Tag Archives: Kaizen Event

A foot in the door: Commencement Kaizens

For the last six months a team has been pulled together to address various areas of the commencement process here at Michigan Tech, from ticketing to safety, and from configuration of space to guest speakers. This team has covered the commencement process inside and out, and with all of the stakeholders involved too! That’s HUGE!! The team has met 13 times already, for a total of 20 hours, and they are just getting started on most of it.

Before I introduce the teams let me tell a little bit more about how the Office of Continuous Improvement and the commencement committee have paired up and identified the kaizens that they’d like to move forward on. The meetings mentioned used swim lanes, a process mapping tool to map out the commencement process. The details to go on the swim lanes were acquired by the team leader, Kelly Vizanko, who emailed all of the stake holders and asked for their timelines. For the ones that were not received via email, they attended half-hour segments to help the team map out their part of the process. These meetings then identified areas of waste using kaizen bursts. From there the kaizen bursts were grouped based on the sub-process that they fell into and then later placed into a ICE Table, used for prioritization. This is how the kaizens were identified, by the most important/greatest impact, the level of control the team had, and by the ease to implement change/improvement. The kaizens identified were: Ticketing, Preparation, Volunteers, and Space + Configuration.

Ticketing consisted of eight people:

  • Kelly Vizanko (Registrar’s Office) – Team Leader
  • Ashley DeVoge (Ticketing Office) – Team Leader
  • Megan Goke (Office of Continuous Improvement) – Facilitator
  • Rylie Store (Office of Continuous Improvement) – Process Improvement Coordinator
  • Alisha Kocjan (Registrar’s Office) – Team Member
  • Shanda Miller (Bookstore) – Team Member
  • Nancy Byers-Sprague (Graduate School) – Team Member
  • Mary Stevens (Graduate School) – Team Member

This kaizen is wrapping up soon with a report out to the commencement committee. Several changes are expected such as scanning tickets to track the number of bodies in the room, communication to students (undergraduate and graduate) streamlined, established a limit for how many tickets will be issued, etc…

Day 1
This is a photo of Day one of the very first kaizen. This is half of the start of the swimlane that ended up being created.

The Commencement Volunteers and Preparation kaizens are just about to take off, all we are waiting on is the dates to come (for the volunteer kaizen) and our team to be solidified for the preparation kaizen.

The team for volunteers is:

  • Kelly Vizanko – Team Leader
  • Gina LeMay (Research Office) – Facilitator
  • Megan Goke – Facilitator
  • Rylie Store – PIC
  • Alisha Kocjan – Team Member
  • Joel Isaacson (Athletics) – Team Member
  • Jennifer Biekkola (Alumni House) – Team Member
  • Brian Cadwell (Public Safety & Police Services (PSPS))- Team Member
  • Daniel Bennett (University Safety & Security – PSPS) – Team Member

And to kick off the Preparation Kaizen we have:

  • Kelly Vizanko – Team Leader
  • Alisha Kocjan – Team Leader
  • Laura Harry (Memorial Union) – Facilitator
  • Rylie Store – PIC
ICE Table
Here is the team leaders and the facilitators working on prioritizing the kaizens.

All in all, we have a ways to go on these kaizens but the goal is to have at least something changed in each of these areas by April 2018, and to reassess after this year’s commencement ceremony. A foot in the door for lean, just as the students are about to leave.

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!

Measuring Success

I recently facilitated a Kaizen project  for Dining Services that involved their student hiring process. A lot of good ideas and improvement plans came out of it, and the team was very excited about the opportunity to make this process more efficient. What stood out for me, however, was a new process step that we incorporated at the end of the Kaizen called “Measuring Success.”

As Lean practitioners we understand that metrics and data collection are pivotal to the success of any implementation initiative. However, sometimes we forget the benefits of putting these numbers on display for all to see; this group did not. We decided at the end of the day to put all of our success metrics with their respective goals and deadlines on a flip chart for each member of the team to display in their office. The motive behind this was to ensure that every day, with every decision they make, they are focused on reaching these goals.

I thought this was a fantastic idea and one that should be used in all of our projects in the future. A big part of Lean is engagement. Setting clear goals and expectations is a big factor in increasing employee engagement. When everyone is united and working toward a common goal, the opportunities for improvement are endless.

