Category Archives: Lean Thinking

Welcome Dominique!

Joining our team of PICs is one of our newest additions, Dominique Aleo. She has continually expressed her excitement to work in the office and is already hopping on her first kaizen. Already she has shown she has taken her training to heart by applying it to other aspects of her life, including the student org. that she is president of. We are as excited to have Dominique here as she is to be here, and I’ll let her take it from here!


My name is Dominique, and I am training as one of the new Process Improvement Coordinators here at the Office of Continual Improvement.

I was born and raised in a small town called Herman, outside of L’Anse, and graduated from L’Anse Highschool in the year of 2015. In the fall, I started at Michigan Tech in persuit of a Biological Sciences Bachelors, with a concentration in Pre-Medicine. It has always been my dream to be a doctor, and a part of that dream is to return here to the U.P. to work in the rural areas like the one I grew up in.

Most of my time is spent with my family, as I am the second oldest out of 7, and most of the kids are still at home. Growing up in the U.P. most of my favorite activities are outdoors, such as Dom picswimming, hiking, biking, and hunting. Other times, I’ll usually have my nose in a book, be watching a movie or The Office, painting, or enjoying time on the piano or my saxophone.

I personally had never had any experience with Lean (or any I was aware of, anyways) until I began training in the office. I had talked about it with others before, but until training and really learning about Lean, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect. Now I can see the light! I have learned so much in my training, and I believe I will continue to learn so  much more as I continue in this office. I am very excited to become part of the Lean culture, as well as watch the effects of implementing Lean on University life and in my own.


Thank you!


Lean for the first time – again and again

If you’ve been following our blog for a little while, you’re probably already aware of this. I have been with the Office of Continuous Improvement here at Michigan Tech for a little over a year and a half. The last year of that has been spent training in new student Process Improvement Coordinators at a regular speed. In the past year we have put four people through our training completely, and our fifth will be wrapping up within the next few weeks. Our first guinea pig was Stephen, then we had Anita, and Ari. After Ari, there was enough data and feedback to dedicate some time (upwards of 45 hours) to making revisions, deletions, and additions to the training. Then Matt joined our crew, our Guinea pig for the second round, and currently we have Blake going through the training (he will formally introduce himself in a few weeks). All five of these people have brought a great deal of joy, excitement, and “proud parent” moments for me as I watch them move through different modules, emotions, and faces.

What’s interesting is they all seem to have identical emotions but how they react to their emotions has been incredible for me to watch. I can almost now tell where Blake is at in the training without checking online to see his progress, simply by watching the vibe he’s giving off.

Moving back a year, I was assigned to redesign the training along side my co-worker at the time, Aspen. We sat down and discussed what worked and didn’t work from the training we went through. We talked about all the things we wish we had known, and the questions we asked. This started our direction for drafting the new training course. Then we hit a rut. “What is our goal? What does our future state look like. ” It took us a long time (I mean a few weeks) to answer this question. Then one day it was clear as day, duh! We want to design a training course that eliminates the surface questions, promotes deeper questions, and provides the new PIC with everything they need to know or how to find out what they need to know to jump into our processes. Once this was established we took off running.

In the past four months I have spent about 75 hours updating the training to get closer and closer to our future state. We will have to take several more jumps but we’re closer.

The piece about training others that is so rewarding for me is that, through these new comers, I am able to relearn lean again and again. I’m able to experience the flood and being overwhelmed, the light bulb flickering on, and the excitement once you finally get it! Its breath-taking to have this opportunity repeatedly, and this, this helps me to see a clearer picture of what our next jump is. Plus, then I have more minds to help pull it off. 🙂

I pulled this off of a google search, but to put into perspective, this is about identical to what I feel on the inside (maybe look on the outside too) when the PICs reach the light-bulb flickering on point.

Learning Journals

Each day every person learns something new, no matter the intention and awareness of the lesson. It is known that improvements are made by learning and applying knowledge, but what does that actually mean?

