Tag Archives: Lean Outreach

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.

Lean at Home

When I last visited home, something in the relationship dynamic I have with my dad shifted; not only did I occasionally treat for coffee, but we had conversations about work. This is not to say we never talked about work prior to this trip, but the conversation was significantly less one-sided and lasted easily ten times as long. Until recently our work never really overlapped, he did his job and I did mine in completely separate worlds, Lean is what bridged the gap.

Becoming immersed in Lean Culture has actually filled many gaps throughout my life. Starting to take part in Lean around campus reminded me of the “Chores Board” my parents used to assign my sister and I tasks well before I could even say the word “Kanban”, or my dad’s tool board in the garage with clear spots for all of his tools. Lean was all around me before I even knew what it was, and upon telling my father of this revelation I had he laughed briefly and said something to the effect of: “of course, because Lean just makes sense.” He was right, it makes sense to organize different tasks somewhere you can see them so that they actually get done, it makes sense to keep things near the location they will be used at, and it makes sense to organize your work space and reduce excess so that you can easily find the things you need and increase your productivity. It turns out that Lean had been ingrained in my home life in a way I never really noticed.

If you walk into the Office of Continuous Improvement here on campus, it is easy to initially feel a little overwhelmed by all of our visual management systems and you can pretty immediately tell there is something different about the culture here compared to most office environments. Our office has five full whiteboards that help keep us on track, and that’s what many people think of when they think of where they would see Lean Culture; they think of work.

My home growing up had elements of Lean Culture all around without most people noticing it, and it still does. My apartment seems pretty normal, maybe a little more tidy than necessarily expected of a college student, but otherwise normal. Underneath the appearance, are all of those Lean principles that have silently guided my life thus far. Everything in my apartment has a place, and if it does not yet, it will shortly. This goes to show that practicing Lean does not necessarily mean having bright post-it notes everywhere or giant kanban boards, it can be as simple as using 5S in your garage, or using visual management to help your kids keep track of their chores.

Having Lean principles implemented around me during my life has definitely helped me develop into a better organized, more productive person, and to me it makes sense; it can to everyone. Likely you have already practiced some element of Lean either in your personal or professional life, just maybe without realizing it, much like I did.

Leaning Away from My Fear of Change

How can just 6 letters be arranged to create one of the most powerful words in our language? This word can strike fear into the hearts of some, and empower others. Change is a powerful word, and even so, a more powerful tool. I will be the first to admit that I am afraid of change. For most of my life, I have run from change, only to have been dragged back kicking and screaming into its path. It was only recently, as I began to learn and embrace LEAN culture that I also learned to embrace change for what it really is, a powerful tool that can change my life for the better.

I haven’t always been able to embrace change for what it is. When I first learned about LEAN I thought it would be a good way to hide from change. LEAN would be my shelter, protecting me from the winds of change. Inside my shelter I would learn all of these life saving tools and battle techniques and emerge from the darkness as the hero that would defeat change once and for all. I would build standards and processes that would allow me to justify my need to do things the same way everyday. These standards would be the walls that kept me safe.

It didn’t take me long to realize how wrong I was with my vision of LEAN. LEAN was not a sword to be used to defeat change. LEAN was, and is, a language that can help us communicate through change. LEAN and change are a pair of tools helping me continue on my path of improvement.

One of the first lessons I learned taught me that LEAN is not an excuse to justify current state. In fact, the LEAN culture actually seeks to remove the justification of current state and see our current state for what it actually is. LEAN culture wants us to find the problems with our current states, without placing blame on each other. My fear of change stems from the justification of my current state. If my process isn’t broken, then why should I fix it?  I learned the answer to this question when I started learning to collect metrics. Metrics can come in any shape, but they all have one thing in common. Metrics show where a change was beneficial or where it wasn’t. For me, this system of metric collection helped me embrace change; I could see that change can help rather than hinder. The LEAN culture has helped me to see that change isn’t something to be afraid of.

I still have a long way to go in my relationship to change. I can admit that I still have trouble jumping right into a new idea without fear. I know that I can embrace change. Now that I have a language to help me communicate with change, I can use it to further my path of improvement.

