Continuous Improvement Blog

All posts by Nathan Hood

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!


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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“ExperienceChange” Simulation

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the change management simulation known as ExperienceChange. This opportunity was presented through a course I’m taking with Professor Latha Poonamallee on change management. The course, MGT 4500: Managing Change in Organizations, is primarily an experiential learning class that focuses on “developing an understanding of the complexity and dynamics of change in complex organizations.”

The simulation involves two scenarios that require learners to use the fundamental change management theory as the basic framework to guide themselves through a fictitious simulation in assessing and understanding different change tactics. This framework guides the user through a seven step process of gathering buy-in for a Lean transformation:

  1. Understand
  2. Enlist
  3. Envisage
  4. Motivate
  5. Communicate
  6. Act
  7. Consolidate

This was a great experience for me as a Lean practitioner to increase my knowledge and understanding of how to effectively implement organizational change. For anyone who is preparing to go through a change, I highly recommend the ExperienceChange simulation. This training tool can definitely help maximize the chances of your workforce making a smooth transition from “the way we’ve always done it” to the “new” way.


Measuring Success

I recently facilitated a Kaizen project  for Dining Services that involved their student hiring process. A lot of good ideas and improvement plans came out of it, and the team was very excited about the opportunity to make this process more efficient. What stood out for me, however, was a new process step that we incorporated at the end of the Kaizen called “Measuring Success.”

As Lean practitioners we understand that metrics and data collection are pivotal to the success of any implementation initiative. However, sometimes we forget the benefits of putting these numbers on display for all to see; this group did not. We decided at the end of the day to put all of our success metrics with their respective goals and deadlines on a flip chart for each member of the team to display in their office. The motive behind this was to ensure that every day, with every decision they make, they are focused on reaching these goals.

I thought this was a fantastic idea and one that should be used in all of our projects in the future. A big part of Lean is engagement. Setting clear goals and expectations is a big factor in increasing employee engagement. When everyone is united and working toward a common goal, the opportunities for improvement are endless.

Measuring Success Flipchart
Measuring Success Flipchart

 

Newspaper Flipchart
Newspaper Flipchart

 


Satisfying Internal Customers: It’s Still Important

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Gregg Stocker, a lean advisor for Hess Corporation with over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning.

                                                                                                                                               

What everyone in a company does can be reduced to one of two functions: to serve the customer or someone who does.

~W. Edwards Deming

One of the most basic but difficult philosophies to ingrain into the culture of an organization is the internal customer concept.  The silo mentality is so common today that it interferes with the ability to focus on the needs of anyone who is in another part of the company.  The level of distrust that exists tends to be so high that we feel others will take advantage of us if we focus on making their jobs easier (or that making others look better will in some way jeopardize our own jobs by making us look worse).

I once facilitated a lean project with a technical group in a global organization.  When I asked why there were no representatives from the operations team (who directly received the output of the technical group), those in the meeting commented that the people in operations were lazy, did not understand what they needed, and would ask for anything that would make their jobs easier without regard to the effect it had on the technical group.  The discussion identified a serious problem in the organization that had to be resolved before the lean initiative had any chance of being successful.

Looking at it Objectively

Since very few jobs deal directly with external customers, it stands to reason that most people only work to serve internal customers.  If people are unwilling or unable to satisfy their internal customers, the organization has very little chance of satisfying its external customers on a continuing basis.

If the organization is truly committed to satisfying customers, the people in finance, IT, maintenance, human resources, and many other parts of the organization must develop a clear understanding of how the work they do impacts the external customer by serving internal functions.  Without an emphasis on internal customers, these same groups can begin to think that the work they do is an end in itself.  Thiscaptured market mentality – believing that others have no choice but to accept the output provided – often leads to process changes that reduce costs for these groups without regard to the effect on internal customers.

Perhaps the best example I’ve seen of a company that clearly understands the importance of internal customers is the inverted pyramid at Nordstrom.  The pyramid (shown on the Nordstrom website) depicts the organizational structure with customers at the top and each successive layer supporting the one above it.  As shown in the figure, customers are supported by sales and support people who, in turn, are supported by department managers, etc.  The objective of the pyramid is to make it very clear that customers are at the top of the company’s priorities and the job of everyone is to support those who directly serve customers.