For students it is expected that they will learn by listening to an instructor and for faculty and staff to learn from experiences and mistakes. However, that is only half of the learning process. If reflection is not made a part of experience then nothing can possibly be learned. For instance, if students do not study the material outside of class (reflection) then they will not fully understand the material and will not have learned to their full potential. Similarly, if faculty and staff do not reflect on their work then nothing can be improved or learned from the experiences. When given the choice, people normally prefer doing over thinking. Although it seems more productive to be constantly doing, it is actually more valuable to reflect as it effects efficacy and understanding of the task.

Here in the Office of Continuous Improvement, we strive to continuously improve through reflection, and later implementation of what we learned into the processes that we are trying to improve. Often we use a tool called Learning Journals to reflect.

Learning journals are quite literally a journal to write in before, during and after an experience. The content of the journal should be focused on identifying areas that you would like to explore in more detail and get a better understanding of. Here are some examples of things you might write to improve:

-Support learning from experience

-Develop critical thinking and/or a questioning attitude

-Encourage awareness of our own learning processes

-Increase ability in reflection and thinking

-Enhance problem solving skills

-Support personal development and self-empowerment

-Enhance creativity

-Support planning and progress


Inside of each category you can ask individual questions to reflect on an experience. For students you can ask questions in class such as:

  • What were the main points I learned from this session?
  • What is something I learned in this session that I may be able to use in my future?
  • After completing an assignment it could be useful to ask:
  • What strategies did I use as I was working on the assignment?
  • What do I need to do to overcome these uncertainties?
  • To improve at work you can ask yourself:
  • What mistakes did I make? Why did I make them?
  • How do I feel about the way I handled things today?
  • What resources helped me be successful?


Interested in starting a personal learning journal to help you improve your ability to learn? The Office of Continuous Improvement is here to provide assistance and to answer any questions you may have. Check out our website or stop by our office in 136 W Wads.


University of Worcester. “Learning Journals .” Google, Google, 2016,

Open Learn.

Stefano, Giada Di, et al. “Making Experience Count.” Google, Google,

Finding Your Niche-Personal & Organizational Values

It’s a fairly common thing for organizations to identify a set of core values that they would like their company to function around. Here at Michigan Tech we strive to revolve about the following five values: Community, Scholarship, Possibilities, Accountability, and Tenacity (for more on our values follow here.) What is the purpose of organizations identifying their values? What is the purpose behind plastering these next to your name? How do these values reflect the environment you are in?

These are all sorts of questions that stormed my mind as I was attending the Michigan Lean Consortium (MLC) a few weeks ago. This year I attended three active learning sessions all centered around the same topic- how to start, run, and operate a business. Two of these three sessions took the conversation a step beyond the walls of the company and into a state of vulnerability, honesty, and unequivocally raw. The last session I attended challenged the social tendency to keep your professional life at work, and your personal life at home- within reason. When on-boarding a new employee, we often mention something like: “Keep the conversation work-related,” “We have a professional environment here,” and “Separate work from home.” However, the thought provoking piece of this session was that, we all go into these environments with a preconceived thought about what those three phrases (plus their sisters) actually mean. Where along the way did our home life become deemed as a professional pitfall? It’s kind of like, why do we have rules? We have rules because somewhere somebody did a thing that was seen as bad and so a rule was created.

Let’s go back to the ideas of values, almost every organization has a set of core values. Michigan Tech has them, NASA, American Red Cross, Apple, and even the United States has them in the form of documents, songs, and our pledge of allegiance! All of these organizations are professional by the unwritten american standard, and they all have identified the core values that they administer around. These values were created to display an image and a feeling that the company would like to be remembered for. These values are the theme for their practice, their impression they want to give. Unfortunately, it is often that one or all of these values will fall off as they aren’t practiced, and sometimes one value may even trump another value. When we begin to notice these sorts of collapse, it is often times too late: A company filed for bankruptcy, there was internal fraudulence, Safety hazards or even a death occurred…

I’m going to ask a few questions that the speaker asked us. The questions are based on the pictures below. I want you to really think about the answers to each of these and try to figure out what feelings are leading you to these answers.


