The Sixth “S”

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Pete Baril, Health and Safety Manager at Michigan Technological University

Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain. We know it like the back of our hand. The 5S process is an excellent Lean tool for decluttering, organizing, and improving efficiency, but it can also be part of the foundation for another very important S, Safety.

We’ve all been there, either at home or at work, fumbling around in a cluttered mess trying to get something done. We trip, grab the wrong tool, or spill something; a virtual gauntlet of hazards placed before us simply due to a poorly maintained workspace. Poor housekeeping not only detracts from efficiency and progress, it’s also a safety problem.

Housekeeping is central to a safe and well-run workspace. In a previous life I was a health inspector, charged with evaluating restaurants on food safety and sanitation. I could tell within five minutes of entering a facility whether or not it was going to be a good day or a bad day, simply based on the organization and housekeeping of the operation. Currently, my professional focus is on safety, and when I evaluate a workspace the results are no different; poor organization and housekeeping almost always equal safety violations and unsafe work practices.

Keeping up with safety requirements can be daunting, and when operating in a poorly kept space, the problem is compounded. Give yourself a chance by practicing the 5S process throughout your workspace. Improved housekeeping can do wonders for your efficiency, not to mention your stress levels. An organized space promotes safety by providing clear workspaces free of trip hazards and poorly stored items. Good housekeeping also prevents us from having to use the wrong tool for the job, as the right one is no longer “lost.” In addition to the many other safety benefits of an organized space, good housekeeping practices demonstrate a level of control over the process that brings with it efficiency, pride, and an improved outlook on the task at hand. All this from something as basic as housekeeping.

In closing, please keep in mind, as you strive to become lean, also strive to improve safety. Your co-workers, clients, and family will appreciate it.

Winner Winner Turkey Dinner: Decision Matrix

With Thanksgiving right around the corner our mouths are beginning to salivate in preparation for all of the delicious food that radiates euphoria mirroring that of our ancestor’s kitchens on a daily basis. Family recipes are being pulled off the top shelf and dusted off, the biggest turkey is being carved and stuffed, and snores can be heard after a food coma sets in.

In my family, our first serving of food encompasses a portion of everything: turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, corn, rolls, a salad, and my grandma’s famous apple and pumpkin pies. However, the first helping is usually just shy of filling our bellies to the brim and then we are faced with the option of seconds. We can’t handle a second helping of more than one item and it becomes an internal battle to decide what our final selection is going to be before we hit the floor for a nap.

Do not fret, thanks to lean and continuous improvement we have a tool that can help you decide which sample will ryle your taste buds and place a relaxed smile on your face. This tool is called a decision matrix, and although I will be demonstrating it through the image I painted for you above, it can be translated into any part of your work environment, schooling, or life to help you make a decision best suited for you.

To begin the decision matrix you must first make a table and define your criteria and options available. The criteria is what you want your option to possess and the options are the choices that your are deciding between. These will be added to column and row headings (shown in a picture below). For our purposes there are four areas of criteria to be met and four options. The criteria are: Makes my mouth water, fills my belly for more than an hour, tastes great, not too sweet. The options are: mashed potatoes, turkey, pumpkin pie, and green bean casserole.

decision matrix

The second step is to determine how important is each of the criteria items. This is done on a scale of zero to five with five being the most important. Note: Values can be used more than once.

decision matrix 2

Third, go down each row and rank each option for how well they fit each criteria individually. This is done once again on a scale of zero to five, where five is that it fits that criteria perfectly. Again each value can be used more than one time. Personally, I prefer to rank these on a scale of 0-6 so that there isn’t any room to be right in the middle, but this isn’t the standard.

decision matrix 3

Now, you take the assigned values in each box and multiply it by the value assigned to that particular criteria. Once you get this number you add it to the bottom of that particular box. This is where the value assigned is written first then multiplied by the criteria value (the second number).

decision matrix 4

The last step with numbers is that you move across each row and add up the numbers that you just calculated to give you a total for that row. Once you have the totals you then compare the rows between one another, and the row with the greatest total is usually the option you can decide upon, in our case… winner winner turkey dinner!

decision matrix 5

Now that you have your decisions sorted and methodically picked you can get your final nibbles for the night, curl up on the couch, and drift into a snooze to the sound of a football game, but most importantly you can rest easy knowing you made the right choice for you.