Achieving an Internal Customer Focus

There are a number of steps to achieve an internal customer focus within an organization.  The obvious first step is to assure that the company’s senior leaders believe in its importance and are committed to making it happen.  If the company has poor teamwork and/or a number of functionally-focused leaders, there is very little chance that they will understand or be concerned with those in other parts of the organization.

Beyond assuring a level of understanding and commitment from those at the top of the organization, the following steps will help institute an internal customer focus:

  1. Encourage open communication with internal customers and suppliers on how to improve the quality of what is provided to external customers;
  2. Talk with people at all levels to better understand the reasons why a focus on internal customers does not exist.  The interviews are best conducted by someone outside of the organization if the level of fear and distrust within the culture will prevent people from openly expressing their thoughts;
  3. Discontinue the practice of promoting people who do not understand the company’s overall system and how the work performed by the teams they lead is used to help others satisfy external customers.  Leaders who are generalists tend to accept and practice the internal customer concept more than those who are specialists and focus more on their functions than the company as a whole;
  4. Include internal customer input in feedback systems and hold people accountable for continually improving the products and services they provide internally;
  5. Continually coach team members and lead by example;
  6. Be patient and consistent.  Like any change initiative, shifting the culture to increase focus on internal customers can be a long-term process that will be tested over and over again as the change occurs.

I have found that, when facilitated effectively, value stream mapping sessions can be very beneficial in communicating how the output from one function becomes the input for another.  It also provides a method for identifying the problems that occur in the hand-offs between internal suppliers and internal customers.

Shifting the culture to one that is focused on satisfying internal, as well as external, customers often results in the identification of deeper cultural issues that need to be addressed before success can be achieved.  As these issues are resolved, however, the improvements in teamwork and communication will translate directly to the customer in the form of improved products and/or services.

Gregg Stocker
Gregg Stocker

Are You Making Excuses or Solving Problems?

“When we find barriers that prevent us from closing the gap, are we a victim that makes excuses or a leader that solves problems?”

This the closing statement from a talk given by Mark Graban at the 2014 Lean Transformation Summit. He discusses some of the major issues clouding the creation and development of a culture of continuous improvement within organizations. 

Mark asks, “When we are facing challenges about creating this culture of continuous improvement, how are we reacting? What are we doing about it.” He discusses a few of the most common problem statements or excuses given to push back against lean initiatives and gives insight on how to overcome these obstacles. Some of the common problems statements or excuses he highlights are:

  1. Staff don’t have time to do Kaizen
  2. Managers: “I don’t have time for Kaizen”
  3. Working on Kaizen hurts our productivity numbers

The talk ends with a general discussion about change. Graban elaborate on how successful change in any setting – small or large – hinges on three 3 things:

  1. The will to do it
  2. A methodology for how to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be
  3. Execution and discipline to actually make it happen

Without the will to create a culture of continuous improvement; the ideas, tools, and methodologies for closing the gap; and the support from upper management to execute the plan, we are developing a workforce of victims and not leaders.

Check out Graban’s talk here: Lean Talks: Are You Making Excuses or Solving Problems?

Mark at the 2014 Lean Transformation Summit

Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized expert in the field of “Lean Healthcare,” as a consultant, author, keynote speaker, and blogger. Mark is also the Vice President of Customer Success for the software company KaiNexus.


Lean Culture: Respect for People

When Lean principles are fully understood and Lean tools are correctly applied, the opportunities for improvement and growth are endless.  I have been a part of the Office of Continuous Improvement for almost a year and a half, and I have witnessed, numerous times, the benefits of successful Lean implementation. What I want to talk about today is why some organizations fail at becoming Lean.

Why is it that some organizations, or even some functional units within an organization, are able to successfully implement this methodology while others fail miserably?  Short answer: Culture. The greatest mistake you can make on a Lean journey is taking a shortcut down Tool Avenue. Often times, in unsuccessful attempts at spreading Lean, one entity assumes it can achieve the same results as another simply by applying the same tools that the other has gotten positive results from. “Continuous Improvement” is therefore reduced to an “improvement project” and concern then arises when the improvement is not sustained.