What draws us to beauty?


What draws us to compassion?


Sterling R. Cale, treasurer, Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Unit 1, salutes his fallen comrades in the rear of the USS Arizona Memorial Monday during the Memorial Ceremony and Interment of James Evans Cory, the first Marine to be buried aboard the Arizona since World War II.
Sterling R. Cale, treasurer, Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Unit 1, salutes his fallen comrades in the rear of the USS Arizona Memorial Monday during the Memorial Ceremony and Interment of James Evans Cory, the first Marine to be buried aboard the Arizona since World War II.

What draws us to respect?


Where do our values come from?

As people, we all have core values within ourselves that date back generations through our family history, adapting and changing with the times. Yet we all have our own values that we strive for. We may not be perfect in all of the values we hold, but we try to get better, and we try to surround ourselves with environments that hold true to our values. These tend to reflect the moments that we are happiest, prideful, and most fulfilled. The speaker of my session, Art Hoeskra, shared this article here to help us evaluate our own values. Some of my values are: Family, Empathy, Honesty, Independence, Positivity, Faith, and Structure.

I’d like to conclude with one of the final questions Art asked in this session which was, “What are the ideal values you want to instill in your family? Why don’t you instill these at work too?”

Burning Brighter

I attended my first Michigan Lean Consortium (MLC) Annual Conference this past week in Traverse City, MI; it was a fantastic experience! Between Key Note Speeches, Active Learning Sessions, and networking opportunities I was surrounded by people from a variety of backgrounds at various stages of their Lean Journeys. Especially coming from an engineering background, it was eye opening to get to know people from the different industries represented at this conference. It opened my eyes to how remarkably different each person’s experiences have been, and yet they still had many similar underlying stories.

Throughout the conference days, I took more notes than I really know what to do with, talked to so many people that the conversations ran together, I ate well, and I learned more than I thought I would in just two days. The more speeches and activities I attended, the more inspired and empowered I felt. One of the activities I participated in involved creating a slogan to brand Lean to the world; and this session is what stuck most with me. The focus of this session was to find fun in facilitating and improvement events, and we certainly had a good time. We were split into competing teams and went through an activity called Ritual Dissent, this turned out to be a wonderfully engaging and fun way to get teams to reach a consensus. So what did we come up with?

Relentlessly, Continuously, Positively Improving People’s Lives


Working together to make life better for all of us

It is entirely up to you to decide how much you like our slogans, but given 20 minutes of thought and two iterations of editing, they are not bad. I never really considered the potential for Kaizens to be truly fun, but this theme ended up continuing throughout the conference. Making events fun not only makes them more enjoyable, it increases team member buy-in, overall satisfaction, and quality of the outcome.

There was also emphasis on creating competition as a way to drive people to actually improve continuously. Many people think of events as one-time occurrences, or something to drop by without getting too involved in; calling Kaizens “Improvement Events” carries those associated thoughts when in reality a Kaizen is just the beginning and creating some friendly competition keeps employees engaged and motivated to seek perfection and keep improving.

Beyond anything else, this conference really inspired me to take back my new knowledge and apply it in my work and my personal life; it lit the fire of improvement, now it’s up to me to carry the torch.

Using Lean for small practices

It’s about that time of year again when members of the Office of Continuous Improvement are getting prepared to attend the Michigan Lean Consortium conference. At the conference members of our office will have the opportunity to hear from other Lean practitioners and learn about their Lean journey. In addition, the Office of Continuous Improvement will also be displaying a poster board to showcase how we have implemented Lean here at Michigan Tech.

When we practice Lean we often think of an effect that will benefit a large group of people or an entire process. However, Lean can be used in the most simple of processes, like creating a poster board for the MLC conference.

When we made the poster for the MLC conference, we used the 5 whys tool to decide what information we should include. As a result, it allowed us to narrow down our topic to include information that we believe the customer (other Lean practitioners in this instance) would value most.

