All posts by Elizabeth Wohlford

Elizabeth is a student at Michigan Technological University working towards a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. She has been working at the Office of Continuous Improvement since June 2014 joining with previous Lean experience provided from both an internship and co-op with two different Fortune 200 companies.

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.

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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.


Lean – More than a Buzzword at Career Fair

As the career fair has passed and students anxiously await interviews and follow ups from company representatives, I’d like to take this time to remind students about how Lean principles are more than knowing where to insert buzzwords. I know from experience that understanding lean practices and then applying the tools in a real world project can really make you shine as a candidate on career fair day–not to mention change your environment for the better.

For example, when I was a freshman I learned about Kanban and then integrated the principles into my own work flow. This has helped me tremendously when juggling school work, student organizations, research, and working at the Office of Continuous Improvement. A picture of a Kanban can be seen below. I encourage you all to learn more about Lean principles and start to integrate them into your daily life. Then when it comes time for an interview you can not only refer to the Lean term, but also follow up with an example of how you then applied the given concept.

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If you want to know more about continuous improvement, feel free to reach out to the Office of Continuous Improvement either by phone at 906-487-3180 or email improvement@mtu.edu. You are also welcome to stop by our office (we love having visitors) located in 136 West Wadsworth Hall, right above the WMTU sound booth.

 


Document Management – A 5S Opportunity

I was recently given the opportunity to be a Lean facilitator for a 5S Kaizen event. The goal of the event was to organize the Van Pelt and Opie Library staff document management system. I found this to be a great project and was inspired by the event to write a blog post going over some of the lessons learned. The project also remind me of how the 5S method (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) can be applied to both Google Drive documents as well as Network Drive documents. documents   Here are some things to try when working with a large documentation systems:

  1. Have a standard naming convention – Having a standard naming convention helps documents and key information be found quickly with minimum effort.
  2. Include key people from different departments –   When this is done insight into how different people use documents is come to light and a more logical system can be created for all participants.
  3. Eliminate extra files – If there are four revisions of a document from over a few years ago don’t be afraid to get rid of these files, especially if no one is using them!
  4. Define upkeep roles and a timeline – Last but not least this step is what is going to ensure the work put into creating an organized system stays organized. This timeline will define how often and who will go through the document system and make sure that previously outlined steps are followed. For example a rotating schedule where every Friday 15 minutes is spent on ensuring that there are no loose files.

5S If you want to see some of the tools and templates that our office has compiled on 5S feel free to check them out here. To learn more about continuous improvement at Michigan Tech visit http://www.mtu.edu/improvement/, or call (906) 487-3180.  We have multiple resources for you, including a Lean lending library!


Lean and S.W.E.

I just got back from the national Society of Women Engineer’s (SWE) conference held this year in Nashville, TN. I was pleasantly surprised because there were three different sessions being held on continuous improvement. I was able to attend two of the three and really enjoyed them.

The first session I went to was titled “Shark Tank! A Creative Approach to Drive Continuous Improvement” and was given by Jennifer Walsh, an Engineering Program Group Manager from Medtronic. In the talk, Ms. Walsh presented some creative approaches to continuous improvement that I thought were great. An example was by using social media to convey ongoing continuous improvement techniques that were being used around her business unit.

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The second session that I was able to go to was titled “The People Side of Lean” held by Kimberly Sayre, PE from the University of Kentucky’s College of Engineering. Ms. Sayre, the Lean Systems Program Manager, talked about Lean as a systematic method for eliminating waste within a process. She explained “Lean was developed at Toyota (internally called the Toyota Production System), and the People Side of Lean is a critical piece of sustainable Lean transformation. Organizations first implement the tools, improve efficiencies and eliminate waste, but then reach a plateau until they are able to gain full employee buy-in.” Ms. Sayre went on to explain this “natural struggle point” in getting improvement throughout the whole system. This talk helped me navigate through this phase of my Lean journey, and she even included a hands-on exercise about communication skills. I especially loved how she was from an academic setting and saw how this could relate to Michigan Tech’s campus.

The last session that talked about Lean was held by Claribel Mateo, the HR Director at Turner Construction Company. Her talk, entitled “Using Technology to Build Better Buildings through Efficiency and Visualization,” talked about how Turner implements BIM (Building Information Modeling) and Lean Construction principles and practices on projects from early design to construction, to enable the project team to drastically reduce field requests for information and change orders while enhancing quality and compressing construction schedules.

Overall I had a great time at the conference and look forward to implementing what I learned back here in Houghton, as well as in my life after graduation.

 

 

 



Rare Super Blood Moon and Continuous Improvement

Earth’s moon along with the Sun’s gravitational pull are what cause tides on our earth [1]. In the past, coastal cities used the tides as a way to tell the time of day. This past week the “Super Blood Moon” was out, and for all those who gazed up at the sky with me in the Houghton area, I’m sure you can agree with me that it was a majestic sight to see. The awe I felt was only heightened with the knowledge that the phenomenon last occurred in 1982 and is not expected to occur again until 2033 [2]. As I reflected on how amazing it was watching the super blood moon, and seeing the moon change from its normal white color to an amazing orange hue over the course of a few hours, I couldn’t help but think about how time, the moon, and this rare occurrence all relate back to continuous improvement.

