Welcome, Alexandra!

We are pleased to welcome Alexandra Holmstrom to the team in the Office of Continuous Improvement. 

Hello,

I am Alexandra Holmstrom, the new Office Assistant in the Office of Continuous Improvement. I am very excited to be working at Michigan Tech and especially with all the highly dedicated and talented members of the OCI team!

I am new to Lean but as I learn more, I am realizing that I have been practicing many of the principles all along! I have always looked for ways to be more efficient and effective, thinking of ways to improve customer service, reduce costs, and remove unnecessary steps in day-to-day tasks.

There is much to learn and accomplish during my training, and I am eager to use all the newly acquired knowledge and skills. In the few short days I have been in the office, I have learned what Kaizen, PIC, PDCA, and Kanban stand for. If you are wondering what these words and acronyms mean, come see us in the office or visit us on our website.

I look forward to meeting and working with everyone on and off campus!

Thank you!


Welcome Mitchell Carpenter

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Welcome Mitchell Carpenter

A newcomer to our team of PICs is Mitchell Carpenter. He is from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is currently a Second year Materials Science and Engineering major here at Michigan Tech. He is returning after having finished his training at the end of last semester, but has already started to integrate parts of Lean culture into his everyday life.

Mitchell will now tell us a bit about himself!

Hello everyone, I’m Mitchell and I am from Ada, Michigan, which is just East of Grand Rapids. I went to Forest Hills Central High school and graduated there with the class of 2017. I have been in contact with the Continuous improvement team here at Michigan Tech since the summer of 2017  when I met them at a Lean conference in Traverse City. I was there with the director of Continuous Improvement at a company I had an internship with called Nucraft Furniture. This is where I was first introduced to the concept of Lean and Continuous Improvement.

The philosophy behind Lean and Continuous Improvement has fascinated me ever since I was introduced to it. The fact that there was actually a name for a culture around striving to make things more efficient blew my mind since I have enjoyed problem solving and efficiency since childhood.

I am excited to be a part of the PIC team here at Michigan Tech. I was a part of this office for about three weeks before the end of last year and I can already tell that I am going to like it here. I am thankful for this opportunity and I look forward to learning more about Lean as I continue my career here in the office of Continuous Improvement.


Sustaining Improvement

Sustainment is arguably one of the most challenging parts of a Kaizen, or more, the most challenging part of Post-Kaizen. It can sometimes be very easy to drop a new process when there is stress, even though the old process was stressful as well. However, the old process brought along stress that you became conditioned to, it produced a level of stress you were used to, versus a new stress. This tends to negate all the hard work you put into the Kaizen itself. Processes can be broken down, the improvement measured through its results, but what happens when you revert to old ways as soon as there is resistance? How does one keep themselves from back-sliding after making new improvements?

sustain

Involvement: One vital part of maintaining improvement is engagement of your entire team, the entire workforce involved with the process. Sustaining improvements isn’t the job of one, but it’s accomplished through the work and perseverance of many. When everyone is involved with a process and the completion of that process, then you have many people invested in its sustainment. When there is only one or two out of the whole who are invested in improvement, it becomes easier to revert, as everyone is not on the same page.

involvement

Metrics/Data: Evaluating your improvements and its progression is also important Post-Kaizen. The data and metrics collected through the Kaizen show the improvement itself, and go on to show the improvements growth afterwards. Data and metrics can help with sustainment in that they will show you where improvement is falling-off, or where adjustments need to be made. Part of the services our office provides was implementing a 2,4,6 month check-in for Kaizens, which go over the improvements that had originally been made and the data and metrics collected along the way. This allows everyone to visually see how the metrics flux, and whether the metrics values have gone up or down due to lack of adherence to the sustainment plan, or because the new process needs some PDCA.

mmetrics

Evaluation: Sometimes,  having many action items to complete Post-Kaizen contributes to a lack of sustainment. If one person becomes bogged down with many different tasks to complete, or if many tasks are put into place and later found in need of adjustments, the wheels for back-sliding may have already begun to turn. Having action items completed before the end of the Kaizen gives you time to collect metrics and data for the changes made, and therefore gives you time to evaluate the effects of those changes. If  a large amount of the changes don’t get made, or the changes didn’t have the desired effect, it becomes very tempting to want to go back to the familiar “old-way”. Lean is all about testing the changes made In Real Time, so it’s important to give yourself time to evaluate the changes that are being made, their effects, as well as seeing that implementation doesn’t spread one person too thin. If it appears that one person is overburdened with action items, its okay to take it one item at a time, or to disperse the items in a different manner.