After we came to a common agreement on the topic we did an affinity diagram to figure out how we wanted to display the information. An affinity diagram is where everyone in the group writes down ideas on sticky notes and then the notes are filtered into categories for organization. This allowed everyone to have a voice in the discussion and organizing the thoughts into categories allows everyone to be on the same page.

As a result of using Lean tools, we were able to effectively collaborate to get the poster done in a timely matter.




We wanted to create a lasting impression for those that will be encountering our board so we came to the agreement to include some of Houghton’s Iconic structures. We did this to draw the audience’s attention while also including information that we thought they would find of value. As a result of using some of the Lean tools, this simple process of making a poster became an even simpler process with an even better end product.


Lean at Girl Scout Camp

Time and time again I am amazed by the flexibility of lean and its endless applications outside of the office. It seems that no matter what sort of process I have going I can always improve it in some way. Whether it be how often I perform regular maintenance on my car, how I stock my pantry, or how I prioritize my chores for the evening. The most adaptable part of lean is the use of people. Not a single aspect of lean was designed for one person and one person alone to complete a task, but rather to be easily used in a team.

Being a college student there are many times that you get put into a group of total strangers and you are expected to get the task done. However, each member goes into the group with a different set of priorities, expectations, and values that they carry with them- whether they know it or not. This is true going into a marriage, a summer camp, a new job, or even something as simple as a group project for school. The question I began to ask was, “How can you accommodate the different values and expectations before a diverging trait breaks lose?” and, “How can you have a plan for when disagreement arises?” The answer is by implementing a team charter.

What is a team charter? A team charter is developed in a group setting to clarify the teams direction while establishing boundaries, it is used to encourage a common understanding and shared voice among all group members.

I recently had the opportunity to practice a team charter in a unique setting with nine 9-11 year old girls in my cabin at girl scout camp. This charter was developed by the girls in my cabin on how we planned to take care of cabin, how we were going to treat each other, and how we were going to treat ourselves. To make sure that all of their voices were heard without making these preteens uncomfortable, I opted to use an affinity diagram with them. We took a few minutes to make three affinity diagrams (one at a time), after this we collaborated, laughed, and successfully agreed on our game plan.

One of the older girls working on her sticky notes. This one puts lots of thought and effort into her ideas. It was fun to watch her become so invested in the cabin.
affinity 4
One of the girls thinking about the ideas and helping everyone to brainstorm categories.
affinity 2
The girls working together to group their ideas.
affinity 3
Finally some rearranging and getting close to the end.

Sadly, I don’t have an after picture of what we came up with, I was a little too excited that the idea even came together in the first place (In my time as a counselor I have learned that you never know what the middle school girls are going to bring). However, the game plan we formed was visible all week long and in several instances I noticed the girls taking a look at it, holding one another accountable to it, and sometimes asking for buy in to add a few more items to our plan. All in all it was a great week, and I was thrilled once again with the malleability of lean.

Perks of having a Kaizen

Changes are always being made campus-wide; some so small they’re hardly noticed, others are unavoidable, and not all of these changes happen through our Office of Continuous Improvement. We actually have a large number of Lean Implementation Leaders campus-wide who are focused on improving aspects of their department on a smaller level. However, there are some clear advantages to having a Kaizen with the support of our office.


Each time we left the Kaizen having learned something new. We found creative ways to think and work functionally and efficiently, now everybody is less stressed.

With a Kaizen it is easy to bring in outside eyes, people who are not yet familiar with the process, these people are often a key part in identifying problems or waste and suggesting improvements for the process since they will inherently ask different questions and think about the issue from a different point of view. Depending on the department the “outside eyes” come from, they may come up with a completely new potential solution for the problems at hand, even if the team may think they have already considered all possible solutions.


The most helpful aspect of the Kaizen was being able to interact with our customers and hear feedback directly from them. We found a lot of them had similar issues and when talking about experiences the conversation would just continue as they all shared stories.

Kaizens also require multiple facilitators, these people are trained to identify wastes as well as to help guide the group to find answers for themselves. They bring along necessary tools and will also offer suggestions or just help keep the group on track. We have a large pool of facilitators from all different backgrounds and departments and they are all people who enjoy what they do and genuinely want to help make Michigan Tech a better place. One way to reach this goal is to keep improving the processes that we already have in place or continue creating new ones, and then adjusting and sustaining them.


