All posts by Dominique Aleo

The Trickiness of Out-of-Scope

One of my first solo kaizens has been with a group of newly trained facilitators, and has gone smoothly so far! I would like to share how during this particular kaizen, I witnessed this group really dig-down and think of tools and ways that would allow them to cover as many aspects of the root cause as possible.

Recently, the IT library help-desk has been working on improving the hardware drop-off process. The process itself had issues such as miscommunication and lack of information and standards. This left the help-desk with no information about the hardware’s progress as well as other issues, such as the customer not knowing how to access what little information there was about their hardware.

One of the challenges of going through this Kaizen was how often certain parts of the process were “Out-of-Scope” due to the process involving many other departments and people. Though IT could do their best to standardize the parts of the process that they were hands on, there was little that could be done at that time in terms of standardizing the process as a whole.

As ways to address communication within IT and the customer, they came up with ideas such as information cards for customers specifically, as well as more details added to the hardware log. These two improvements helped a majority of the process in terms communication all around.

Although it was established earlier that areas of the process that took place in and with other departments was out of scope, the team came up with a fairly simple idea that was still able to address the lack of communication and was able to help bridge between the current improvement and the out-of-scope. Their idea was to create a channel that allowed communication only between the main contacts of IT and the other heads of the process. This way, there’s more effective communication between all groups involved in the process.

It was very exciting and refreshing to see this group take on improvement in a creative way, in which they didn’t let the out-of-scope deter them from improving what they could.


Blame the Process

I was recently presented with an opportunity to “think Lean” outside of my normal work setting, with others who are unfamiliar with Lean. I have found that in a work place where Lean is the norm, it is very easy to do things the Lean way, especially since everyone is working towards Continuous Improvement. The real challenge is to implement Lean in areas of your life that you hadn’t normally before, and to challenge the way you previously reacted to situations. One of my personal challenges has been to remember to “Blame the process” when there’s an issue, instead of blaming myself or another. Instead, you must look at the process in order to find the areas that create opportunity for mistakes and waste.

Our student organization MEDLIFE had a shipment come in for a fundraiser, in which we looked at the master sheet to make sure we had everything we were supposed to, which we did. Off to a good start, we started distributing the goods. It wasn’t until we came to the last few orders that we realized we were short multiple packages, and customers orders were missing items. After wracking our brains and consulting, we found out that an entire order hadn’t been ordered, as the order sheet was in an envelope that was thought to contain only money, and it was never opened.

In situations like this, I have time and again looked for the person to blame, the person who “screwed up”. It was what I had been used to, and was something I used to witness on a daily basis. However, before I could let this take hold of me, I took a deep breath and chanted to myself “Blame the process, not the person.” And so, after figuring out how it was corrected, we all congregated and began the break-down of the issue.

We used 5 Whys to understand what lead to the envelope and order being missed, which led us to understand that the overall collection process had been terribly messy and un-standardized. People had randomly dropped off orders, names were not on all the papers, some money was in envelopes, some money was just clipped together, and most of it was not labeled. In addition, if we had taken the time to separate orders before allowing people to pick them up, we could have caught the issue sooner and there wouldn’t have been multiple incomplete orders.

Overall, a recipe for disaster! After going through everything, I was astounded by the fact that only one order had been missed, as it must have been very frustrating for those who had the job of counting everything up and recording the orders. With this information, we now have a standard of how things are to be labeled and turned in, as well as by whom and when. This way, our collection process for any future fundraiser will be much more efficient, and less stressful for those who are collecting.

Not only did it feel good that I was able to react in a Lean way, but it was also a good experience to correct an issue the Lean way with others.


Incremental Improvement

Here in the Office of Continuous Improvement, we are always striving to continuously improve in all of our activities. Recently, we were introduced to another opportunity to grow through a new practice (to us) called Incremental Improvement.

Most often, our work consists of large massive sweeps of improvement, tackling large projects and issues with Kaizens. This calls for the scheduling large increments of time around multiple busy schedules. Daily office work usually includes dedicating chunks of time to a project until it’s complete, before moving on to the next project on the agenda.

Incremental Improvement focuses on smaller solutions and actions when tackling large projects, and allows for completion through small steps and not leaps and bounds. It allows for easier implementation of ideas, which meets less resistance as any changes are slowly made and adjusted to. Changes implemented are less risky, and allows for PDCA on a smaller scale. Overall, the improvements made are done by the staff collectively, as they all have the knowledge and power to implement more beneficial improvements.

