The People Factor

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Lisa Cunard

It is around 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, not any old morning.  It is a morning that I have been looking forward to with anticipation all week because it is one of the precious days of the week that I get to sleep-in late.  Why I woke-up with Lean swirling in my brain followed-by a strong-desire to get out of bed, and put my thoughts on paper is something I cannot explain.  So let me share with you how I came to learn about Lean and what was swirling in my brain this morning.

I started my Lean training about three months ago, working towards my Level 1 Certification. My class is not scheduled to graduate until April, 3-months from now, so I have a lot more to learn.  My experience so far, Lean training is like a firehose of information being directed straight at you.  This is not a bad thing!  There is so much to learn, to contemplate and concepts to be explored.  

Where to start?  This is the question I’ve asked myself, as many of the Lean concepts taught in class made me think in ways I won’t normally think about a “process” or “people”.  One of the principles of LEAN that I have a natural resistance to is a “no-blame” environment, meaning when a mistake is made the “person” involved is not to blame, the “process” is to blame.  What? Right?  To further explain, I think Lean’s intent, is to design a “process” so it is difficult to accidentally do anything, but the right thing.  To me, that makes sense (sort of), but if you are like me—my mind keeps inadvertently going back to the question: How can the “process” really be to blame and not the “people”?

I set out to learn more, outside of class.  Our instructor encouraged us to visit a website dedicated to Lean, the GEMBA Academy gembacademy.com, which has over 1000 continuous improvement lessons.  The best thing about this website is they offer a large selection of Lean videos that are interesting.  On the website, I’ve watched two excellent videos, so far, “Lean from the Heart: by Karl Wadensten”, spiked my interest and was really helpful to me. I want to share with you some of what I learned about an organization’s successful Lean journey from watching this video.  It was filmed during an Iowa Lean Conference 2015, featuring Paul Akers and Karl Wadensten.  Karl spoke in great length about the “people” part of his organization’s Lean journey and that is where I’d like to start.

Karl shared, GALLUP poll results of a poll conducted in 2015 and it found that in a large number of organizations across the United States, organizations reported their employees were largely unfulfilled at work and divided as follows:

30% of employees – Engaged in their work
52% of employees – Not Engaged
18% of employees – Disengaged – Actively sabotaging and working against the company

I think the reason Karl shared this information was to illustrate that “cultivating a culture” in an organization is the first step in the Lean journey.  That resonated with me, I see it and feel it in the workplace and it speaks to the blaming of “people” that circles in my mind and how it all works into the Lean journey.  Another eye-opener was the Lean timeline of Karl’s company Lean transformation.  In 2000, his company began its Lean journey and they worked solely on “cultivating a culture” until 2005.  FIVE YEARS of working on the “people” part, of the culture!  The company didn’t start incorporating Lean-tools until the culture had changed until the “people’ had changed.  This was a light-bulb moment for me.

What is my point?  What pulled me out of bed at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning?  I think it was the need to share with you what I’ve learned from my personal Lean journey (so far).  My natural inclination to blame people for failures in the workplace has been validated in a sense.  For Lean to work it has to begin with people who collectively create a culture that is based on Lean principles and if the people resist or refuse to adapt to an ever-changing Lean culture, they are to blame for refusing to try.  At the end of the day, the key to the success or failure of a Lean transformation is people. People at all levels of an organization matter a great deal to the success of creating Lean processes that exemplify continuous improvement.  This is what has been swirling in my mind, and I feel I have a greater sense of understanding and peace with how a workplace goes from mediocre performance to continuous improvement and excellence.  Now, I’m ready for my Saturday nap. : )

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Sustaining Improvements

Most processes, especially those that involve people, will tend to slowly deteriorate over time. Perhaps after organizing a workspace to perfection, one might find that ten weeks after the reorder the whole workspace is back to where it started. A more solid example of this was seen in one of the improvement events done in conjunction with our office. The improvement event was a digital reorder of a Google Drive. Several years ago the drive started out as a relatively small drive, but over time expanded into over 9000 files, with most of these files being either unnecessary or duplicates. After combing through and removing these unnecessary files, the drive ended with approximately 2500 files that were decently well-ordered.

While the above drive is well organized now, without supervision it will likely slowly return to an unorganized state in the future. However, this slow degradation, as with other processes, can be stopped with periodic audits. The audits for the drive include general standards for organization along with more specific guidelines for naming conventions and handling images. The below standards are scheduled to be reviewed once every 6 months.

The Standards for the Drive

Most improvements, not just those focused on organization, can benefit from the use of audits over regular intervals. Altogether the inevitable decrease in the quality of a process can be slowed or stopped entirely by creating standards and enforcing those standards through periodic audits.

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What is Lean to you?