You do not know what else is out there unless you embrace change and ask.

Kaizens also provide a platform for many people from different parts of the university to meet up together to focus on resolving specific issues. It also makes it easy to interact and get direct feedback and input from customers or co-workers. Kaizen teams are often made up of people close to the work as well, and it is a good opportunity to empower employees to make improvements in their own processes. The involved employees feel that buy-in and they invest more effort into improving their work as a result, and often find they enjoy their work more after. So next time you stumble upon some waste or find a process that could use improving, consider having a Kaizen, you will find you get more out of it than you may expect.


Welcome Matt!

Joining the team in the Office of Continuous Improvement is a new Process Improvement Coordinator (PIC), Matt Chard. Matt is a local student who just graduated this spring prior (May 2017), making him a first year student pursuing not only one, but two degrees. Although Matt is only a first year, we are happy to have some fresh eyes not only for our office, but also in terms of the Michigan Tech campus. Just like he has provided for our office in his short time with us, we are positive that Matt will have a great impact on the university, his keen personality and curious mind make him a natural in the lean world.

Matt will now introduce himself and tell you a bit about him and his lean journey this far.


My name is Matthew Chard, I am the newest Process Improvement Coordinator in the Office of Continuous Improvement.

I was born and raised in the Houghton area. I graduated from Houghton High School this last spring. I look forward to continuing my education here at Michigan Tech next fall where I plan to dual major in Engineering Management and Mechanical Engineering Technology.

Off campus I spend most of my time outdoors. I enjoy mountain biking, disc golfing, hiking, fishing, skiing, and just about anything where I have the chance to explore or learn something new. When I am not outdoors I enjoy working in my shop where I do metal working.

Before taking on the position as a Process Improvement Coordinator I heard a lot about the positive effects of lean but I never really understood the underlying concept. Now that my training is wrapping up and I can grasp the concept of lean, I look forward to incorporating it into my life and seeing what affects lean has on me and the rest of the university.

Matt Picture


Parade of Nation’s Kaizens

On May 31st of this year, we officially closed out THREE kaizens pertaining to the community based event, Parade of Nation’s (PON). These three kaizens consisted of improving the fundraising, Multicultural Festival, and Parade aspect of PON.

What is the Parade of Nation’s? PON is a community event that is hosted by a committee, mainly consisting of members from the Michigan Tech faculty and staff. The event is going on its 28th year and its mission is to promote worldwide culture and national awareness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula through an annual event that includes a parade and a multicultural festival, serving approximately 3,000 people.


When our team initially met in October, we identified four kaizens, but once we got started the Team Leader was able to solve one of the problems, allowing our teams to divide their focus on three instead. Before I get too much further I’d like to introduce the teams, the problem statements, and the targets that were identified for each kaizen.

For the fundraising kaizen the team was:

  • Angela Kolehmainen – Facilitator
  • Linnea McGowan-Hobmeier – Facilitator
  • Vienna Chapin – Team Leader
  • Rylie Store – Process Improvement Coordinator (PIC)
  • Stephen Butina – PIC
  • Bob Wenc – Member
  • Cassy Tefft de Munoz – Member
  • Laura Givens – Member
  • Briana Tucker – Member

Problem Statement: The method for requesting sponsorship’s from local businesses isn’t the most efficient method and it creates a lot of work for those responsible for it. 

Target: Focus on applying for grants and large/corporate sponsors and/or grants. Create less work while bringing in more money and still maintaining relationships with the local businesses.

For the Multicultural Festival kaizen the team was:

  • Angela Kolehmainen – Facilitator
  • Vienna Chapin – Team Leader
  • Stephen Butina – PIC
  • Rylie Store – PIC
  • Bob Wenc – Member
  • Cassy Tefft de Munoz – Member
  • Scott Austin – Member
  • Joseph Schutte – Member
  • Briana Tucker – Member

Problem Statement: 3,000 people are crammed into a very busy venue that isn’t configured to hold so many people at one time. There is lots of chaos and safety concerns in regards to the amount of people present. On another note, the setting up and tear down of the tables, chairs, and booths take up so much time and people in the form of the volunteers.