Lean will never be something you do, it is something you become. In order to truly become Lean, the entire value system of the organization must change. Commitment to Lean thinking and the establishment of a Lean culture give birth to successful Lean “implementation.” An organization’s culture and the principles that drive people’s behaviors ultimately determine the degrees of an organization’s performance, quality, and success. There is no concrete definition of what a “Lean culture” is, however there is one principle that all Lean enterprises do follow: respect for people.

In their book, "Lead With Respect: A Novel of Lean Practice," Michael Ballé and Freddy Ballé present the following model for leading with respect.
In their book, “Lead With Respect: A Novel of Lean Practice,” Michael Ballé and Freddy Ballé present the following model for leading with respect.

In a 2007 eLetter, James P. Womack, Ph.D., founder and senior advisor to the Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc, describes how the best managers at Toyota show respect for people:

  1. Managers begin by asking employees what the problem is with the way their work is currently being done.
  2. They challenge the employees’ answer and enter into a dialogue about what the real problem is. (It’s rarely the problem showing on the surface.)
  3. Then they ask what is causing this problem and enter into another dialogue about its root causes. (True dialogue requires the employees to gather evidence from the Gemba for joint evaluation.)
  4. Then they ask what should be done about the problem and ask employees why they have proposed one solution instead of another. (This generally requires considering a range of solutions and collecting more evidence.)
  5. Then they ask how they – manager and employees – will know when the problem has been solved, and engage one more time in dialogue on the best indicator.
  6. Finally, after agreement is reached on the most appropriate measure of success, the employees set out to implement the solution.

“The manager challenges the employees every step of the way, asking for more thought, more facts, and more discussion. This problem solving process actually demonstrates the highest form of respect.

The manager is saying to the employees that the manager can’t solve the problem alone, because the manager isn’t close enough to the problem to know the facts. He or she truly respects the employees’ knowledge and their dedication to finding the best answer. But the employees can’t solve the problem alone either because they are often too close to the problem to see its context and they may refrain from asking tough questions about their own work.

Only by showing mutual respect – each for the other and for each other’s role – is it possible to solve problems, make work more satisfying, and move organizational performance to a higher level.”

References

Womack, James P., Ph.D. “Respect for People.” Letter to LEI. 20 Dec. 2007.Jim Womack’s ELetters & Columns. Lean Enterprise Institute, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <http://www.lean.org/womack/DisplayObject.cfm?o=755>.

Henderson, Bruce A., and Jorge L. Larco. Lean Transformation: How to Change Your Business into a Lean Enterprise. Richmond, VA: Oaklea, 1999. Print.

 


Lean and SMART

At some point in all of our lives we’ve had things we’ve wanted to achieve, whether it was in 1st grade and all you wanted was to be the best at shooting chocolate milk from your nose, or your very first day of college when you were determined to be “the best student you can be.” While some people would call these goals, a Lean practitioner might call them dreams. In the area of continuous improvement, goal setting is a very precise and important activity. The difference between having a dream and setting and achieving goals is what I want to focus on today.

 

How exactly does one go about fulfilling the dream of becoming the best student they can be or the best chocolate milk shooter? …and how is it determined? By setting SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. SMART goal setting helps bring substance and measurability into your goals and objectives.

Specific

When setting a SMART goal, it is important to know exactly what you want to achieve. The level of specificity you use is directly correlated to the chances of you achieving the goal.  SMART goal setting clarifies the difference between “I will be the best student I can be” and “I will do all of my homework, attend professor office hours once a week, and go to tutoring twice a week.”

Measurable

How will you feel? What will you see? How will you know when you’ve achieved your goal? With a measurable goal, there is no question as to if the goal was met. Instead of stating your goal as “being a better parent” a more measurable goal would be “spending 3 hours of one-on-one time a week with your child.”