PIC Training & Diversity

The last time that you heard from me was when I introduced the word cloud, pictured below. I was able to generate this cloud from a plethora of individuals, worldwide and via LinkedIn. The topic of the word cloud? Lean and Continuous Improvement summarized into a single word.


Naturally (also fairly), I chose a word as well. My word? Diversity. Throughout my time practicing Lean and CI, I have been faced with several challenges, and yet one of the greatest is still summarizing lean. This is because it is SO diverse!

Now Diversity can mean a million different things, and can be applied anywhere and at anytime. Diversity is what gives the word “unique” life and it’s what gives meaning to the idea of being receptive.

I chose diversity, not because I wanted to select a word that wasn’t used by my comrades, but rather because if you place “Lean and Continuous Improvement” into the sentence above, in place of “Diversity,” you will have an equally true statement.

Recently I have finished designing a training course for our new Process Improvement Coordinators (PICs) and every step of the way I ran into lean’s diversity. I ran into it when I had to organize the lesson plans and orders, I ran into it when I had to decide what topics should be elaborated on and to what extent, and I ran into it especially when the new employees began asking questions. Last time I focused on the idea of DNA, people, perspective, respect, empowerment, etc. Today I want to cover how other words tie lean to diversity and they are: evolution, focused, prepared, better, purposeful, helpful, and flow.

The first word, evolution was chosen because the training course has certainly evolved since I went through it. The training that our most recent hire is going through is technically revision 3 of the course. Just like the content and existence of the training, lean is always evolving towards perfection, towards improvement. Without evolution we have no Continuous Improvement, only Lean, but the two go hand in hand. They’re sister pillars, if one falls so does the other. This is a lesson I learned while designing the training course. I believe that in order to grow, evolution or improvement must be made.

In sense of the training, in order to make sure the training was in fact having a growth spurt, the lessons had to remain focused, prepare the student for their job, it had to be better, each piece had to serve a purpose and help, and all of this had to flow together.

The above ideas all tie to the thinking of lean. In order to make helpful changes, to enhance the flow, and to achieve the goal of a better process, the thinking must be focused. The thinking must concentrate on the current state, and future state. After this happens then the thinking must become purposeful and deliberate. Every step concerning bridging the gap between current and future state must be principle. How do we ensure that all of this is happening? It’s easy, you must be prepared. To be prepared is to plan, if there isn’t enough time or effort put into designing a plan then the “Doing” will be futile. All of these concepts go hand in hand, making improving anything more complex, more diverse.

When I started designing the PIC training course the objective I had in mind was to create a flowing, helpful, and better training course for the incoming PICs. However, I had never anticipated that while I was constructing this course, I too was learning a great deal. The lessons I learned in planning this training were ones that actually apply to understanding lean in general.


The More You Know

I recently put out a post on LinkedIn asking anyone familiar with lean to share their one word descriptor of lean, CI, and even some on Six Sigma. All of the words below came from 103 different people, and about 95 of them I never knew existed until I started this blog post, yet every single one of them has provided me with a single word to describe Lean and Continuous Improvement. There’s a story behind every word in the word cloud below, and I can promise you that I can’t tell you what the stories are that went into choosing these words. This is the Ah-ha moment that I’d like to share with you.


Trying to describe lean in a single word is not an easy one, in fact it’s quite hard to even conjure an elevator pitch to present when an opportunity arises. It may seem that it was unfair of me to ask for one word, but the motive behind my rambling and asking such a question was exactly this, the picture above. Just for adherence, the picture above is a word cloud (thank you captain obvious), and in that word cloud there is a compilation of 103 words… ONE HUNDRED and THREE! However, what I have come to realize is that no matter how developed your elevator pitch, no matter the extent of your knowledge on Lean and Continuous Improvement, you will NEVER be able to express every aspect of lean, on your own, and hardly with 103 people.

Was that a bold statement? I hope so.

