Tag Archives: Lean Thinking

Using Lean for small practices

It’s about that time of year again when members of the Office of Continuous Improvement are getting prepared to attend the Michigan Lean Consortium conference. At the conference members of our office will have the opportunity to hear from other Lean practitioners and learn about their Lean journey. In addition, the Office of Continuous Improvement will also be displaying a poster board to showcase how we have implemented Lean here at Michigan Tech.

When we practice Lean we often think of an effect that will benefit a large group of people or an entire process. However, Lean can be used in the most simple of processes, like creating a poster board for the MLC conference.

When we made the poster for the MLC conference, we used the 5 whys tool to decide what information we should include. As a result, it allowed us to narrow down our topic to include information that we believe the customer (other Lean practitioners in this instance) would value most.

After we came to a common agreement on the topic we did an affinity diagram to figure out how we wanted to display the information. An affinity diagram is where everyone in the group writes down ideas on sticky notes and then the notes are filtered into categories for organization. This allowed everyone to have a voice in the discussion and organizing the thoughts into categories allows everyone to be on the same page.

As a result of using Lean tools, we were able to effectively collaborate to get the poster done in a timely matter.

 

Poster

 

We wanted to create a lasting impression for those that will be encountering our board so we came to the agreement to include some of Houghton’s Iconic structures. We did this to draw the audience’s attention while also including information that we thought they would find of value. As a result of using some of the Lean tools, this simple process of making a poster became an even simpler process with an even better end product.

 


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.

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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.
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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.


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.

wordcloud

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.

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Root Cause Analysis- Saving the fish

A few weeks ago, I learned the importance of Root Cause Analysis and the difference a few LEAN tools can make. Unfortunately I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

My room is filled with fish. Between my roommates and I, we take care of  four Betta fish, two feeder fish, and a goldfish. I can admit that it is a lot of work. One night  I noticed a problem with one of our Bettas, Haru. Haru had gone from his usual energetic self, to sitting on the bottom of the tank and I hadn’t a clue as to why.  Immediately I jumped into action, trying everything I could to make the little guy feel better.  I tried everything, heating his tank, cleaning his water, even an extra snack for the night.  The next morning, Haru seemed worse.  Within two days, we had lost Haru to whatever had made him sick.  I tried everything to save the little guy, except applying my LEAN thinking.
After loosing Haru, I decided to learn from my mistakes.  My biggest mistake of treating Haru was that I hadn’t preformed any form of Root Cause Analysis.   The problem with ignoring Root Cause Analysis is that I only treated the symptoms, and I never treated the source of the symptoms. The trick to lean is that you have to find the problem in order to fix the problem.

I decided to use a Fishbone Diagram to try and determine the cause of Haru’s Sickness.  To start the Fishbone Diagram, my roommate and I brainstormed everything we could think of that might have caused Haru’s sickness.  Modifying the Diagram slightly for our fish tanks, we separated these problems into categories.  We decided to group them by, problems with materials, problems in his environment, problems with the way people interact with the fish, and procedures in place for the fish routine and maintenance. Once we had our diagram set out, we started asking why. For each problem we listed, we first determined if the problem existed in our tank systems.  Then We used the 5 whys to find the cause of each problem.  After all of our analysis, we determined that Haru’s sickness was caused by poor water quality.  The water quality was a result of over feeding, or contamination of the tanks.  The overfeeding was a result of a lack of feeding schedule.  The fish were being double fed because we didn’t know that the other room mate had already fed them.  The contamination was caused by miscommunication to guests. we never made it quite clear who, or what could touch each fish’s tank. Once we knew the root cause, we were able to fix the problem. By posting a feeding schedule and rules for the tanks we have been able keep all of our other fish happy and healthy.
In the world of problem solving, root cause analysis is easy to forget. It can become a habit to treat the symptoms without ever discovering the real problem. As with our Haru,  treating the symptoms can have disastrous consequences. As I continue learning and using LEAN, I will have to remember, You have to find the problem to fix the problem.

Asking why
The pink notes helped us to visualize the answers to some of our Whys.
Finding the possible problems
The blue notes were all of the possible causes of Betta sickness.

An Apple a Day Keeps the Problems Away

Lean is like eating an apple. There’s the skin that we all see-it has a color, a texture, and a stem. However, once you break through the skin with your teeth you see a different color, texture, and the core. This is the same principle in Lean and problem solving through the use of the five why’s.

You’re given a scenario (the skin), you see the results of the problem (the color), you see the repercussions of the results (the texture), and you may even see a sliver of the actual problem (the stem). Yet, until you sink your teeth into the scenario you won’t truly see what’s underneath. By taking a bite you slowly begin revealing a new color, a new texture, and eventually the core, or in this case the root cause.

For a moment let’s pretend that it only takes five bites to get to the core of the apple. Each bite represents one of the five why’s.

Imagine a woman who cuts off the ends of a ham before putting it in the oven. Her husband asks “Why do you cut the ends off of the ham before cooking it?” *Bite* She replies, “because it’s how my mother cooked it.” So the husband goes to his mother-in-law and asks, “why do you cut off the ends of the ham before cooking it?” *Bite* She replies, “because it’s how my mother always made it.” So the husband goes to the grandmother and asks why she cooked ham this way *Bite* here he got the same answer that he got from his wife, and his mother-in-law. Finally, he asks the great grandmother “Why have you always cooked your ham without the ends on?” *Bite* She replies, “so I could cook as much ham as possible,” the husband then asks, “why couldn’t you cook the whole ham at once?” *Bite* and she replies, “because the pan I had was too small.”