evaluation

Incorporation: Along with involving everyone in a process who has a say, you should also have a plan for incorporating this new improvement and knowledge into everyday culture. When approaching improvement and sustaining it, it’s helpful to have a mindset that revolves around continuous improvement. This allows for new ideas to be given, received, and applied in reaction to results. To help keep the thoughts from, “well, this isn’t working, lets just go back to the old way,” it’s more positive to think “if this doesn’t work, we can find something to try next.” When improvement is blended into one’s daily routine, it becomes easier to train someone who’s new to the process, as well as to hand-off the information down the road. This makes sure that improvements are not only sustained by those who were first involved, but those after as well.

incorporate

Continuous Improvement: Last but not least, improvement rarely is spot-on the first try, meaning Post-Kaizen improvements may not always go smoothly. There may be stress on the new process, unforeseen road bumps, or even resistance to something new. Remember that just because you spent time creating a new process, it does not mean that the new process is set in stone, and it will more-than-likely need improvements of its own. Never be afraid to make tweaks or ask, “how can we make this process even better?” Incremental improvement is just as effective as all other improvement efforts, don’t feel like it all has to be done at once, take the time to make improvements at a sustainable pace.

continuous-improvement

Sustaining improvement is a tricky thing, but it’s a challenge well worth the fight! After all, you’re trying to become more effective in the service and value you provide. I have a lot more to say on the subject, however I will save that for another time. Please feel free to comment with any thoughts or experiences that you have with sustaining improvement!

 

 

 


The Gembas Role in Data Collection

Data collection can be a tricky thing, especially in a Higher Education setting. We tend to have to get creative in identifying what data would be helpful in representing improvement, as well as how we can collect the data using the resources we already have. This need for creative thinking skills tends to make brainstorming a collection plan seem ambiguous and maybe even insignificant at times.

We can easily generate a process map for the current state and future state and then count how many steps were eliminated, but what if five steps were removed, and one was created? It would appear (numerically) as if four steps were removed. Which is true, but how can we account for the process change in the new step? How can we measure that the new process adds more value than the old process? How do we represent the waste of five steps versus one new step? This is where our creative thinking ends and we decide that removing four steps is “good enough.”

In a video I recently watched, Mike Wroblewski, a senior consultant from the Kaizen Institute, shared a little bit about all the things we should consider before we create a data collection plan. The part that really stuck with me was his emphasis on going to the Gemba, the place where work is done, and asking questions. Wroblewski’s video showed me, that you can’t fully grasp the current state until you immerse yourself in the environment of the user, even if it is only observation. Once you’ve gone to the Gemba, it becomes more clear what the steps in the process are. From here you can identify metrics that represent the frequency of an event, such as the number of corrections to file, or that represent importance. For example, how critical is it that this step be in the process at all.

gemba

By now you’re probably thinking, “this is all great, but why do we even care about metrics?” Results. When you think of a research project, you want to know the results. When you missed the ending of a baseball game, you want to know the results. When you hear of someone applying for a new job, you want to hear the results. We as humans are hard wired around, “what happened next?” Lean and Continuous Improvement is no exception to this. When an improvement event is initiated, we soon begin talking about data collection before and after a kaizen so that we have results to showcase the work that was done. Metrics can be the difference between a department hypothetically getting $500 towards improvement efforts or $50,000. Metrics and results drive more people to put in the energy to improve their work from good to great.

This outlook and approach towards data collection is one that our lean practitioners here on campus have been trying to implement more and more, as well creating a more systematic approach towards getting numbers easily, accurately, and that will also provide meaningful data.

 


Lean Style; Empowering Employees

Almost every Monday, the Office of Continuous Improvement gives a short presentation during Michigan Tech’s New Husky Employee Orientation where we talk about Lean and it’s involvement on campus. Most employees do not have much, if any, experience with Lean so they are very surprised when they find continuous improvement is a requirement in their job description. Why is it important for employees to know about and be involved in Lean? Why isn’t it enough just to have management or supervisors experienced with Lean and its tools to use around the work space? Why is this so important to Michigan Tech?

The reason is that Lean does not work when it’s just one person making the decisions and changes. It’s not about a manager or supervisor controlling the situation, but instead about guiding others and seeing to it that Lean is being applied appropriately.

