Category Archives: Lean Experiences

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.

 


My Journey Through Lean

We’re already into the second semester and I can’t help but wonder where the time went. I’ve recently been taking the time to reflect on my experiences as a PIC, and what that has brought to me in terms of understanding things that I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise, like Lean. Between school, multiple jobs, family, and having a social life, the past weeks have become overwhelming and at times felt impossible.

Starting my job in the Office of Continuous Improvement, I honestly did not know what to expect. I was aware of a few different common Lean tools that I had researched, but now, the pieces of the puzzle have slowly started to connect. Through my learning of Lean, I have found a few important things that I believe are helpful in understanding different aspects of Lean. Firstly, to be able to truly learn and use Lean in personal and professional settings, you have to believe in Lean and what it can do to improve your life. After being a part of the Office of Continuous Improvement for the last six months, I have been able to see the firsthand effects of what Lean has done for processes across campus. Secondly, and this may be one of the hardest things for individuals to grasp, Lean is not a sudden success. I like to think of Lean as the old fable, the tortoise and the hare. Lean is not fast moving; it is similar to the tortoise. It is a slow and steady pace while staying persistent throughout the entire process. Last (but not least), I believe that Lean is beneficial for all areas of our lives. If we limit Lean to certain area, then we are putting a restriction on what can be accomplished. Since I’ve started as a PIC, I have used a number of the Lean tools in my personal life. Unsurprisingly, they have significantly improved my productivity, and most importantly they have reduced my stress.

Becoming engulfed in the Lean culture has become a life changing experience, and for a number of reasons–all wonderful. I am grateful for everyone I have met and everything that I have learned using Lean, and I look forward to the new experiences that will come with leading a Lean lifestyle.


The Name of Lean Practices

I was attending parent-teacher conferences at my daughter’s high school when I spotted some terrific visual management in the art teacher’s room. The teacher has to have supplies ready for new groups of students all day, without much time between classes to look for things. She’s developed a status-at-a-glance system that makes it easy for students to put things where they belong and easy for her to know if everything has been put away. Because I know about visual management, I could offer some simple improvement suggestions. Take a look at the picture below. What would you tell her?

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Lean didn’t create visual management; Lean just provides a name for it. Naming becomes important because when you name it, you can define it, identify examples of it, repeat it, find best practices for it, and share it with others. I often see this when I teach people about Lean. They’re already using a lot of Lean ideas, and now they can fill in some gaps, place it inside a larger framework, have a common language for discussion, and follow a pathway to learning more.

What Lean tools were you using before you learned about Lean?

#Lean


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!


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.

 

 


Daily Continuous Improvement

The ultimate goal of a Lean practitioner is to incorporate continuous improvement into every facet of their life. Contrary to popular belief, Lean is applicable in more environments than just industry. Tools like 5S and “Plan, Do, Check, Act” (PDCA) allow anyone to revamp the areas of their lives that may be creating “muda” or waste.

In our office we’ve used 5S to organize our supplies and we continue to sustain it by auditing twice a month. I have gone on to use Lean tools to clean and de-clutter my apartment, inspiring others to do the same. Life is chaotic, but when things are broken down piece by piece like Lean allows us to do, we can get more done with less stress.

Every day is an opportunity to improve and if what we have already implemented fails or has problems, we can fix it. Nothing is perfect the first time, but through continuous improvement we can sustain an environment that always changes for the better.

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Michigan Tech Students are Learning Lean

I glanced at the caller ID as I answered the phone, but I didn’t recognize the number. The man on the other end introduced himself. He was the president of a small manufacturing plant in Michigan, and he was looking for an engineering intern with a background in manufacturing and Lean experience to manage a Lean project next summer. Could we help him? Yes!

LCI student organization on a facility tour at Pettibone in Baraga, Michigan
LCI student organization on a facility tour at Pettibone in Baraga Michigan

 
The Office of Continuous Improvement at Michigan Tech is creating an immersive environment for our students to learn about Lean to the mutual benefit of the university, students, employers, and the local community. The university uses Lean in its everyday operations, provides Lean education for students, and coaches students on using Lean in their student organizations and community service. Over the last eight years, Michigan Tech has held over 200 improvement events, all designed to get students in the classroom with calm minds, ready to learn and faculty in their labs with a calm mind, ready to do their research.

Students at a Lean leadership workshop
Students at a Lean leadership workshop

 
Michigan Tech students engage in Lean in many ways. There are several academic courses students can take on Lean principles, Lean culture, and Lean manufacturing, as well as courses on concepts related to Lean, like change management, teamwork, project management, and safety. As a member of the student organization Leaders in Continuous Improvement (LCI), students learn about Lean and practice their skills working with other student organizations and local non-profits. Students have opportunities on campus to attend Lean workshops, take online short courses on Lean principles, request facilitators for improvement events in their student organizations and enterprises, receive coaching on certification preparation, and participate on kaizen as customers or outside eyes. With many departments on campus actively practicing Lean, students with on-campus jobs are exposed to Lean tools and processes like daily huddles, standard work, and visual management. Finally, students encounter and practice Lean during internships and co-ops with industry.

Guest speaker John O'Donnell from the Lean Enterprise Institute
Guest speaker John O’Donnell from the Lean Enterprise Institute

 
Imagine a world where everyone understands the importance and benefits of quality! Our vision is for every student graduating from Michigan Tech to learn about quality and continuous improvement at some level. We want to meet students where they are at with a full range of engagement possibilities tailored to their unique needs. Look around our website to see how the Office of Continuous Improvement is engaging students, faculty, staff, and the local community in the learning and practice of Lean and continuous improvement. How can industry help? By increasing our students’ awareness of Lean practices in your organization, offering internships that require Lean skills, inviting our students for a tour of your facility or participation in your kaizen, and volunteering as a guest speaker at an LCI meeting.

Students playing Lean Jargon Bust
Students playing Lean Jargon Bust

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Any college student from around the world will tell you how fast-paced and hectic it is trying to figure out the rest of your life. Between classes, student organizations, figuring out our financial situations (and trying not to drown in them), and truly trying to enjoy this time in our lives, students are busy! Likewise, any professional in the workforce will tell you the same thing–being an adult isn’t easy. Can it all be done?

Process mapping and standard work for any task allows for smoother running and less stressful experiences with better outcomes. In one of my classes this week, we looked at the writing process for a research document. It was highly recommended to be taken a step at a time so as to not overwhelm the writer. The paper is to be taken piece by piece and improved upon gradually. The writers were advised to take detailed notations of their process goals in order to complete all of the necessary tasks in a timely manner and fully report on all of the key points of their topic. Things cannot be made without time and effort, and one can’t do everything at once.

Lean principles are everywhere and, if studied, are not difficult to implement. Many people misconstrue continuous improvement as solely a manufacturing or workplace fad. In reality it can be applied in many aspects of your daily routine to provide a more organized, efficient, and beneficial way of doing things. How do you use Lean in your everyday life?

lean ants


“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.