Biting the Bullet

As an American, discussing our country with foreign spectators (or outside eyes as we like to call them in the continuous improvement world) can raise a lot of questionable perceptions about our culture. While preparing to go abroad, I remember talking with international students who genuinely thought before arriving on American soil that everyone in the United States drove pick-up trucks, ate an absurd amount of McDonald’s, and most importantly: had firearms on hand at all times. I would always politely correct them that we in no way eat that much fast food, but the rest happens to be true… at least in my family. Growing up in an area where the 2nd Amendment is carried with the pride of a militia, this gun-slinging view of our nation supports the American ideals of strength, reliability, and deadliness. The country is a powder keg right now- fully loaded, ready to blow at any moment. The people are like ammunition; bullets- “quick, steady, and unforgiving.” We are all hunkered down ready to defend what we think is right, preparing for what seems to be an uphill battle fought in the name of great change. That is the thing about us- we are adaptable and above all we are resilient in the face of grand controversy.

No one knows what is going to happen, but we as a united nation are planning for anything. Things are shifting at this point in history and thus we must adapt our tools and habits accordingly. More and more people are reverting to traditional methods of data storage and organizational standards. For example there has been a shift from the impersonal and untrustworthy computer to modern concepts of planners and journals for people to log their thoughts and plan their days. Bullet journaling was recently developed in Chicago by a graphic designer as a means to compile all of the thoughts and worries of one person into a comprehensive and ever-evolving to-do list/planner/diary/motivator/bucket list. Using the structure of an index and page numbers, bullet journals allow for someone to put their entire world into a tangible collection with easy access. It takes a bit to get started, but once you do it has said to be life-changing. These are the kinds of things that the modern Americans must turn to in order to adapt privacy to the ever public lives we live in this day and age.

There is no doubt that we will pull through this together and find new ways to move ahead as a nation. We will improve and adapt by utilizing new tools and approaches to how we do things. If you would like to adapt as well and want to read more about bullet journaling, you can find more information here:


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5S Tool box

After High school finishes and graduation is over, we as young adults begin our journey of life. Becoming self-sufficient may be one of the hardest tasks that we have to overcome. Paying bills on time, working long hours, homework, and scheduling appointments are just a few things that are added to our “To-Do” list as we stray from our homestead.

Becoming self-sufficient is not a one day, one week, or one month matter. It takes time and effort every single day, and is not easily achieved. Doing a little bit every day is a basis of lean, as well as becoming self-sufficient. Using tools that lean and continuous improvement offers is a pathway to a more stable and organized life. For instance, the other day I recognized that it was time to change the brake pads on my vehicle. Through the past year, I have built up a large tool box with hundreds of tools to fix/maintain my vehicles. Having this many tools makes can be overwhelming and difficult to maintain if not organized properly. Sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain is exactly what 5S stands for, and that is just what I did with my set. Just simply cleaning up my tool box is the first step, but one of the most crucial steps in the process is the last, which is to sustain. This last concept is crucial for the success of lean and outcome of the project. By simply implementing the 5S tool and directing my efforts towards my tools prior to my brake project, I was able to spend less time looking for tools and more time being able to effectively work on my vehicle.

This may be a small scale example of becoming self-sufficient in my life, but to add lean tools into our everyday lives can drastically change them for the better. Recognizing and understanding where improvement is needed is the first step, and to act on it is the next. Always remember what Mark Twain once said, “continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Continuous improvement may not be a short cut to success, but when used properly, can get you moving in the direction towards achieving your goals.

