.

What is the right way?

To try to incorporate Lean/Continuous Improvement aids, techniques, tools, and standards.

How do you get started?

1. Map out your office and its best layout.

  • Your desk (facing the door if possible)
  • Computer placement (ensure you have desk space to work)
  • Your essentials (tape, pens, stapler, etc.)
  • Is your phone easy to access?
  • Do you need your phone close to the computer?
  • Are your files easily accessed?

2. Once you’ve mapped out your space, you can create standards for where things are housed by outlining them or simply use your maps as a guide to audit your desk daily. Example: Are my essentials in the correct place? Do I have anything on my desk that doesn’t belong there? If so, find where it does belong and move it there immediately.

3. Create a standardized work sheet for your daily duties. Even include basic steps, such as: turn on computer, put on name tag, check emails, walk the Gemba and greet staff, attend daily team meeting, etc.

A simple example of a daily work sheet.

Use this work sheet to prioritize and “map out” your day. List all the duties you need to perform (AKA your “to do” list)– even if you know you won’t get them all done today. Prioritize your list (for example, from A to Z); this will help you when wondering “What should I do next?” Simply follow your priority list until all items are complete, highlighting or striking through as items as they are completed. It feels good to mark tasks as “Complete”! If an item on your list is not complete, add it to your next day’s priority list.

There are many different ways to achieve the same outcome; this is just an example. You can create a system that works for you! Some choose to use what is called a “priority matrix” (from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).

Covey's Prioritization matrix for time management (Image from

Welcome Nate Hood!

Posted by nmhood under News

The Office of Continuous Improvement has hired a new Student Process Improvement Coordinator to replace the recently departed Mike Leveille. Nate is a third-year Supply Chain Management major and currently captain of the Michigan Tech Track and Field team.  Prior to this position, Nate worked predominately in purchasing and in sales. He brings to the office a good understanding of many business processes along with a willingness and eagerness to learn more.

Here Nate will introduce himself and share some thoughts about his new role:

In recent years, when February comes around I find myself more stressed than usual. The looming pressure to impress potential employers grows exponentially with every passing day leading  up to the spring career fair. This year I have been relieved of that stress as I was hired to be a PIC two weeks ago. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work with the Office of Continuous Improvement staff on the many different improvement events around campus. This position was right up my alley, as I have always enjoyed being a part of improvement projects. The chance to spend the rest of the semester and the entire summer assisting with these projects and learning about Lean is priceless.

In the two weeks that I’ve been in the office I have spent a lot of time reading up on various lean principles, practices, tools, and techniques; I even did surprisingly well on our office “Lean Jeopardy” game this past Monday. This week I was also added as a PIC on three different Kaizen events that I’m very excited to be working on. Being in this office and working with this staff of wonderful ladies (and Andre), I feel like I’m a part of something great and I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and excited to see what the future holds.

Come Check Out the Lean Model Office!

Posted by meganj under Events, Lean Thinking

The Office of Continuous Improvement has been working on a Lean Model Office tour, open to anyone on campus that is interested. The self-guided tour includes bright signs throughout the office to explain how we use the Lean concept or tool. Tools and concepts presented in the tour include: 5S, A3, Andon, Poka Yoke, Audit, Kanban, Visual Controls, PDCA, and more! Feel free to come visit us at 136W Wadsworth Hall to check it out!

Our photo copier is an example of andon from our Lean Model Office tour.

An example of a visual control and our kaizen hopper.

136W Wadsworth Hall
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI 49931

Ph. 906-487-3180

Michigan Technological University

1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, Michigan 49931-1295

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