Lean is not just about its tools, processes, and methods, but it is its own culture. It’s this culture that allows for tools, processes, and methods to aid in creating an environment of continuous improvement. A large part of developing this culture is giving everyone the same opportunities and tools to make improvements, and this is what we explain to the newcomers. We explain that through Lean and coaching from those around them, they develop problem solving skills that give them autonomy within their jobs to implement improvement.

The overall benefit of employee empowerment is that it helps to form a Lean and Continuous Improvement culture that morphs processes through team work and communication into their most effective and efficient form, producing the most value for the customer. That is the goal of Lean and Continuous Improvement at Michigan Tech; to involve everyone in the process of producing the most value to its customers.

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PIC Summer Projects

Written by Rylie Kostreva

We’re almost half way through the summer, and boy has it been a busy one. We PIC’s like to use the summer months to dive into projects and practice our lean thinking outside of the kaizen realm. This summer we’ve been working on a total of seven projects, all with one center subject, alignment. From better improving our personal task flow, to creating new processes to aid our lean practitioners on campus. We’ve been challenged, and inspired, to take our processes and align each towards one another, as well as to the goals of the Office of Continuous Improvement.

The first lengthy project that we’ve been working on is one that was initiated back in March and has just reached completion. We titled it, “Professional Writing Workshop.” This project was launched after recognizing that all the PICs wrote in a different format and had a different understanding of what “professional” writing meant. On day one we sat down and started our workshop with an affinity diagram, answering the question, “What does professional writing mean?” This helped us to identify our current state, where we all aligned, and where we were different. Then we researched professional opinions on what it actually means to write professionally. From there we evaluated our historical standards, made changes, executed a kata run, and finally decided on a new standard.

 

Professional Writing Workshop

The second project that we’ve been working on as an entire office is the Lean Lending Library. This was initiated back in February and was our first project that strives to practice incremental improvements. This brand new resource is a library of activities. Ones that our office has hosted in the past, and are available to be checked out by other people to host the activity themselves. The library consists of an activity instruction sheet that guides the borrower through the entire activity by providing preparation considerations, materials, and instructions. We completed an inner-office kata run and now we are in the process of having a handful of volunteer facilitators run through a kata.

 

Activity Instruction Template 3_Page_1Activity Instruction Template 3_Page_2

The third big project that is on-going, is really two that became sisters, PIC board Breakdown and PIC standards. After noticing some disturbances in flow that kept repeating, we decided it was time to reevaluate our PIC processes, these processes were homed by two whiteboards. Dominique and I sat down for a few hours one day and walked through all of the pieces of the board, taking careful note of areas that we identified as being difficult, unclear, or unnecessary. From there we asked, “What items would be better? What things do we do regularly practice that aren’t captured here?”  Then we drew up specific things we’d like to add and ideas we wanted to explore. We requested a single, larger whiteboard to create a more friendly canvas and rearranged our board categories into a more thought-out way. The items we look at daily were moved to eye level, our metrics became the center focus, the items we look at monthly moved slightly above eye level, and we created a larger area to note action items. This dissection of flow lead into questioning our current standard practices, and from there we followed a similar process to that of the professional writing workshop and have been working on developing better, more accurate written standards of the PIC duties.

 

PIC board Breakdown

These are just a few of the projects we’ve been working on this summer to create a better experience for the employees and the guests of the office of continuous improvement. Not only has the process become more effective and efficient, but there’s also been an unexpected, yet positive, result from it. Our communication skills amongst one another have increased drastically and our comradery has grown immensely.


The Principles of Lean in Action

In 2005, Dr. Nick Ellis founded a completely Non-Profit organization called MEDLIFE in order to battle the constraints of poverty world-wide. MEDLIFE stands for Medicine Education and Development for Low Income Families everywhere, and has been highly successful in not only terms of finances, but in the fulfillment of their mission as well. MEDLIFE is an organization I have been highly involved in the past three  years, and now as my Lean journey continues to allow me to grow, I see different principles implemented in MEDLIFE that correlate with Lean Principles. It goes to show that the principles of Lean are applied anywhere and have a good impact, whether it’s done knowingly or not. That along with the caring mindset of the individuals that work with MEDLIFE is what allows them to be so effective.

