Category Archives: Tips

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.

kanban-board-e60650d1-1

 

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.

 

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

The Perfect Cup of Joe

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Annelise Doll, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the Van Pelt & Opie Library at Michigan Technological University.

In the fall of 2015, I began training to become a Lean facilitator here on campus and am always excited to apply the many tools and tips I learn in these sessions to my work in the library. This not only improves my work, but also is great practice for when I become a facilitator. Sometimes it takes a new perspective from our discussions to see how I could use a particular tool, but Lean philosophy can be adapted to so many environments that it never takes long to understand how it can be useful. Standardized work, however, escaped me. When I was introduced to the concept, I could see the value right away: improvements in the quality of products, ease of training new people, and the creation of a safer work environment, to name a few. Even so, I struggled with where I could use this concept in my own work. I didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity though, and it came in the form of a coffee maker!

In an effort to increase cleanliness, the library recently implemented a system that recognizes individuals for cleaning the staff lounge. I’m known for regularly deep-cleaning our large bunn coffee maker, and now there are a few more people who’d like to help. Unfortunately, the task requires a few techniques and special pieces of equipment, so when I’m not in the office to assist it can be a difficult task to complete. Standardizing this work by creating a job element sheet certainly seems like the perfect solution to this issue!

Job Element SheetI formatted the job element sheet based on the one used by Catering Services for, coincidentally, making coffee. After picking out the steps involved and taking photos, I realized it would be easy enough to also create a sheet for how to brew a pot of coffee. Maybe it’s my love of the perfect cup of joe, the intimidating nature of a commercial coffee maker, or the fact that it can be difficult for many people to remember how much coffee to use, but for whatever reason I’m also the one who usually makes coffee for staff events. For being such a simple process, I know from experience that there are an outstanding number of ways it can go wrong! I tried my best to draw on this knowledge to help others avoid mistakes like pouring water into the machine without a pot underneath or forgetting to turn the burner off.

I’ve placed the sheets next to the coffee maker in the lounge and will ask for feedback from others in the library who are willing to test them out. I hope that the clarity and sequence of the steps can be improved as time goes on, and maybe the experience will inspire others to use a tool like this in their work. In any event, I’m sure I’ll be enjoying some excellent coffee made by my colleagues in the future!

If you think standardizing your work by creating a similar tool would be useful for you, please share your idea in the comments!

 

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!

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

Instant Application for Workshop-Related Tool

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Kathy Wardynski, Manager of Purchasing and Process Improvement for Dining Services at Michigan Technological University.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Lean concepts workshop  presented by Jean Cunningham. Following the workshop was an opportunity to ask Jean questions. Someone asked her how to approach the improvement process when there are many, many problems to solve. She showed us a tool to use at a weekly team meeting that manages the team’s capacity to problem solve. The tool, essentially a work project kanban, makes the problem-solving process visible, but also restricts the number of problems the team works on at once. It’s a simple chart (see picture) that provides space to track the status of three to four problems or tasks.

Work Project Kanban

When a problem gets solved, it’s removed from the chart and a new task is added. If the problem isn’t solved in a couple of weeks, it isn’t a simple problem and should be removed from this list and considered as a larger project. Using this process will enable a team to focus on quickly solving a few issues at a time, rather than making slow or no progress on many issues.

One of the improvement projects that Dining Services is working on this summer is developing a comprehensive employee training program. This is a very large project that will take several years to fully implement. It’s also something that has to be done in addition to our regular work. Every large project is a series of small tasks put together, so we’re using Jean’s tool to manage our volume of work. A weekly discussion of project status and identifying the next steps to take will keep us on track to accomplish our long-term project.

Learning to See

Remember the Magic Eye pictures? They appear to be computer-generated abstract images but, when you look at them just right, out pops a 3-dimensional (3D) object. The object was there all along, but until you learn how to see it, the image appears totally random. For example, the image below reveals a 3D symbol for recycling. Most people can’t see the 3D objects the first few times they try. They have to make an effort and try different methods, like crossing their eyes or putting the abstract image behind a reflective surface. Sometimes people need to be coached in order to see the objects. In any case, the more you practice, the more you’ll develop your ability to see the 3D objects.

Magic Eye abstract image
Abstract Image
Magic Eye with 3D object
3D Object

http://www.magiceye.com/client/recycle.html

This idea of having to learn how to see also applies to one of the foundational principles of Lean–the elimination of waste. Before you can get rid of waste, you have to learn to see it. This isn’t as easy as it seems, because we’re so accustomed to waste in our processes, we no longer see it. We’re in luck, though, because a framework has been built to help us.

How does a framework help? Take a moment now to look around your room, and list all the materials you see and where they are in the room. Glass – window. Wood – table. Glass – clock face. Plastic – keyboard. Without a framework, you can do it, but it’s hard, you skip around, and it’s easy to miss a lot. If I give you a framework for looking, your list will be much longer.  For example, list all of the glass items you see – windows, clock face, iphone, light bulbs, picture frame, candy jar…. Then move on to all of the wood items you see, then cloth, plastic, and so on. See how comprehensive your list becomes?

In the same way, Lean provides us a framework for waste: motion, waiting, movement, correction, over-processing, overproduction, inventory, and knowledge. When you’re looking at your current state trying to improve your process, take the time to step through the waste framework, contemplating one waste at a time. This will help you find more waste and also improve your ability to see waste in your everyday activities.

 

 

 

Confirm Your Scope with SIPOC Diagrams

One of my favorite continuous improvement tools is called a SIPOC diagram. A SIPOC diagram is used by a team to identify all relevant elements of a process improvement project before work begins. Using this tool helps define a complex project and refine a project profile. SIPOC diagrams also help to confirm the scope of the improvement project.

Its name prompts the team to consider the suppliers of your process, the inputs to the process, the process your team is improving, the outputs of the process, and the customers that receive the process outputs. The SIPOC is a valuable tool that will:

  • Identify suppliers and customers
  • Establish the scope of the project, and satisfy stakeholders that the problem area is captured in the process
  • Target the right metrics for verifying customer requirements
  • Establish who should participate on the project team

SIPOC stands for:

  • Suppliers- supply the inputs for the process
  • Inputs- materials, equipment, information, forms, staff, etc.
  • Process- the steps of the process from initial step to finishing product step
  • Outputs- outputs to internal or external customers, i.e. reports, products, services, etc.
  • Customers- anyone who receives the outputs

SIPOC Diagram Template

How to Complete a SIPOC Diagram

  1. Process— The first step to completing the SIPOC is to list the process steps, keeping detail to a minimum by only outlining five to eight steps.  When describing the process steps, try to limit the description to two words. Have each description start with a verb (action) and end with a noun (subject).
  2. Output—What information, data, reports, materials, etc. come out of this process or are produced as a result of the process?
  3. Customers—Who or what receives the outputs of the process?
  4. Inputs—What data, supplies, systems, tools, etc. are required for the process, or who is needed to perform the action?
  5. Suppliers—Who or what functional organization, system, report, database, etc. supplies or provides whatever it is that is needed as an input for the process?  Who supplies what’s needed to do the process?

To learn more about SIPOC diagrams email us at improvement-l@mtu.edu or call 906-487-3180. 

 

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.