There are a few words that I’d like to pull out of this cloud and they are: People, Respect, Value, Empowerment, and DNA. The first that I’d like to mention is DNA. This previous semester I was enrolled in a genetics course and the one thing that stood out the most was when my professor asked, “How many years would it take you to count every gene on every DNA strand in your body?” I thought this was a ridiculous question to ask, It’d be a complete waste of time, and being lean I’m not a fan of wasting time. To no surprise, my professor had a purpose for his opening statement and it was, “Of course you don’t know, nobody has done it.” He said if the oldest person to have ever lived (122 years old) had started counting from the moment they were born, they would have been counting every second of their life. In metrics, that equates to reading every name and every phone number in a New York phone book, everyday for 122 years. Tying back to DNA as an adjective, every person has a perspective and these two act as the fundamentals of the Lean DNA.

The people are the DNA strand, the backbone. Their perspectives are the genes associated with the strand. Each word above was shared by a person, and each person brought a different perspective in the form of their word. The questions I’ve been asking as I read the comments on my post are, “What motivated them to choose that word?” “Where are they from?” “Where do they work?” The answer to these questions (plus life experiences) factored into their word choice. Without people, there is no Continuous Improvement. You need people to do the lean thinking, to succeed, to achieve value, and to eliminate waste. In order to ensure that value is added, the people must be empowered and in order to be empowered there must be RESPECT. Respect for the people and respect for the perspective that they contribute. Without respect, then we have untapped knowledge, and then we will have waste.

My single word is Diversity.

As I complete this blog, I have come to a greater realization than when I began. The Ah-ha moment for me was the reality of diversity. Diversity is defined as being composed of differing elements. Without diversity we have no differences to distinguish us, without differences there isn’t a connection to others, and without a connection there is no collaboration among the different perspectives and there is no respect. Without diversity, the word cloud above would be absent, and this post obsolete.

Considering this blog is about people and respect, I feel that it is only appropriate to give credit to those that helped me form the word cloud. This cloud is a compilation of all of the first names that shared a word with me, at the time this was written. Thank you!

For more blog posts associated with this word cloud, be sure to subscribe to our blog so that you won’t miss any part of this series. Have a single word you’d like to share? Comment on this post, and be sure to share the train of thought behind selecting your word!


OHIO — Only Handle It Once

The following guest post was written by Kaylee Betzinger, a former student process improvement coordinator here at Michigan Tech and currently an intern at Amway in their Enterprise Excellence Department.

For the past 13 weeks I’ve been interning with Amway in their Enterprise Excellence Department. While in this position I’ve gotten to partner with a variety of cross functional teams throughout the business and within the West Michigan community. One project in particular is a non-profit venture with Mel Trotter Ministries. Mel Trotter Ministries exists to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ toward the hungry, homeless and hurting of the greater Grand Rapids area (www.meltrotter.org/mission). They are able to provide a variety of services to these people in need because of their 4 thrift shops located throughout West Michigan. I’ve been working closely with Greg Alvesteffer, Assistance Vice President of Retail, on their donation process.

Before I began working with Greg and his team, their donation processes were quite a mess. First and foremost, there was no standard process spanning all of the stores (yikes!), making it difficult for the store managers and Greg to share ideas with one another. We also found numerous wastes in their process, the biggest being over processing. Multiple employees were touching the same donation multiple different times which was resulting in huge batches (they would create a batch of 50 donated clothing articles, then push them down an “assembly line” for the next employee to work on). While observing at the Gemba, we asked the question “Why do you create these batches?” That got me a variety of answers and a few weird looks, but ultimately the answer was “that’s just how it’s always been,” a typical answer in non-continuous improvement environments.

After multiple days observing and a few hundred questions we began to experiment and change things around a bit. My Amway mentor, Steve Sweers, and I explained the value of one-piece flow in what Steve calls the OHIO method (Only Handle It Once). This really seemed to resonate with Greg and the employees we were working with.