Measuring Success Flipchart
Measuring Success Flipchart


Newspaper Flipchart
Newspaper Flipchart


Rare Super Blood Moon and Continuous Improvement

Earth’s moon along with the Sun’s gravitational pull are what cause tides on our earth [1]. In the past, coastal cities used the tides as a way to tell the time of day. This past week the “Super Blood Moon” was out, and for all those who gazed up at the sky with me in the Houghton area, I’m sure you can agree with me that it was a majestic sight to see. The awe I felt was only heightened with the knowledge that the phenomenon last occurred in 1982 and is not expected to occur again until 2033 [2]. As I reflected on how amazing it was watching the super blood moon, and seeing the moon change from its normal white color to an amazing orange hue over the course of a few hours, I couldn’t help but think about how time, the moon, and this rare occurrence all relate back to continuous improvement.

Super Blood Moon [NASA]

One can get used to how things are going, and when something out of the ordinary takes place it can set the whole system into shock. For example, an increase in job responsibilities as an employee, or for students, a disruption in their schedule like fall career fair. These times do not need to cause anxiety and worry. Such events don’t happen on a daily basis, and it is good to take time and recognize them as they are and then trust that the systems set in place will work as intended. If the rare shock to the system does take place leading to an upset in the way the system behaved before, it could be an indication that the previous system was not as effective as it could be. This is a great time to implement Lean tools, and if needed a whole Kaizen event! Taking time to gather key people and utilize an appropriate Lean tool to get back in the rhythm of things can really be helpful. That’s what Continuous Improvement is all about!

Relating back to the blood moon example, Beijing was unable to see the blood moon because “a choking blanket of air pollution covered Beijing” [3]. This caused anger among residents and was a time that the pollution problem was brought to national attention once again. This shows how sometimes extraordinary events can actually be a call to action, a way to set the wheels in motion to make a positive change.

As career fair is now over, and the super blood moon has passed, I look forward to making sure my systems can handle such fluctuations in time demands, and I reevaluate their past true effectiveness.

If you want to know more about continuous improvement feel free to reach out to the Office of Continuous Improvement either by phone, 906-487-3180, or email improvement-l@mtu.edu


[1] Oceanservice.noaa.gov, ‘Why does the ocean have waves?’, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/wavesinocean.html. [Accessed: 30- Aug- 2015].

[2] P. Video, ‘Progress Cargo Ship Racing Towards ISS After Nighttime Launch | Video’, Space.com, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.space.com/30718-progress-cargo-ship-racing-towards-iss-after-nighttime-launch-video.html. [Accessed: 30-Aug-2015].

[3] USA TODAY, ‘China’s smog smothers ‘blood’ moon’, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/10/08/china-smog-blood-moon/16903549/. [Accessed: 30- Aug -2015].


Lean IT at Michigan Tech

This post was originally published in Michigan Tech’s IT News and Announcements blog. 

Lean principles are generally well established and have been applied to manufacturing for quite some time. The idea is simple: identify and eliminate areas of waste that lead to poor service for customers. Within Michigan Tech IT, we’ve begun to apply those principles to our work. Though the changes are small, they’ve made a large impact in how we do daily business, and they’re sparking a cultural change within our organization.


The Services Team is using daily Group-up meetings to increase awareness among staff and solve problems. “Our morning huddle brings everyone together for 15 minutes to discuss what is most important, most time-sensitive, and most technically problematic,” says David Kent, IT Services Director. One of the main objectives of the meetings is to help each other solve problems or help with time-sensitive commitments. “Threats to projects and deadlines are identified quickly, and often resolved on the spot, because the entire team is present,” says Kent.


The morning huddle fosters a more efficient and open, collaborative attitude within the team. “Since we’ve started having the group-ups, our ticket count has decreased significantly, and we’re continuing to set record lows on a regular basis.  Everything that is important to our group is on the whiteboard for all to see, and each member is able to make updates as needed.  We definitely accomplish more with less because we focus on what is on the board.”


Project Board (Cadence Board)

For the past month, the Enterprise Application Services group has been using a Cadence Board for their Web Focus Project. The low-tech and flexible visualization tool gives visibility to the current workflow and progress and informs the team of each other’s work progress. The board displays planned work, unplanned work, high level milestones, a parking lot (for future items) and a rolling two-week work plan. The team meets three times a week for status updates and discussion.


“The board helps us keep the project moving and more easily keep track of its different elements,” says Emmett Golde, EAS Director. “It’s increased communication between team members, and because it’s so visual, you can immediately see who’s doing what and where they’re at in a particular process. Tasks are shown in small enough pieces so that we can see where the workload is distributed. It shows us if a particular team member is overloaded.”