Right now, the Office of Continuous Improvement is working on a Lean Lending Library project, where we’re making a standardized activity check-out. This would allow anyone to come in and check-out a learning activity and have all the information and materials they would need in order to do the activity. We could see right away that it definitely would be a large project, but were ready to get down to business!

At first, we wanted to just start tackling it head on, and initially figured someone would be assigned to work on the project with it as a priority. However, after being introduced to the concept of Incremental Improvement, we began looking at how we could break the monster project into smaller steps instead. Now we’re steadily going through each step, bit by bit. Small amounts of time are consistently made for us to work on the steps of the project, in comparison to someone working on it for large chunks of time when they’re able to.

Already, the progress we have made is tangible, though there is still a lot more work to do. I personally have found that this large project is not so daunting now that it has been broken up, and is continuously being worked on bit by bit. I’m very excited to see the end results of our Incremental Improvements!


Standard Work- Managing Your Day

We are pleased to present this guest blog by Brenda Randell, Executive Assistant at Michigan Technological University. 

 

Are you running from meeting to meeting, feeling overwhelmed and un-prepared? Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Senior Associate Vice President for Administration, has been there and has since implemented a system to help overcome those obstacles. The system continues to improve, but I would like to share how we currently manage events in order to keep her feeling calm and prepared throughout the day.

The system depends heavily on the Google Calendar, Brenda, and Theresa herself. It also depends on the folders and our filing system that we have in place. Most value-adding elements that Theresa needs to do is scheduled on her calendar, leaving 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. “available” for emails and follow-up from the day’s meetings. Things often come up throughout the day and she uses this time to catch-up.

Theresa’s calendar is very detailed, with standards set. There is a standard 30-minute prep for every meeting, which is scheduled two days in advance (allowing for the possibility of needing to reschedule that time.) If Theresa gets ahead of schedule, she moves on to the next item. Travel-time is booked on the calendar as well. Color-coding occurs, but is done very cautiously because colors start to become meaningless when you use too many. Theresa uses four different colors, with red signaling “do not schedule”. Work-time is scheduled on the calendar with each block including additional details such as date of request, the number and the number of occurrences (i.e. 1 of 1), amount of time specified, and the due date. I am starting to include this with Theresa’s meetings that she requests, and I find it to be especially helpful for me if I need to reschedule that particular meeting.

Theresa is responsible for informing me what is needed and everything she needs is noted and put into my box. She is also in tune with the system so if I am not here, she is able to continue working through her day(s) without difficulty.

Folders used throughout the day are filed according to a previously developed standard. That standard color-codes sections (departments). For example: Human Resource-related items are placed in a green folder. Each folder has a standard label with the font, size, and information. The example below shows the folder title as “compensation strategy task force” and the sub-title explains the location of the file. Filed under “employment” in “Human Resources”. Having this standard makes it easy to file as well as find the file.

Theresa’s work flow circulates. I easily pull the folder that relates to the calendar item and set it up in a parallel sequence to her calendar. Theresa pulls the folder and takes care of the calendar item. She then writes notes of additional requests for that particular calendar item and puts the folder into my box. I then take the folders out of my box multiple times per day and do one, or multiple, of the following tasks: complete/finalize agenda, email and print agendas/attachments, schedule work time, schedule meeting, file the folder, and/or place folder in the pile for the next day that it will be needed.

What tips can you share to add flow to your work day?

 

Sample label – this particular label would be placed on a green file folder.

                         COMPENSATION STRATEGY TASK FORCE                            

                                 (Human Resources – Employment)

 

 

Theresa’s box with folders paralleling her calendar. Once the item/folder is complete, Theresa moves the folder to my box, right beside hers.
Theresa’s box with folders paralleling her calendar. Once the item/folder is complete, Theresa moves the folder to my box, right beside hers.                                                                  

 

Theresa’s folders for the next day. These are ready to be put into her box at the end of the day, or right away in the morning.
Theresa’s folders for the next day. These are ready to be put into her box at the end of the day, or right away in the morning.

  

 

 

 

 


Lean Culture; Why Isn’t This The Norm?

This past month, I was able to participate in the making of a video with Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, and it was my first solo project as a PIC. I was both extremely excited and cautious, as I wanted to put to work the Lean knowledge and values my training had instilled me with, but I was also worried. What if I couldn’t do my job well? What if I under-performed what was expected of me? My first project was working with the “Big Dogs” and what if I couldn’t cut it? After a very reassuring meeting with Ruth about the basis of the project, I tried to go into it with the best outlook. No matter what happened, it would be an experience that would allow me to grow, and overall, improve.