Rooted in Health

Flu season is upon us! (Unfortunately). Now is the time to stock up on vitamin C & D before winter hits. Wash your hands, disinfect your surfaces, and be sure to drink plenty of fluids — but I don’t need to tell you this, it is information you’re told year after year since you were in elementary school. We are constantly surrounded  by others, and during this cold season, it is less than ideal and can have a profound impact on your level of productivity. Today, I  reminded my coworkers in the Office of Continuous Improvement of these vital autumn tips towards health during our daily huddle. However, I don’t believe caring for your health should be a seasonal objective and should stop here.

The last few weeks I have been very ill, giving me a lot of time to reflect on where our success is rooted as individuals.  When you’re miserable, it makes you feel as though you will be perpetually miserable. It takes a strong will to power through an illness, especially one that renders you immobile for a few days to a week. It feels as though you will never get better and you start to fall completely off the bandwagon. You lose track of work, you don’t contact friends for a while, you forget about assignments- your only focus is improving your health. What do you do once you’re better, though? This is what I have really been trying to figure out. “I have been sick for so long… what will stop this in its tracks? How can I improve my life so this doesn’t happen again?”

The answer is simple, but for some students and adults, is a difficult one- take care of yourself! You can’t think without eating- so eat. Drink plenty of water. Go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. Develop a work out routine, even just a short one. Every day do something spiritually uplifting. Every day, find something beautiful. Wash your hands. Bathe regularly. Focus on the basics first and you will build a foundation strong enough for any skyscraper. Problems start and are solved at the root, solutions are also found there. Sometimes the most simple of answers can have the most amazing results, so take baby steps! If you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to take care of everything else.


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A little hard-work, a little fun, a lot of lean: Affinity Diagrams

Anybody who is familiar with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is familiar with how bold our seasons are despite how long or short they become. Autumn is no exception, it is the period of time between late September to the end of October before the wind starts to howl and the snow starts to fly. Although our fall season is brief, the leaves still change and boy do they pop, deep reds, bright oranges, smooth yellows, warm shades of brown, and every single type becomes a crunchy lawn decoration for you to groan about and the kids an excited shrill. Take a deep breath. Did you feel that? The chilly air flooding into your lungs as winter takes its first breath. Hold onto that fresh air for a moment, and let it fill you. Remember this scene.

Just like a plethora of leaves in your yard, a broken or defected process will make you groan at the sight and feeling of the chaos surrounding you. Remember that feeling of fresh air replenishing your body? That is the same feeling that you get from lean, but specifically one of it’s daughters, it’s tool the affinity diagram. Let’s stick with the idea of fall in our mind, but specifically the scene of your yard. As I progress through the relation of raking a yard to an affinity diagram, I will also use the process leading up to jumping into the pile of leaves as my example highlighted in the pictures below each step.

Before anything begins your yard is not only covered in a blanket of pretty leaves, but also broken branches, toys left out from the summer, and items that you cannot see. Although the leaves are gorgeous, when you look at your yard you see derangement and are overcome with the urge to rake. The picture below represents all that you can see, the topical view.
This represents the current process: cluttered, busy, stressful, and more often than not, you can understand that there’s a lot contributing to the chaos, yet all you experience is the symptom, stress. The first step, is recognizing the topical view (depicted below).


The urge to rake has grown strong, you go to your storage shed, retrieve a rake and just start raking your entire yard, this way everything is stirred up and where you have a visual of the entire area. This is how the affinity diagram works, you make note of every possible thing that could be intermingled into the process and bring it out into the open, but rather than using a rake, post-it notes are used and plastered onto a flat surface. This allows for everything to be up front and prevents minimal surprises later on. For our example, the items written on the post-its, or the parts of the process are: hauling away, hat, relaxation, you, raking, gloves, jacket, pets, re-raking, toys, jumping, kids, trash, a rake, leaves, garbage bags, long pants, branches, and trash.


Now that the entire yard is raked, it needs to be broken up into piles that are a manageable size to be able to transport elsewhere. This also occurs with the post-its created above, the randomized notes are now condensed into piles of items that are similar to one another and placed under a category that is relevant to them. In our situation, The categories are: tools needed, dressing warm, people/things involved, items being raked, and action involved.