Process Mapping for a Kaizen Event

When Ashley Sudderth, Chief Information Compliance Officer, met with the Office of Continuous Improvement on March 23, it was to discuss IT’s Procurement and Deployment process for new machines. “It was an area that generated a lot of help desk tickets and was one we knew needed improvement,” said Ashley. “We met with the Office and completed a process map of the P&D process. They helped us examine the process for where we could benefit from a Kaizen event… and we chose the service desk workflow for task management.”

Through the mapping process other small changes were identified that had a big impact in addition to the Kaizen event. “It’s been very helpful to have outside input from actual customers who also understand the Lean Process,” said Angie Hebert, Sr. Help Desk Consultant, a member of the process mapping team. “One of the things customers were unsure of was what software would be included on their machines at delivery. We took that feedback and set up a web page that gives them a full list of what software they will receive as a standard installation. It was just one of the things that we might not have considered had we not gone through this process.”

One of the deliverables: a new computer checklist which now accompanies each new deployment.
One of the deliverables produced as a result of process mapping: a computer checklist which now accompanies each new deployment.

Though the team is still in the process mapping stage, they’ve already seen major benefits. “Our team members have an increased knowledge of the parts and pieces in the deployment process from procurement to the actual builds,” says Hebert. “We’ve seen more care and diligence in work, resulting in faster, better builds in deployment.”

Josh Olson, Chief Technology Officer, is embracing the shift to Lean IT. “As an organization, we want to be open to change in our processes and methods and commit to continuous and ongoing improvement,” he says. “Since we’ve started incorporating Lean thinking into our daily work, we’ve seen measurable improvement. The culture is changing. We’re changing. Lean IT is improving the way we provide services to our customers.”

A Brief History of Michigan Tech’s University Policy Office: How Lean Methodologies Helped Pave the Way

This post was originally published in the Business Operations Blog. It was written by Ann Kitalong-Will, the executive director of business operations here at Michigan Tech.

leanSometimes continuous improvement results can take some time to materialize. But it’s important to remember to focus on the goals you’re trying to accomplish, and to trust that lean process improvement methods can and do result in reaching the tangible goals that we have in our work.

In 2012, as part of a grant Michigan Tech received through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, we were able to bring consultants to campus to help us continue on our lean journey as a University. Our grant application had proposed an innovative approach to enhancing relations between management and union-represented staff via a rigorous series of Lean training sessions. Lean as a management method is particulary well-suited to accomplishing such a goal, because it is an approach that focuses on the value of each employee, at all levels and within all units. We believed that our proposal would contribute to improving communication and relations between employees at all levels across campus.

I was a co-PI on this grant and participated as a “student” in most of the training sessions. One of the exercises we were asked to do was to facilitate a kaizen(“improvement”) event to solve a challenging process issue in our work. Having recently taken on policy administration at the University, I had become aware of many areas within the policy development process that seemed to cause confusion for customers (policy developers) and for the campus community in general.

We assembled a small group of individuals that included me, and 3 or 4 additional people who served as facilitators, subject matter experts, and customers. From this single kaizen event, we were able to identify some key improvements that needed to happen:

  1. We needed a dedicated staff member who was primarily responsible for overseeing policy at the University.
  2. We needed to critically review the current policy development process, and identify ways we could eliminate wasteful or unnecessary steps.
  3. We needed a new website, that included tools for policy developers as well as some “educational” pieces about what policy is (and isn’t).
  4. We needed to continually educate the university community on the policy development process, and provide some outreach and support to policy developers along the way.

Most of these goals hinged on the need to hire that staff member. I am now pleased to say that in 2014, after a lot of thought and planning, we were able to hire a University Policy Coordinator, Lori Weir, who has jumped right in to making these kaizen-originated goals a reality. She is also constantly looking for ways to continuously improve how we manage policies at Michigan Tech, and I’m looking forward to working with her to realize our vision of what a Policy Office should be.

I encourage you to visit our new policy website, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, suggestions, or would like help getting started on a new policy.

Network Drive 5S Best Practices

Most people practicing Lean know 5S–Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize and Sustain–and they know it can be applied to many things. Here at Michigan Tech we have applied this thinking to shared network storage spaces. I have now facilitated 4 of these events.

At the first one I facilitated, I obediently followed what I was taught and started with Sort. We went through all the files and worked on deleting the garbage. For Set, we worked on putting the remaining files into a logical order and making things easier to find.  Shine involved going back through the files (again) and renaming them consistently. When we came to the Standardize step it basically turned into documenting what we had spent a lot of time doing–what should be kept, for how long, where to store things, and naming conventions. Finally, the Sustain phase, including setting up regular audit schedules and procedures for making sure the drive stayed neat and organized.

