Tag Archives: Problem Solving

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.


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


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?

lean ants


Sharpen Your Ax

At the Michigan Lean Consortium‘s annual conference, I attended a session on A3 Thinking for All Seasons by Brian Vander Weele. Brian began his session with a compelling story:

A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.” The young man stepped forward, and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday loggerafternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today.” Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your ax?” The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!”

Sometimes we get so involved in getting our work done, we forget to look around to see if there’s a better way. Using an A3 form is a simple, structured method for improvement. It’s a terrific tool to reinforce understanding the problem before jumping to solutions. It makes the problem and proposed countermeasures visible, and encourages experimentation. But it’s not the form itself that holds the power–it’s the thinking and the process. Lean processes, methods, and tools can be used to create an environment where continuous improvement is the norm.

Tell us about your favorite Lean tool!

 


Lean in Their Own Words

This is the third installment of Lean in Their Own Words. At the April graduation ceremony for our new Lean facilitators, the graduates each said a few words about what Lean means to them. Many of them have given me permission to share their thoughts with you. This week, we’ll hear from Todd Van Valkenburg, Senior Programmer/Analyst in IT’s Enterprise Application Services. 

Todd Van Valkenburg graduation“What does Lean mean to me now that I’ve gone through Lean facilitator training? At the end of every class day, and much to my dismay, Ruth had each of us get in front of everyone and give a quick presentation of what resonated with each of us. At the end of that first day, what popped into my head was the adjective “HEALTHY,” as in a healthy problem solving process. And that word has stuck with me throughout the class.”

“The Lean approach to Continuous Improvement is HEALTHY because: 1) At its core, it’s a non-blame, respectful approach to problem solving. Contributions are taken seriously and all voices are heard. 2) The process encourages people from different departments, backgrounds, skill levels, and experiences to come together to work on common objectives. 3) This approach relies on teamwork, learning from each other, and developing skills that each participant can bring back to his/her own department to share. And finally, 4) we are addressing problems/opportunities head on by carving out the time to really look at them instead of dealing with them later or hoping that they will just go away.”

“I’d like to conclude today with some imagery that also represents what Lean means to me. First, imagine that I’m working alone on solving a complex problem that impacts a few departments on campus. I am NOT using the Lean principles of continuous improvement. Now, further imagine that the challenges, obstacles and constraints I face are gusts of wind pushing against me causing me to literally lean. I could lean too far one way or the other, lose my balance, and fall right over. Now here’s the second image. Instead of working alone, imagine that I’m working right alongside a few others folks in those departments trying to solve that very same problem. This time, we ARE using the principles of Lean. We interlock arms and form a circle. Now, as these gusts of wind hit the group, some of us may lean but the others in the team provide the support and counter-balance to spring us back upright and put us right back on track. To me, this imagery demonstrates that working as a team and applying Lean principles is a very healthy way to solve problems at Michigan Tech.”

Todd working on a training exerciseTake a look at the list of our campus facilitators. Any one of them would be happy to talk with you about Lean and continuous improvement!


Understanding Lean Concepts Workshop

IMG_2378This week, we were fortunate to have Jean Cunningham present a workshop on understanding Lean concepts using hands-on simulations. The fun activities demonstrated some of the key elements of Lean: pull and flow, value add, set-up reduction and workplace organization.

During the activities, Jean asked us several times “What did you observe? What did you see?” At the beginning of the workshop, we tended to respond with our conclusions or assumptions based on our observations. It took some prodding from Jean to get us to start reporting what we actually saw, but by the end of the workshop, we finally got it. Before: The pin person is careless. After: Some pins fell on the floor. Before: There’s a bottleneck at the welder. After: There’s a lot of product waiting for the welder. Before: The supervisor has too much to do. After: While the supervisor was in meetings, no product was moving in the factory.

IMG_2384

Why is it important to differentiate between observations and conclusions? Because we often make a subconscious leap to these conclusions without considering all of the possibilities, and then we form our solution based on that poorly considered conclusion. Reprimand the pin person vs. altering the work surface to prevent pins from rolling off. Adding a second welder vs. redesigning the process to level the work load. Take responsibilities away from the supervisor (and express your disappointment!) vs. adjusting decision making to the appropriate level to free the supervisor for higher-level decisions.

The workshop participants had a good time and learned more about Lean and continuous improvement.

Jean Cunningham is principal of Jean Cunningham Consulting, which provides lean business management services including workshops, kaizen events and strategic coaching. She speaks at Lean conferences and teaches Lean Accounting for the Ohio State University Master of Business Operational Excellence Program.

Jean is widely recognized for her pioneering work in Lean Accounting, IT, HR and other non-production functions (Lean Business Management, The Lean Office). She is the co-author of Real Numbers (Lean Accounting) and Easier, Simpler, Faster (Lean IT), which won the 2004 and 2008 Shingo Prize for Research respectively. Jean was previously the CFO at Lantech Inc. and Marshfield Door Systems and the voluntary CFO for the Association of Manufacturing Excellence. She has a BS in Accounting from Indiana University and an MBA from Northeastern University’s Executive Program.

The workshop was partially funded by the Visiting Women & Minority Lecturer/Scholar Series (VWMLS) which is funded by a grant to the Office of Institutional Equity from the State of Michigan’s King-Chavez-Parks Initiative.