Here are a few main principles I have noticed in MEDLIFE:

  1. Value is Defined by the Customer– When MEDLIFE goes to a community who needs help, they do not just show up with materials for a mobile clinic, or a garden, or a staircase. First, they listen to what the community members say their needs are and then get the materials required to solve the need, instead of bringing in what they think the community needs. MEDLIFE ensures that the community defines the value of their help, whether it be building materials or doctors and medical supplies. This allows them to spend finances on what is required, and produce an end result that brings value to the community.
  2. Find the Root-Cause– MEDLIFE’s work goes far beyond showing up and slapping on band-aid solutions that only help the problem momentarily. In every community, they work to understand the root-causes introduced by poverty and then they take action to come up with sustainable solutions. Many communities are without medical attention or medical centers due to lack of representation as well as government regulations: MEDLIFE builds hospitals, does follow-up care with patients with long-term issues diagnosed at mobile clinics, and works to get them land titles so they may vote and be eligible for health-care. Some communities get water every two-weeks and store water in empty chemical barrels, causing sickness and leading to health issues: MEDLIFE engineers and developers come together to build a legal community water pump that will ensure them accessible and clean water year-round. MEDLIFE works with the communities to solve the root-causes and provide high-quality solutions that are sustainable.
  3. Continuous Improvement– MEDLIFE is always looking at better and more efficient ways to provide services to a community in need. For MEDLIFE, they’re continually working so that they are always working to provide communities with high-quality services and not services that are just good enough or a little better than what they currently have.
  4. Safety- Part of  MEDLIFE’s mission is to provide safe and homes and communities. Staircases are built so that the community has safer means of travel up and down large hills. Electrical systems are set up so that others aren’t trying to make Jerry-rigged and extremely dangerous power lines. MEDLIFE also puts out street lamps that help reduce crime and injury during the night.

Overall, I found it very interesting to sit down and look at the different correlations in general. I’m sure that the more I’m submerged in Lean Culture, the more I’ll see these correlations in many areas and aspects that I hadn’t before.

References

MEDLIFE, MEDLIFE Movement 6/22/18

https://medlifemovement.org/about-us.html

 


Wedding Bells Are No Exception

So often we get caught up in our projects: we start them, prioritize them, and then devote all of our attention to them one by one until they’re completed. We very rarely have a single project that is on-going for a long period of time; why is this?

I think it’s because we don’t want lingering work, we thrive off of completion. From that we gain satisfaction and pride in our work.

There is, however, a trade-off for this pride. That is, when we continuously move from one project to the next, seeing each to completion before starting the next, most of us quickly become burned out. When we get burned out we lose our energy and our enthusiasm, as well as become negative, frustrated, and unproductive. That satisfaction we were chasing before no longer sustains us.

Back in February, one of my co-worker’s blogged on incremental improvement, and recently she blogged about Preemptive Improvement. In these blogs, she’s shared how our office has been using small improvements to achieve a high future state and strive for perfection, even when a correction isn’t necessary. These methods are some that I’ve been applying in my own personal life heavily in the last year or so.

Last July I got engaged, we set a date 11 months out and so commenced the wedding planning. For all those who’ve been married, you probably know the magnitude of this task. I’ve always been a “planner,” per say, and I tend to enjoy getting to use my creativity, so from the beginning I’ve been pretty excited about the planning process. However, I know a lot of people who’ve gotten married and I’ve learned that the entire process isn’t always fun, or creative. I also know myself and I tend to go and go and go, and focus on one thing until it’s complete before I’ll start the next; meaning, I tend to burn myself out.

Knowing the planning wouldn’t always play on my interests, and knowing that I sometimes overburden myself were good things to be aware of back in July. Because of this, I was able to plan ahead and use my lean thinking skills to combat potential burnouts or becoming a bridezilla (my worst nightmare). I did this by utilizing the skills I’ve learned here in the Office of Continuous Improvement. I can honestly, say with 10 days left until the wedding, that I’ve only had two “burnouts,” one as a result of over-processing, and the other was out of my control to change.

After talking to multiple soon-to-be wives, I’ve learned that I am the one who’s been the least bit stressed about the planning process as a whole and I believe this is from all of the lean I’ve implemented… From organizing my thoughts via a gigantic affinity diagram, laying out the roles and responsibilities of our family members in a swim lane, using a decision matrix to decide on venues and vendors, ICE prioritization of tasks, plentiful checklists, recognizing when I was over processing, and also taking it one step at a time and remembering that the entire wedding doesn’t need to be planned over-night.

I’ve also gathered that on average, the last three weeks before the wedding tend to be the busiest with wrapping up small details. However, because of the prioritization that we conducted early on, and the small deadlines we set, we were able to spend two of those weeks towards something not related to wedding, and only spend the last week wrapping up details.

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This is the original affinity diagram that kicked off the planning (kind of) last August. Things would get added and removed as we moved, but at one point it took up this entire 10 ft wall.