Target: To provide customers with a new experience that is safe, entertaining, relaxing, and can still accommodate a large amount of people. Want to reduce the amount of time spent setting up and tearing down while also using volunteers appropriately in other areas of PON.

And finally the Parade kaizen team was:

  • Linnea McGowan-Hobmeier – Facilitator
  • Vienna Chapin – Team Leader
  • Rylie Store – PIC
  • Brianna Tucker – Member
  • Laura Givens – Member

Problem Statement: Due to many locations the registration forms for floats, flags, and walkers get lost which creates a great deal of turn around time and inaccurate information which increases the stress on everyone. There is a lack of communication between the PON committee and the community in terms of how the parade is organized. There is a lot of stress associated with the day due to the lack of flow and organization of the event.

To begin the process on all of these kaizens we used Swimlanes to help us understand the process and to see the flow/lack there of. Once these swimlanes were done we went through the process and identified the areas of waste and assigned them a kaizen burst. Once this was done, the nature of the bursts helped us to determine what our next step was, whether it was another tool or if we could start brainstorming some potential solutions. We almost always opted for another tool.

This is a picture of the fundraising swimlane.

After completing the swimlane for fundraising the team decided that the next best thing to do would be to create an affinity diagram; one consisting of all of the types of sponsors. After that the team used a decision matrix to decide what type of sponsors they wanted to focus their time/energy on the most. The end result was that they created deadlines to apply for grants from larger sponsors, to send emails out to the local businesses, and as a thank you they provided each sponsor with a window decal to put on the window of their business (free advertising bonus as well!).

Some of the team members pondering the fundraising affinity diagram.
The decision matrix that was created after the affinity diagram.



The Multicultural festival team working on their swimlane.

The multicultural festival team created a swimlane and after that they moved into a SIPOC and Spaghetti Diagram. These three tools paired closely together to help the team understand who’s responsible for what at the venue and then what is the current flow of the venue. The result of this was that the committee decided to use a different vendor for all of their tables, chairs, and booths.  As a result they were provided with an outdoor tent which will utilize the outside space more, the inside space was freed up, and for about the same price they were provided with some other great bonuses such as table cloths and decorations. The other perk to using a different vendor is that the vendor will do all of the setup and tear down, allowing PON volunteers to be used more effectively in other aspects of PON, such as the parade. The most important result? Now the venue is being used safely.

The Parade team discussing the kaizen bursts identified in the swimlane.

After starting the swimlane for the parade, we quickly realized the extent of the waste in this particular process. This swimlane turned into a much bigger process than we had ever imagined, nearly eight pages long of steps and details. However, after carfeul conversation, we were able to decide that most of the areas of waste were a result of poor visual management. By brainstorming visual management solutions for each are of waste, we were able to increase the communication between the PON committee members and the community. The action items that came out of this kaizen were plentiful but overall we believe that the flow of the parade will increase and the waste will decrease. To help with communication we found there wasn’t a shared understanding of who was responsible or accountable for what, so to help with this area the team completed a R.A.C. I. chart, which is being shared among the PON committe and volunteers, so that everyone has a shared understanding.

This is the R.A.C.I. chart that was created for one task.

In the words of the team leader: she was happy with the kaizens and she enjoyed gaining insight into new perspectives. “Each time (I) left with something new, I always learned and found creative ways to think, work, and function efficiently. These kaizens reduced stress for EVERYONE.” After her involvement in these three kaizens she’s formed some advice for those going through an improvement event, and it is, “Don’t be afraid to try something new. You don’t know what else is out there unless you embrace change and ask questions.”

We look forward to attending this years PON as community members and to support the teams we formed these past eight months. Our extensive time really brought a new meaning to the word community in terms of Michigan Tech’s campus, the Houghton County and surrounding areas, as well as between each other.