In the end we did leave with a well-organized, easier to navigate shared drive, but the process itself was frustrating and extremely long. The team spent an inordinate amount of time during the Sort and Set phases strongly “discussing” whether a specific file should be kept or deleted and what folder it should be in. We also did think of metrics, kind of. We looked at the overall size of the share and, in the end, did make it smaller. But if you are only measuring the size of the share and your goal is to minimize it, then the simple answer to achieve perfection of that measurement is to just delete everything and use zero GB, right?

Around that time, I read an article, “5S Shakeup” by John Casey on the Quality Progress website, and had a revelation–perhaps we should be starting with the 4th S instead. On my next network drive 5S event I was able to try this out. We started by creating the standards document. I began this discussion off with one simple question–what is the purpose of this drive? We talked in general about what should be kept at all, how long to keep files, and how to name them. This completely focused the whole event and eliminated the extended discussions on specific items. The Sort, Set, and Shine could all be done in one pass through because the rules were already defined, and these steps were split up and done as homework instead of in a big group. The individuals returned to the next meeting with just a few files they were uncertain about, and the group made decisions on their disposition together.

I also worked on the metrics. At the pre-meeting with the team leader, we dug more into why they wanted to attack this problem. This helped to identify various metrics that would actually measure what they needed them to. If the why was because new staff can’t find things easily, we did several before and after time tests to see how long it took to find various files.  If the problem involved just too much stuff, we still looked at the overall size, keeping in mind that zero is not really the goal, but more like reduce and then maintain that reduced size. We looked at the number of root folders, total number of folders and total number of files.

This event went much smoother, and I heard a lot of comments from the team members that they really enjoyed the experience.  When another campus facilitator was slated to do one of these events she asked me for some tips as she knew I had done a few, so that prompted me to write some Best Practices, which I have made available here: Network Drive 5S Best Practices January 2014.

Change is on the Way!

Often times you can’t help but overhear conversations between your fellow classmates, and regularly the topics of interest revolve around two things–how tough our winters are, and how bad our dining halls are. This unfortunate perception held by some students has sparked a flurry of improvement events currently being held on campus. The one I would like to highlight is the Residential Dining Blueprint kaizen that was conducted this week.

The cries have been heard and the dining hall managers spent 12 long hours over the course of three days creating a blueprint for “what makes an awesome dining hall.” As a student playing the “customer” role on the kaizen team it was very refreshing  to see just how much each and every manager is devoted to improving the residential dining experience. In creating the blueprint the team took advantage of a great organizational tool: the Fishbone diagram (click on the diagram to enlarge it).

The dining hall managers and staff definitely have their work cut out for them, but that isn’t going to stop them in their pursuit of creating the greatest possible dining experience. I look forward to seeing the improvements in the coming years.

Goodbye, Megan

Today we bid a fond farewell to Megan Johnson. Megan has been a student Process Improvement Coordinator in the Office of Continuous Improvement for 3 years. In that time, she was involved with dozens of Kaizen Events, both as a coordinator and as a facilitator. 

We have a Megan for that! The Two Megans partnership has come to an end.

Megan recently graduated from Michigan Tech with a degree in Biomedical Engineering. She’s taking a position with a global manufacturing company as a Value Stream Team Leader. A value stream is the series of events and the information flow required to transform a customer request into a good or service. Value streams generally cross production lines and departmental boundaries; they have an enterprise focus rather than a functional focus. Megan credits the skills she developed as a student Process Improvement Coordinator and as the president of the Leaders in Continuous Improvement (LCI) student organization with giving her the competitive edge during her job search. 

Megan sends her thanks to all of the wonderful continuous improvement facilitators and team leaders that she’s worked with. 

Goodbye, Megan. Have a super sparkly career!

Summer is a Perfect Time for Improvements!

Classes are over and the snow is melting, which can only mean one thing…Summer! The return of Summer means longer nights, vacations, and opportunities for improvements!

The Office of Continuous Improvement encourages you and your department to engage in small group discussion and talk about continuous improvement opportunities. It doesn’t take much; just a few minutes to exchange ideas and possible improvements for your area. There are plenty of lean facilitators on campus who are ready and willing to help. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an improvement event, please contact us at improvement-l@mtu.edu or call 906-487-3180.