Finally, after a lot of hard work and frustration, the sounds of excited screams fill the air and leafs are quickly re-raked and hauled away to decompose elsewhere, and your process is laid out and organized in a manner that is clear and free of any surprises. Everything is out in the open and ready to be used to achieve your final product whether that be completing a current state map, planning an event, or figuring out where many people line up (or don’t) in a given situation.


Welcome, Stephen Butina!

New to the team here in the Office of Continuous Improvement is Stephen. He will be joining our other student PICs: Aspen, Martine, and Rylie, and will also be expanding his horizon one Lean concept at a time. Stephen jumped right into things about two weeks ago, and we are already being shown promising things from his work ethic and kind nature. We are excited to teach yet another student, better yet, another person about the ways of Lean. Stephen is now going to give you an introduction to who he is.

Hello Everyone!

My name is Stephen Butina and I have recently been given the opportunity in becoming a Student Process Improvement Coordinator here in the Office of Continuous Improvement.

I was born and raised in Upper Michigan and graduated from Jeffers High School with the class of 2014. I spent my first two years of college studying business administration at Gogebic Community College. After finishing my associate’s degree, I transferred to Michigan Tech where I am now currently working towards my bachelor’s degree in business management. Having grown up in a small community, it has proven to be wonderful to be able to stay close to my family and friends, while also expanding my knowledge at such a remarkable institution.

Being able to become flexible and knowledgeable through different working/learning experiences has truly expanded my knowledge and understanding of what goes into running a business. In my first two weeks on the job, I have merely scraped the surface of what Lean and Continuous Improvement represents and stands for, and I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity to not only learn about the Lean culture, but to also work with our team here in the Office of Continuous Improvement.


We are just as excited to have the opportunity to work with Stephen and to watch his growth through Lean and of yourself.



Stephen 4

Error Proofing

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Heather Dunne, Digital Services Specialist for University Marketing and Communications at Michigan Technological University.

One of the common tools in Lean and continuous improvement is error proofing, or poka-yoke. Poka-yoke is a Japanese term that was developed and classified by Shigeo Shingo; that helps someone avoid (yokeru) mistakes (poka).

The concept is simple: Create countermeasures that guard against and prevent errors and mistakes from occurring in a process. If mistakes are avoided, the product quality is high, the customer is happy, and money is saved. Workers, engineers, and managers all must work together to write procedures and design devices to prevent errors from occurring at their source. Errors made within any process can lead to problems, including multiple wastes such as defects, overproduction, waiting, not utilizing people, transportation, inventory, motion, and excess processing.

Error proofing is implemented to prevent human error, but human error cannot be accepted as the cause of an error. The blame game does not apply. Humans make mistakes typically because there is a flaw in the process, itself. There are standard steps that can be taken when error proofing a process. First, take a first-hand look at the process, walking the gemba. Secondly, learn exactly where the error occurred. Then, conduct some problem solving analysis to uncover the root cause. Finally, develop countermeasures to prevent that error from happening again.

Some examples of real-world poka-yokes are the sensor in the gas nozzle that clicks when your tank is full, the ice maker in your freezer shutting off when the bucket if full, and your washing machine stopping when it is out of balance.

Michigan Tech’s Housing and Residential Life developed some poka-yokes for summer conferences:

  • A reference visual for staff who are setting up linens for a room.  It lists exactly what linens are needed and shows how they should be placed on the bed.  This saves staff time when gathering linens to distribute and reduces error in forgetting to place an item in the room.
  • Signage informing guests about areas they have access to and areas they do not. Limiting access to certain floors used the ERA principle–Eliminate Replacement Alternatives.  If the task that is creating the error is eliminated, then the error will disappear too.
  • A kanban board for management of the many groups that stay as guests. By arranging items, information, and people according to a sequence, they developed a good mistake proofing solution.

What are some ways you can apply this simple lean concept in your area?

