Going to the Gemba

Guest Post by Megan Johnson, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

“Gemba” is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.”  When you hear of someone who is “going to the Gemba” or doing a “Gemba walk,” they are going to the actual place where the work is being done, where value is being created or added.  To really understand a process it is critical that person go to the gemba to observe what is actually happening. 

When visiting the gemba, you should ask open ended questions to hear about the process from those who are closest to the work.   

Going to the gemba should be a daily task for leaders.  When leaders go to the gemba, it provides them with an opportunity to observe a process first-hand, build relationships with those they supervise, to listen, help work through roadblocks encountered, and to help problem solve—as well as encouraging others to problem solve.

Gemba Walks, Jim Womack’s newest book is a collection of compiled letters and essays about this topic.  View more about the book HERE.

Report Out Invite!

University Images recently participated in a kaizen event addressing problems in their special orders process.  Special orders are defined as: orders placed by departments and student groups through University Images.  Such orders include but are not limited to department apparel and souvenir items.   University Images has exclusive vendor contracts and can offer competitive prices.  They also ensure licensed, quality Michigan Tech products to their customers.

To learn about the changes made to the University Images Special Order Process, you are invited to attend the Auxiliary Services Lean Report-Out on Wednesday, July 20 at 2:00 PM in MUB Ballroom B3.

Along with the University Images presentation, you will also hear:

–        A teachback on improvement event team member roles

–        A report-out from the Dining Services Batch vs. Flow Kaizen for Invoices

–        An update on the Dining Services Commissary Kaizen

Hope to see you there!!

5S to a Shared Network Drive

A team in Facilities just wrapped up a 5S project on their shared network drive, or as they call it, “the P drive.”   5S is a workplace organization tool is used to reduce waste and organize a workplace (or in this case a virtual workplace).  5S also incorporates methods to standardize improvements and plans to sustain changes made.  Some of the benefits of 5S include: less clutter, simplifying tasks, effective use of space, lower accident and incident rates, convenient work practices, ergonomics, control through visibility, etc.!

Check out their report out PowerPoint presentation below, which tells their 5S story and highlights all of the improvements they made. 

Click here to view the presentation: 5S_Report_Out


Last week I had the pleasure of facilitating a brainstorming session for the administrative staff and their supervisors for an entire department.  The goal of the session was to provide an environment for the administrative staff to share their work and job experiences so that improvements could be identified and collaborations could be sought.  To set the tone for the day, I began by introducing the Japanese term Yokoten.  It was a new term for me.  Isn’t it a fun word to say?!!  Here is what it means:

Yoko = horizontal, lateral, sideways

Tenkai = develop, deploy, advance

Yokoten = horizontal deployment

Shared learning, based on experience or observation, across an organization.

Yokoten is:

–   Knowledge and best practice sharing

–   Horizontal, peer-to-peer dissemination of information

–   Spreading wisdom to areas who have similar processes

–   Communication – sharing ideas, thoughts

–   Going and see

–   An understanding of WHY something is a best practice

–   Copy pluskaizen

Two Student Process Improvement Coordinators Hired

Two students were hired and began work this week to support summer improvement events on campus.  Feel free to contact them, or myself at wmdavis@mtu.edu, if you’d like to make some improvements this summer.  Here is a personal messages from each of the new Student Process Improvement Coordinators…

Hello All!

I am Allie Olano, one of the new Process Improvement Coordinators.  I will be working for Theresa Coleman-Kaiser and Wendy Davis on Lean initiatives and Continuous Improvement throughout campus. I am from Tecumseh, Michigan and I am a 5thyear Business Management and Marketing student at Michigan Tech.  I also work for the Dining Services department as the Student Manager for McNair Dining Hall, and I am also the assistant to the Associate Director of Dining Services, Bill Hall. 

I am currently working on a few improvement projects, one being Batch vs. Flow of invoices from one department to another.  Human perception makes us believe that if we batch our processes it is faster than performing one-piece flow.  However, one-piece flow is proven to result in faster production time and with fewer errors due to more efficient work.  Another project I am working on is bringing back the Secret Shopper program in the Campus Bookstore, to measure customer service.  We are looking into programs that would give timely feedback on a more frequent basis and also address what the customer sees as value to them. 

This is just a little bit about what I am currently working on.  If you have any ideas or thoughts, please feel free to contact me at anolano@mtu.edu. Have a nice day!



Hey there,

I am Megan Johnson, a new Student Process Improvement Coordinator working along with Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Wendy Davis, and Allie Olano.  I am a third year Biomedical Engineering student with a Biological Sciences minor, and I’m from the small town of Esko, MN.  I’m still in the process of learning a lot about Lean, but I am excited to put my new knowledge into action soon!  One of my first improvement projects this summer will be with Merchandising, looking for ways to reduce the time spent on special orders.  An example of a special order that comes through Merchandising is shirts that are purchased specifically for special events on campus.

I can be contacted at meganj@mtu.edu. Have a great day!


Spring “Cleaning”

Spring and early summer can be a slower period for many departments on campus.  This is a great time to set aside a few days to make some improvements in your area or within the processes that you work with.  Here are some of the improvement events taking place this spring on campus:

  • Golf Course merchandising process – Improvements were made to the process of moving inventory that is delivered to the sale floor in April
  • Campus Directory update process – The annually printed campus directory currently requires a 2-3 month long process for updating  and formatting content.  A team will seek improvements for the process in June.
  • Facilities Shared Network Drive 5S Project – The “P” Drive in Facilities was a mess; some employees didn’t even know where they saved their own files.  Their shared drive is undergoing a transformation that will include guidelines so that new order will be maintained. 

What should you be cleaning this spring?

PDCA and the “Cash Hub”

The Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) cycle is the backbone of an improvement event.  It is a four step model for carrying out a change.  Here is a real life example of what PDCA can look like:

Plan: Recognize an opportunity and plan a change.  Collect Baseline Data and gather information.

Auxiliary Services identified an area that needed improvement.  Problem Statement:

“Cash accounting and financial reporting is decentralized and inconsistent among the operational units of the Memorial Union, Dining Services, Merchandising and Rozsa Center.  This is causing: unclean month end reports, delays in deposits and remittances, and stopped work when employees are out.”

Do: Observe and analyze the current process, design an improved process, test the change.

A team was formed and met for five days.  They analyzed problems and brainstormed solutions.  As a result, by day five a new cash accounting process was implemented. 

A hub and spoke model was created, and the 16 operational units began sending their accounting to the newly created “cash hub.”  Each operational unit would submit a daily cash bag to the cash hub.  The hub model allowed for the following:

  • A controlled environment for cash accounting to be completed
  • Staff specialists in cash accounting
  • Work that continues even if an employee is out

Check: Review the new process and monitor the results.  Is it working?

Cash hub staff continued to collect data and performed additional monitoring of the new system.  A few areas for improvement were observed:

  • Numerous bag errors being submitted to the hub
  • Numerous hours were spent fixing and deciphering the errors
  • 2 new units need to feed into the hub
  • No time to handle new units

Adjust: Modify and make improvements as needed.  Continue to check and adjust, or PDCA again if the change didn’t work. 

Standardized work sheets and visual aids were created to help the staff at each operational unit submit an error free bag.  Feedback loops were also created for error tracking.  As a result of their monitoring and continued improvements, the Auxiliary Services cash hub has been seeing results.