For generations, the women thought this was how they were supposed to cook a ham simply because their mother before them had cooked it that way, but not once did they stop to recognize that there may be an underlying method to their madness. Over the years this resulted in much ham, time, and money wasted for no real reason.

By asking ourselves five why questions we allow ourselves to get to the root cause. Now, if the husband had only asked four why questions, his last answer would’ve been, “so I could cook as much ham as possible,” this really wouldn’t have answered his question-it would’ve gotten him closer but not to the root cause. The same is true with eating an apple-by taking few too little bites you don’t ever see the core, all you recognize is the apple in your hand. However, if you take another bite you may just find the seeds, and your perspective and appreciation for the apple in your palm has changed.

*Note: The example of the ham is one that was introduced to me by Daniel Bennett of Public Safety and Police Services here at MTU.

What are some areas of waste around you? Have you properly identified the root cause? If not, try utilizing the ‘5 why’s” they may be able to help you find a problem you didn’t originally see.


Moving Waste

Recently I have done what most college sophomores do- I moved out into my own duplex with a few friends. The experience has been liberating and I am excited to see what the year brings. However, I haven’t been excited to see the waste I have brought into my new lifestyle of blissful freedom. While unpacking boxes I found myself wondering “When was the last time I wore that shirt?” “What on Earth are these random bits and pieces of paper?” “I don’t even remember the last time I was even interested in this!” Needless to say, I have a lot of junk that doesn’t need to hang around any longer.

Fortunately for me, my job is centered around continuous improvement! Instead of immediately jumping to the conclusion that I need to throw all of my possessions away and start over again to get away from this overwhelming mess, I came up with a game plan for this weekend that will surely get my things in order. I will be doing an overhaul of my things using 5S- Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, Sustain. I will start by going through all of my boxes and removing the things that I don’t need. Then I will make sure it is all clean (going out of order here, so I’m not putting dirty clothes away in my closet) and put it away in various locations around my room. In order to sustain my soon to be limited collection of valuables I am going to refrain from hoarding clothing and going through my things every 2 months to ensure that I am not to accumulate a surplus of unnecessary items. Daily, I am going to tidy up my room and this will keep my worldview from growing cluttered and overwhelmed.

Continuous improvement has brought a lot more to my life than just a job. It has given me a new way of looking at problems, fragmenting them into manageable pieces, and fixing them without jumping ahead of myself. I recommend that everyone who has trouble with waste, use 5S to help tidy their surroundings- I promise you’ll be able to breathe easier afterwards.

Dont let the best youve done so far become the standard for the rest of your life

5S poster

Aspen Holmes
Student Process Improvement Coordinator
The Office of Continuous Improvement


Welcome Rylie Store!

Joining the team in the Office of Continuous Improvement is a new Process Improvement Coordinator (PIC), Rylie Store. Rylie is a first year student pursuing a degree in Medical Laboratory Sciences with hopes to utilize her degree as a Pre-medicine parallel and eventually ticket her way into medical school. Although Rylie is only a first year she was actively involved in many clubs and organizations in high school such as Student Council, Prom Committee, and Yearbook Committee. Rylie is currently working on building up her involvement on campus and is currently an active member in the Alpine Ski and Snowboard Club. Prior to becoming a PIC, Rylie began her employment by forming her own photography business the summer going into her senior year of high school (July). She also received her certification as a Professional Ski Instructor of America in the spring of her senior year (March 2015).

Rylie will now introduce herself and share her own opinions on jumping on board with our team.

Coming into this position I’ll be honest, I hadn’t the slightest idea as to what Lean was. It wasn’t until a former employer of mine had guided me to the application for the opening of a PIC position and encouraged me to apply that I began to gain some basic knowledge of what it is that Lean necessitated. I’ve been on board officially now for about a week and in that time I’ve managed to complete some basic training. However, I still have a long ways to go before I’ll fully understand Lean to the capacity I feel that it deserves. With the minimal information and background that I have acquired I can say that I am most excited to become a factor in this journey to better improve processes and eliminate waste efficiently throughout Michigan Tech’s endeavors. Joining this team has encouraged me, even more so to expand my campus and community wide involvement while implementing continuous improvement in the process.

Although still being new in the office, I’ve managed to gather that my tasks in the office will be to not only grow my lean knowledge. but to do so through the arrangement, encouragement, and compilation of Kaizen Events.

I’m excited for this coming journey of mine as a PIC, but I’m even more so thankful to be given this opportunity to expand my horizon while also expanding the spread of Lean throughout  campus.

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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?

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“ExperienceChange” Simulation

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the change management simulation known as ExperienceChange. This opportunity was presented through a course I’m taking with Professor Latha Poonamallee on change management. The course, MGT 4500: Managing Change in Organizations, is primarily an experiential learning class that focuses on “developing an understanding of the complexity and dynamics of change in complex organizations.”

The simulation involves two scenarios that require learners to use the fundamental change management theory as the basic framework to guide themselves through a fictitious simulation in assessing and understanding different change tactics. This framework guides the user through a seven step process of gathering buy-in for a Lean transformation:

  1. Understand
  2. Enlist
  3. Envisage
  4. Motivate
  5. Communicate
  6. Act
  7. Consolidate

This was a great experience for me as a Lean practitioner to increase my knowledge and understanding of how to effectively implement organizational change. For anyone who is preparing to go through a change, I highly recommend the ExperienceChange simulation. This training tool can definitely help maximize the chances of your workforce making a smooth transition from “the way we’ve always done it” to the “new” way.