Lean Olympics Take on the SWIM LANES

With the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics among us and being proud Americans, you probably can’t even go to the grocery store without something or someone blaring “USA! USA! USA!” amid chanting crowds. Can you blame us? We’re up to 83 medals in two weeks, and Hello! Katie Ledecky! Breaking a world record while winning a gold medal by *cough* ONLY 11.38 seconds! That’s pretty cool and yes, GO USA! However, moving passed the idea of the stripes and stars, I’m more interested in the arena Katie took her gold in, and that was in a swimming pool-the kind with swim lanes.

Swim lanes are a tool that is depicted through a diagram. How this tool works is to show the flow of a process or the crossing of many areas of a process and doing so visually. To aid in understanding the steps, an example represented by the progression of the tool will be shown below with a description of each step. This example shows a student who needs to get into a class that has already reached it’s maximum capacity and can’t register for it so they request an exception.

How a swim lane is kicked off is through identifying who touches the process. This “who” can be an individual, a group, a department, an object, or basically anything that physically touches the process. For our example, the who’s include the student, academic advisor of the student, and the professor of the class being registered.


Once the “who’s” are identified, the what’s need to be added. These “what’s” are the current processes that each “who” goes through and how each others processes relate to one another. This is also where you identify where each “who’s” process starts. The process for our example starts with the student and moves to the professor then to the advisor and back to the student.


The third step is where the “what” is examined and analyzed for where there is waste within the process or steps and that don’t add value. For our diagram, there is a waste of time between the time the student makes the request and actually hears back that they can register. This is a waste because it is waiting time. There is also waste for the student: once they are able to register they have to do it very quickly so that another student doesn’t register when they see an open or an “extra” seat. There’s also waste for the professor: they need to do re-work of their classroom to be able to accommodate an additional student.


Through the use of swim lanes you are made to focus on the basic steps to figure out what is actually happening in a process, and once that is done, you are able to then dive into the process and figure out where the defected or problematic areas are and can then get to the root cause. This aids you in being able to see the big picture. Often times we have a process that is “broken” and we become frustrated and redo the entire process just to find that it didn’t reduce the frustration. However, through the use of swim lanes you are able to see the whole process and establish what part(s) of the process is/are broken and can devote your time and energy into making improvements to that specific area without redoing the whole thing. So just like Katie Ledecky, if we take one [free-style] stroke at a time, we can come out in record time.

When The Going Gets Rough

We’re human. We can strive for perfection, like Lean dictates, but we’ll never be inherently perfect. As someone who has always been weighed on heavily by her potential, I have always been anxious to be perfect. I have to get good grades, I have to make my parents proud, I have to outshine the rest of my peers. With school starting up again in just a mere 17–I repeat, 17–days, the stress to be perfect is much more real than it has been all summer. After coming back from the Michigan Lean Consortium’s annual conference (which was awesome by the way) in Traverse City, MI, my life was quickly turned upside-down. This week has been a tough one, and I feel that I’ve been terrible in the sense of being a continuous improvement practitioner. I have found myself behind on my work, my bedroom a disaster, all my laundry dirty, and impending tuition payments on my doorstep–I’ll admit it, I kind of freaked out and bogged myself down…

But then I remembered something–Lean is a journey. I am still human. These things happen and setbacks are to be expected. I remembered how hard Lean was when I first started back in December; I couldn’t even really wrap my head around it back then. The culture confused me and the tools seemed to be described in a different language (unfortunately none of the ones I know). I was told it would be difficult and that there will be days where I would want to throw away all of my post-its and flashcards with random Japanese words on them… But here I am.  I have grown and learned more than I could have ever hoped to in this position in just a few months. I have networked, become more professional, and become part of the best team of practitioners a young lady could ever ask for. Lean is not about where you will get to, it’s about taking that next step that matters. You can’t expect to succeed without failing a few times and that has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn–and continue to learn. Even though this week has been tough, and I am a bit disappointed in myself, I know now what I need to do to be better and will do so! Here’s to fixing what we broke, starting fresh, moving forward. We aren’t perfect, but we can certainly strive for it one baby step at a time.