Achievable

Can you actually do this? Your goals should always push you slightly out of your comfort zone in order to make you feel challenged. However, it is important to keep the scope small enough that you avoid becoming discouraged. The timeliness aspect of SMART goals also comes into play here. Most goals are attainable when you carefully plan your steps and give yourself a time frame that allows you to succeed. Goals that you never thought you could achieve become more realistic as you work through your plan and systematically break down any road blocks.

Relevant

Your goals need to matter. How does the goal tie into your key responsibilities? How does this goal align with the strategic goals of the organization? These are questions that need to be answered to determine whether the goal you are setting is even worth achieving. A lawyer’s goal to “make 50 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by 2pm” may be specific, measurable, attainable and time-bound but completely lacks relevance.

Time-bound

Things are always more likely to get done when there is an established target time or date in place. When setting your SMART goals, put deadlines in place to push progress along and keep yourself, or your team, working efficiently. Deadlines, however, should always be reasonable; there’s nothing worse than feeling the pressure of an unreasonable deadline. A time frame is necessary in creating a sense of urgency within yourself; saying “I want to lose 20 lbs” is great but saying “I want to lose 20 lbs by June 1st” gives you a definitive end date to complete your goal by.

If you’re interested in a coaching session using SMART goal setting or any other continuous improvement technique(s), let us know at improvement@mtu.edu or call the Office of Continuous Improvement at 906-487-3180.

References
“Creating S.M.A.R.T. Goals.” Self Improvement and Personal Development Community. Top Achievement, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2015. <http://topachievement.com/smart.html>.

“SMART Goals.” Coaching Tools. YourCOACH, n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2015 <http://www.yourcoach.be/en/coaching-tools/smart-goal-setting.php>.

 


Defining and Creating Customer Value

At the heart of Lean is a focus on the customer and a spirit of continuous improvement. In this post, I want to discuss the concept of customer value.

Many people think they have a firm grasp on the concept of value, but in reality understanding how value is created, applied, measured, and translated is a difficult task. This is because each and every person has their own perception of what constitutes value and this belief of what value is changes over time. Though it may prove difficult, identifying what creates value for the customer is the very first principle of Lean; it’s a task that must be completed before beginning any process improvement efforts.

Upon the completion of this task, not only will you know what your customers value, you’ll also have a basis for defining your day-to-day activities. Having that level of definition will help answer 3 important questions:

  1. What should I be doing?
  2. How should I be doing it?
  3. Why should I be doing it?

Everything we do on a daily basis, no matter how small, should create some kind of value for our specific customers. Defining said value forms the foundation upon which you build Lean processes to deliver that value and satisfy your customer. For an activity to be value added, you must meet all three precise criteria:

  1. The customer must be willing to pay for the activity.
  2. The activity must transform the product or service in some way.
  3. The activity must be done correctly the first time.

If an activity does not meet all three value-added criteria, then it’s deemed officially to be non-value-added.  In Lean, non-value-added activities are further broken down into two types of muda (or waste):

  1. Type-1 waste includes actions that are non-value-added, but are required for some other reason. These are typically support activities that allow those critical value-added activities to take place.  These forms of waste usually cannot be eliminated immediately.
  2. Type-2 wastes are those activities that are non-value-added and are unnecessary. These activities are the first targets for elimination.


Many activities may seem as though they’re necessary or value-added, but on closer examination, viewing them through the eyes of the customer, they’re not. For example,  if you are completing paperwork to pass on to another department, or creating reports for your supervisor, the first order of business should always be to define what information is of value to the person receiving the documents you’re creating. You may find that a portion of the information you’re collecting or reporting is of no value to your “customer,” and therefore collecting and documenting that information only serves to create waste in the process. 

Identifying customer value and seeking out and eliminating waste takes effort — it’s a journey that begins with challenging the status quo. If you’re ready to accept this challenge and begin your journey, call the Office of Continuous Improvement at 906-487-3180 or email us at involvement@mtu.edu. We will work with you and give you the tools you need to get you headed in the right direction.

Reference
     — You are welcome to check out this book and others from our Lean Library.
Sayer, Natalie J., and Bruce Williams. Lean for Dummies. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2012. Print.

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.