The purpose of today’s blog post is to show you that as long as you learn how to slow down your thinking, anyone can implement and benefit from small improvements striving for perfection.

 

 

 

 


Preemptive Improvement

Most often, the trigger for PDCA is when you come across a barrier or an issue within a process. The signal to step into action and begin PDCA is once your current state no longer reflects your trajectory to the desired target state. So, what happens when you reach your target state and there is nothing left to improve?

Trick question, there is ALWAYS something to improve! Recently within the Office of Continuous Improvement, we have been going through our own office standards and procedures. This week, during our second monthly office standard meeting we came up with a purpose statement for our meetings. One of the criteria for the purpose statement is that we needed to capture the importance of continuous improvement towards perfection, and not just the kind improvement that occurs after an issue is identified.

Currently, we’re reviewing the standards that we have found issues or road bumps with, in order to correct the issue as soon as possible. However, the monthly office standards meeting is also supposed to be a preemptive measure against road bumps for the future. Now that we’ve started to make improvement in the areas that need immediate attention, we will regularly check in and PDCA all of our processes.

Instead of waiting until something is wrong with a process before working on it, our goal is to continually improve each standard we have implemented. This way, instead of needing a trigger, it’s already part of our on-going process.

It may seem as though this is a waste of time, fixing something when it isn’t broke. However, we believe that taking the time to look over something before an issue arises, not only gives you more control over the situation, but it can also help alleviate any stress that often accompanies issues.

For example, let’s say that you regularly check the fluid levels of your vehicle. If you notice the break fluid is extremely low, you now have a hint that something is wrong and because you take the time to check your vehicle regularly, you very well have just avoided an accident. Would it have been a better use of time if you had just waited until the brakes light came on? Or perhaps if your brakes blew out on the highway?

In terms of safety and well-being, taking a few extra minutes here and there actually saves you time and stress later on, for your future self. That is the same with preemptive improvements. When you look ahead in anticipation of possible issues or areas of stress and take corrective measures beforehand, then you don’t have to deal with the crisis state. Overall, it’s helpful to remember that it’s important to look at what you may improve now, even though there may not be any foreseen issues yet. It’s not about what’s broken, but about whether or not there’s something that we can do to make sure it doesn’t break at all later, and in turn we get another step closer towards perfection in doing so.

preemptive improvement

 

 

 

 


4 more things you (probably) didn’t know about a kaizen event

The word kaizen is quite literally a foreign word to most Americans, it means improvement. Attending a kaizen, or an improvement event, may also be a foreign concept to some, especially to those that have never participated in one.

Two weeks ago, we discussed four things you probably didn’t know about a kaizen, particularly targeted to help those who have never been apart of one. Here we’d like to cover four more things:

  1. Use your resources wisely – Part of the girl scout law says, “I will do my best… to use resources wisely.” When making an improvement, or improvements, it gets really easy to see fantastic countermeasures that could be a solve all if there was a good amount of money spent. However, we like to say that money is out of scope. It’s always better to try and find a solution utilizing the resources already available, it’s about creative thinking and problem solving. That’s why I think of the girl scout law for this, because it follows the same principle.
  2. Improvement requires teamwork – Kaizen events, often times are a lot easier when there is only a handful of people actually assigned to newspaper (to-do list) tasks, simply because it’s convenient for everyone else. However, this has a tendency to burden the single one or two people. But it takes a team to identify current state and future state, as well as to implement the improvements.
  3. Change is an evolution and not necessarily a revolution – One of the pillars that lean is built on is Continuous Improvement. This was intentional in order to represent continuous improvements. We identify our current state and then identify the ideal or future stat, but in order to get from current to future we have to take baby steps. The leap to the future state embodies many small improvements that need to be made over time rather than a single large improvement. The purpose of continuous improvement is to keep striving for the future, but allowing grace to step in and slow things down (See #4).
  4. Slow and Steady wins the race – Kaizen events often seem tedious, but this is because the majority of the time is spent trying to fully understand the current state, the problems coming from it and then understanding the root cause. This takes a considerable amount of time, because it slows the thinking down so that nothing is missed. Then you move on to identifying the future state. Once the future state is identified it gets really easy to start coming up with counter measure after countermeasure. Tying back to #3, it’s easiest to start with the first countermeasure in a series and then come back to the others later on.

The eight pieces that we’ve discussed are huge in understanding the culture within a kaizen event. These items are in alignment to our office, the Office of Continuous Improvement, and the ground rules that we practice in kaizen events on the Michigan Tech campus.

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