After a few weeks of experimentation, I did some time study evaluations to compare the old process with our new process and the results were astounding! By eliminating the batching process and installing a one-piece-flow production we were able to decrease space requirements by 70%, reduce labor requirements in that area by 83% (they were able to reallocate several employees to other departments within the store), and ultimately increased productivity by 480% (yes, that is possible!). It’s incredible to know that we were able to get these results without any capital investment. All we needed was to apply some continuous improvement principles in their processes and presto, huge improvements!

Being able to share this knowledge with a business like Mel Trotter has been such a rewarding experience. I will be continuing this partnership this fall where we plan to continue to make improvements throughout their retail stores.


Lean at Tech Update

Michigan Technological University campus

At Michigan Tech, continuous improvement is being integrated into the everyday operations of the university. A central Office of Continuous Improvement supports departments and individuals in their efforts and functions as a knowledge bank for people seeking more information. This office connects people who want to do a continuous improvement event with a trained facilitator; the university’s 24 facilitators are all volunteers.  

Training, workshops, and coaching help to develop a continuous improvement culture. The Lean facilitators and Lean Implementation Leaders attend monthly continuing education to keep their skills fresh. All new supervisors are required to receive basic training in Lean principles. In addition, periodic workshops on topics like 5S and Process Mapping make Lean immediately useful and accessible to university employees.

Michigan Tech’s Continuous Improvement program also increases campus and community awareness, exposure, and engagement. Initiatives in this area include an active website, this blog, a recurring article in the university newsletter Tech Today, a Twitter account (@Lean_at_MTU), and a Lean Library. A Lean Model Office tour showcases Lean practices in an office environment; stop by the office at 136W Wadsworth Hall to take the self-guided tour. Michigan Tech also organizes a quarterly meeting for the Copper County Lean Group made up of 26 area businesses who gather to learn more about Lean and continuous improvement, share stories, collaborate, ask questions, and celebrate successes.

Collaboration with State of Michigan

We are pleased to post this guest blog from Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Assistant Vice President for Administration.

As a volunteer through the Michigan Lean Consortium (MLC), I was asked to work on an improvement project focused on revising the Michigan Department of Education’s (MDE) Scorecard to align more directly with the department’s articulated priorities.  My role was that of a Lean facilitator.

The work of planning, data collection, meetings, and a final workshop was done virtually through email, conference calls, and by using Skype.  This worked extremely well since I’m located in the U.P. and all the others in Lansing, MI. I initially worked with two representatives from the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget who coordinated and co-facilitated as “boots-on-the-ground” representatives responsible for the continued deployment of the Governor’s initiatives, and with key leadership in the Michigan Department of Education.  The work concluded with two larger meetings that included the Deputy Superintendents and/or the Special Assistants from the various areas within the MDE.

The key deliverable was to create a pathway to get from the scorecard in place when we began this work in November, 2013, to a revised future-state scorecard that linked directly to the MDE mission and priorities that have been articulated for 2013-2015.  At the conclusion of the final workshop, held in March 2014, the group had established a goal of two metrics for each of their seven strategic goals.  Each scorecard metric would represent either a student outcome measurement, or measurement of a process that drove student outcomes.  A few organizational metrics, such as employee turnover, were recognized as valuable although not directly tied to priorities. 

While some follow-up work will need to be done to determine the final scorecard metrics and receive approval to execute the update, the group left the final workshop with a decision-making framework that will ensure the Scorecard metrics align with strategic priorities, is outward-facing whenever possible to inform the public, drives the desired behavior, and is appropriate at the departmental level.

This work will significantly change the metrics that appear on the MDE scorecard as well as significantly reduce the total number of department-level metrics from the current 27 to between 15 and 20.  Many of the existing Scorecard metrics will either be pushed to an Office-level scorecard or eliminated entirely.

Facilitating this improvement work was a great professional development experience for me that provided an opportunity to exercise my facilitation skills and sharpen my thinking on metrics.  I had a really fun group of people to work with and greatly enjoyed this volunteer experience.

The MLC partners with the State of Michigan to provide assistance in implementing the Good Government imitative, which is about achieving best-in-class public service through empowered and innovative employees. Elements of good government are service and process optimization, employee engagement, change management, and performance management.