It should not surprise you that the environment with which I met was nothing like I had feared, in fact, I felt no different than if I were back in the office as usual. The meeting with Mrs. Coleman-Kaiser went so easy and smooth, and not once did I feel inferior or inadequate. The conversation was natural, my questions came out unhindered, and overall I felt completely confident in my abilities. It was the same kind of  culture I experience everyday in the office, the very embodiment of lean culture I read about during training and in books. So why was I expecting any different?

Lean culture is one where respect for people is central, no matter status or position of individuals. The establishment of respect cultivates teamwork and camaraderie among everyone, and together we work towards the common goal of improvement. This allows for a blame-free space, where a mistake means an opportunity for improvement and the evolution of our standards. There is no need for taking the credit or pointing fingers, because we are all working towards the same goal; improvement.

In theory, the culture of Lean sounds great, as it gives the best approach towards a system where everyone is equal and working together.

Realistically, Lean culture in practice is even better. Lean culture allows you to function uninhibited by fears or worries, because not only are you geared towards the same end-goal as those around you, but because there are no mistakes, just areas that you recognize could use improvement. There is no failure in Lean culture.

The reason I expected different is because the culture of Lean is not what the majority encounters normally. Before my introduction to Lean, I had never encountered a work environment such as this, and I thought it too good to be true, even though it’s a workplace we all deserve.  Here we have a healthy, high functioning, improvement-promoting environment that yields the best of results, and yet it is an environment known by only few. What a concept! Now that I have been immersed in Lean culture for a few months, it is becoming the norm for me. I am becoming more sensitive to the differences between this work environment and other work environments that are not Lean.

As we continue our work with Lean, and continue on the path of continuous improvement, not only do we strengthen the standard of Lean culture, but it is so important that we also continue to  introduce others into the Lean and its values. It is very important to spread so that everyone everywhere is working at the same standards, and working towards the same goals. Hopefully someday the majority shall be Lean, and Lean will become the new societal norm.

 


Lean: Past, Present, and Future

Beginning my learning in the Office of Continuous Improvement, not only did I learn what Lean itself was and what it looked like, but also I began to recognize where it is applicable. (The last part of that sentence is an oxymoron, as Lean is applicable literally everywhere). However, I began thinking about and applying Lean to circumstances from my past, starting to apply it in everything I do now, and applying it in the future.

Before working in the Office of Continuous Improvement here at Michigan Tech, my place of employment was absolutely awful, pretty much to the point of unbearable. For those of us who know what it is like to work at a job that gives absolutely no satisfaction in any shape other than being un-employed, then you know just how depressed it makes you. After being inducted into the Lean culture and environment, I cannot help but to mentally think about how much that company could truly grow and prosper if Lean was truly and wholeheartedly applied. I dream of how the 5 Whys and Swim Lanes and other useful tools of Lean could benefit the company and employees there, and the many problems that never go away. The kinds of issues that myself and others continue to deal with are ones that are chronic; not only in terms of the process, but that there is also an entire lack of safety as well as lack of respect between employees and managers of the company. Those who understand the culture of Lean understand that this is a huge issue, in that the two most basic pillars of Lean are lacking, which cripples any sort of progress or improvement trying to be made. To say that I am much more happy and satisfied in my work now is an understatement, but I do hope that my old work-place embraces Lean for the better, for the sake of those who continue to work there. Looking back at the two different work environments, and the two different attitudes that I attend work with each day, I can already personally see the difference Lean has made in my life.

Once learning about Lean, I began applying it immediately to my every-day schedule. Not only because I would have to be familiar with Lean tools at work, but also because they are good tools to use anywhere and the more familiar I am in applying them, the better. Thinking Lean is not a mindset that is only adopted in certain situations, but it is a mindset that you continue to use and apply all day, everyday. I can personally say, the transition to the Lean mindset was extremely easy and beneficial. Everyday, I find something I can improve on, and I try to take one more Lean step forward.

In terms of the future, I already have a head-start, thanks to the implementations I have made with Lean thus far. However, this does not mean my Lean journey is done, in fact it is far from being over. One of the best parts about Lean is that there is no limits to its application, the possibilities are truly endless. Endless! As said by Maria Calcagni  in “Gemba Kaizen”, by author Masaaki Imai,  “It is not the idea that something is wrong, but that it can be better”(pg 96). There is always room for improvement, always some process in life that can be made more efficient or effective.

And so, I will take my Lean journey and think of how it would have helped my past, allowing me to know where to start applying it in the present, and continue to let Lean guide me through the future.