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Super Blood Moon [NASA]

One can get used to how things are going, and when something out of the ordinary takes place it can set the whole system into shock. For example, an increase in job responsibilities as an employee, or for students, a disruption in their schedule like fall career fair. These times do not need to cause anxiety and worry. Such events don’t happen on a daily basis, and it is good to take time and recognize them as they are and then trust that the systems set in place will work as intended. If the rare shock to the system does take place leading to an upset in the way the system behaved before, it could be an indication that the previous system was not as effective as it could be. This is a great time to implement Lean tools, and if needed a whole Kaizen event! Taking time to gather key people and utilize an appropriate Lean tool to get back in the rhythm of things can really be helpful. That’s what Continuous Improvement is all about!

Relating back to the blood moon example, Beijing was unable to see the blood moon because “a choking blanket of air pollution covered Beijing” [3]. This caused anger among residents and was a time that the pollution problem was brought to national attention once again. This shows how sometimes extraordinary events can actually be a call to action, a way to set the wheels in motion to make a positive change.

As career fair is now over, and the super blood moon has passed, I look forward to making sure my systems can handle such fluctuations in time demands, and I reevaluate their past true effectiveness.

If you want to know more about continuous improvement feel free to reach out to the Office of Continuous Improvement either by phone, 906-487-3180, or email improvement-l@mtu.edu

References:

[1] Oceanservice.noaa.gov, ‘Why does the ocean have waves?’, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/wavesinocean.html. [Accessed: 30- Aug- 2015].

[2] P. Video, ‘Progress Cargo Ship Racing Towards ISS After Nighttime Launch | Video’, Space.com, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.space.com/30718-progress-cargo-ship-racing-towards-iss-after-nighttime-launch-video.html. [Accessed: 30-Aug-2015].

[3] USA TODAY, ‘China’s smog smothers ‘blood’ moon’, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/10/08/china-smog-blood-moon/16903549/. [Accessed: 30- Aug -2015].

 


Lunch and Learn at the Lean Enterprise Institute

This summer I had the great fortune of being a mechanical engineering intern at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory. While in Cambridge, John O’Donnall, Executive Director of the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), was kind enough to reach out to me and invite me to visit the office. Mr. O’Donnall and I had the chance to meet on campus last year when he was the keynote speaker at the 2015 facilitator graduation.

 

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Lean Enterprise Institute located in Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

While there it just so happened that they were also having a guest speaker come in and talk about Lean in the civil engineering world and how much waste happens at construction sites because the main currency is the amount of time it takes to complete a project. Although I had to leave before the whole event was over I found her talk to be very interesting. It really opened my eyes to the need to integrate Lean practices into the civil engineering world the way mechanical engineering has integrated it into manufacturing. Below is a picture of the talk from an outside view.

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Presentation on integrating Lean principles into civil engineering projects

 

I also got to meet with James P. Womack the founder of the LEI, as well as some of the M.B.A. summer interns who were in the office. Every summer the office hired a few M.B.A. students from the area to work with them and learn in an immersive experience about Lean principles. John O’Donnell and I mused about the possibility of bringing in Michigan Tech M.B.A. students on as summer interns and I think that it could be a mutually beneficial experience for both parties. 

 

 

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Selfie with Mr. John O’Donnell

 

Before leaving John showed me around the office and I was pleasantly surprised with how much our own Office of Continuous Improvement here at Michigan Tech resembled the  Lean Enterprise Institute. A picture of their office can be seen below.

 

 

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Snapshot of the open floor plan office at Lean Enterprise Institute

 

I had a great experience there meeting up with Mr. O’Donnell, Mr. Womack, and meet some of their M.B.A. summer interns.  

 


Integrating Lean into Student Organizations on MTU’s Campus

One of the initiatives that the office of continuous improvement has for fiscal year 2015 is to incorporate more Kaizen events into student organizations. As president of Michigan Tech’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) student chapter I was having frustration regarding the current state of our process of supporting the annual Student Design Competition (SDC). In this process a group of students builds a robot to go through an obstacle course. Trouble lied in communication and failure to compete in the competition even after thousands of dollars was vested in the activity. It then struck me that I could integrate my two activities, my work at the Office of Continuous Improvement and also ASME to be mutually beneficial.

To help launch the Lean mindset in the student organization I invited Ruth Archer, Manager of Process Improvement,  to introduce at a very basic level some tool they could integrate into their daily life. This helped show the members common industry practices of Lean, and continuous improvement. Ruth also spoke to them about how Michigan Tech works to make sure that there are continuous improvement efforts being done on current processes through the office of continuous improvement. This gave the students new insights into how the university was working at improving their experience as students of Michigan Tech.

A few days after this presentation the pre- meeting for the ASME  SDC team Kaizen event. I was put on as the team leader with Laura Henry and Jim DeRochers acting as co- facilitators and Kaylee Betzinger acting as the student process improvement coordinator. The current state was outlined and can be seen in the image below. Items included the lack of definite rolls and lack of time.

Current state photo

 

A week later the actual Kaizen event was held with the team members of the design team, the executive treasurer of ASME, as well as all support persons  facilitating the Kaizen present.

Some images of the current state were taken from the Kaizen event and can be seen below.

Start of p-map

 

 

The competition took place on April 10th and I look forward to seeing how integrating Lean practices helps the team in years to come as the most use from this event will come in this years preparation for the competition. One of the major outcomes is that Kaizen communication has been streamlined between the team and the executive board and an increased amount of documentation though Google Drive.

If your student organization is having trouble with a current process contact the Office of Continuous Improvement at: 906-487-3180, e-mail improvement@mtu.edu or request a Process Improvement Event here

 


Continuous Improvement of Annual Events

During Michigan Tech’s Winter Carnival event, I started thinking about how continuous improvement works with events that have a really long time between them. The preparation work for Winter Carnival has a flow to it. There are always things like the free chili from The Library restaurant, broomball games with free hot chocolate, and most importantly the creation of some amazing snow statues. This epic event couldn’t happen without a flow and organization through standardized work. One very key part of standard work for projects with a long time frame between events is the reflection from year to year by the committee heads on what was done well and what can be improved for the following year.

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Last year the Blue Key Honor Society, the group who organizes Winter Carnival, reached out to the continuous improvement office, and the office facilitated an event to help them organize their workflow. From this event not only were Lean practices introduced into the organization, but also Lean knowledge was shared with students who can take the knowledge they learned into other activities they participate in, both on campus and off.

If you’re an advisor for a student organization or a student member who has a process you’re responsible for and would like some coaching to create standard work, feel free to contact the office of continuous improvement at 906-487-3180, e-mail improvement@mtu.edu or request a Process Improvement Event here. We can show you how to use things like knowledge folders, process maps, and 5S, or facilitate a Kaizen event to improve your process.

Annual events around campus like orientation week, semester break and Winter Carnival can be greatly aided with Improvement events. However, they aren’t the only time to apply Lean principles to a process. Let’s not waste any time finding areas to improve and work towards making 2015 the best year yet!

 


Trend Prediction

Hello, this is Elizabeth, one of the student process improvement coordinators at Michigan Tech. This semester one of the classes I am taking within the department of mechanical engineering is “Engineering Design Process.” Within the class we are charged with designing a way to change the landscape of the moving luggage industry. Innovation is one of the main objectives. I decided to look at how I could integrate my course work and job. Taking advantage of the Lean Library in the Office of Continuous Improvement  I checked out the book The Innovators Toolkit.

Book

The book starts off with having the user define the opportunity. It stated that, “Taking thousands of shots at an undefined target (unfocused ideation) won’t result in any innovation goal”.  From here the book is broken up into four parts; defining the opportunity, discover the ideas, develop the designs, demonstrate the innovation. Within these four parts there are different techniques to be used. I chose to focus on part two – discover the idea and more specifically technique 16: trend prediction.

In this age of rapid change and a push towards innovation it is important to be able to accurately predict where future trends will be in order that one’s invention matches the needs and wants of those trends. After searching around online I found that a lot of the organizational templates used in the book are available to the public for free. I would encourage you to look at them and use them to your advantage

 

 


Welcome Elizabeth Wohlford!

The Office of Continuous Improvement has hired a new Student Process Improvement Coordinator. Elizabeth is a third-year Mechanical Engineering major and also does research in the Biomedical Engineering department under Dr. Neuman, is Vice- President of Michigan Tech’s student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and is webmaster for Michigan Tech’s Society of Women Engineers. She brings to the office previous experience in Six Sigma and Lean Practices from previous internships with Johnson Controls and Kimberly-Clark along with a willingness to learn more about the world of continuous improvement.

Here Elizabeth will introduce herself and share some thoughts about her new role:

When I went into my first industry experience as an intern for Johnson Controls I had very minimal exposure to the world of continuous improvement. I was given a process improvement project dealing with automotive door panel scratch testing and tasked with identifying the variables that affected performance. I was able to go through Green Belt training with using the project to learn Six Sigma methodology. While working at a mill for Kimberly-Clark in Utah I was exposed to Lean practices and how crucial it is to have standard processes in the world of mass production manufacturing. When I found out about this open position in the office of Continuous Improvement, I knew it would be a great opportunity to continue the learning process and be a leader in conducting improvement efforts on campus.

Over the past few weeks that I have been working in the office, I have put together a training course for teaching about Lean practices. I will be working on assisting with the coordination, data collection and facilitation of Kaizen Events.

I am grateful to be given this opportunity and look forward to adding value in the office by executing on initiatives that drive Michigan Tech’s campus to the next level.

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