Sometimes it can be hard to really grasp the concept of what Lean is and what it really means to use it, and it can be even harder to explain Lean to someone else. When I say I have an on-campus job many of my peers give the normal response of “where do you work?” and to that I reply with “The Office of Continuous Improvement.” While I get a couple responses to this like “Where is that at?” or “I didn’t know we had one of those,” the most common response I experience is “What do you do there?” When I first started working as a Student Process Improvement Coordinator I would just reply with “oh, I help do Lean for the school.” But after seeing the confused look on peoples’ faces I realized that they probably had no idea what I was talking about and I was going to have to start explaining what Lean was.  So, I started thinking about how to describe Lean in my own words with out using any Lean lingo.

To me, Lean is a complex concept that ultimately always puts the customer and people first. Lean is based on waste elimination, respect for people and customer value. In Lean practices, it is important to simplify and standardize everything, to stream line it. In the end Lean should be more of a culture or a way of life than a practice or set of rules. I feel as if Lean is hard to define. The more information I’m introduced to the more broad Lean is and the more it can include.

I’m sure many others have different definitions of Lean than mine but that is kind of the interesting aspect of it. Lean is such a broad topic that encompasses so many aspects of our day-to-day lives. It’s much more than the tools and terms–its a way of thinking and a culture, which is why it is so hard to describe and define. So, what is your definition of Lean and Continuous Improvement?

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Side Effects

Almost invariably, when one acts they commit that act with a specific goal in mind. The reason why we move is to get from point A to point B, and the reason why we drink is to quench our thirst. In the office it is the same, we create checklists with the goal of ensuring full completion of tasks, and we flip off light switches to reduce the amount of electricity used. Acting with a purpose is quite important, but it is also important to consider the side effects of our actions and the side effects of our processes.Image result for light switch

Side effects can manifest themselves in many forms, both positive and negative. The positive side effect of turning off a light switch could be that natural light is easier on the eyes, while a negative effect could be a lack of vision in some areas. Though it must be noted side effects as with intentional results often interact with many other systems, and can change when other systems change as well.

It is also worth recognizing that the value of a side effect can be greater than the intended result itself, though comparing value is often a difficult task itself. To again use the light example, it is very likely that a lack of vision is far costlier than the small amount of money saved from turning off the light, or perhaps the area is well enough lit with natural light.

Branching side effects.

There are many Lean related tools that can assist in understanding the side effect of processes, even when this revelation is itself a side effect of the Lean tool. Mapping out a process in its entirety can lead to an understanding of many of the detailed side effects involved. Furthermore, a SIPOC (a tool designed to analyze the inputs and outputs of a process) can help one understand the big picture behind a process. Knowing the side effects of a process is an important part of continuous improvement as one cannot improve that which one does not know.

Overall, it is clear that processes and actions are not merely standalone, they often interact with others and produce side effects. These side effects come in all manner of forms, and recognition of these forms is significant for finding areas that need improvements.

 

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The Utility of a 5S

One of the Kaizen (improvement) events that is nearing completion is our 5S of two large storage closest that the dinner services here at Wadsworth are using. Throughout the whole process, the effectiveness of a 5S has really hit home with me. The initial state began with both storage closets being cluttered, with a combination of unneeded junk and items the dinner services would need. Now as the process nears completion one closest is completely empty, allowing other offices to store items there. Furthermore, only necessary items are now stored, and their storage spaces contain labels to prevent future disorders. As far as measurable effects go that is a 50% reduction in the total amount of space. Also, it seems clear that items will take less time to store and retrieve, though there is not enough data to definitively claim this as of yet.

The target state established at the beginning of the Kaizen.

To achieve these results, we followed the process that every other 5S follows as well. Each of the “S”s in the 5S is another step of the process. The five different “S”s are sort, set, shine, standardize, and sustain, with most 5Ss following that order.

The sorting step entails categorizing each item or cluster of items by importance (for our 5S we simply assigned items colored stickers). Then,  useless items can be re-purposed, or discarded.

The next step is the set step. In this step, the position of each item or cluster of items is determined through careful planning to ensure an organized area. Then, these items are put into their rightful place.

Following this is the shine step. This step is the continual process of keeping the area clean. This step is critical to sustaining the results of the previous two steps.

After this is the standardize step. A standard is created so, the current organization is not modified. This standard is recorded to allow future employees to be able to keep the area organized without being part of the improvement event themselves.

The last step is sustain. This step entails having a formal system to ensure that each previous part of the 5S is not changed over time. Typically, this is done by setting up periodic audits to determine if there are any issues with the execution of the 5S.

Overall, a 5S is a very effective workplace tool that, when followed, has proven to improve organization in the workplace.

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Career Fair

Good afternoon! I hope you all have had a successful week. So much is going on. Career fair, industry days, interviews and more! Take advantage of every opportunity presented to you this week. Here in the Office of Continuous Improvement, we are looking forward to seeing you succeed and we would like to give you some tools to be more successful.

We have books on every part of improvement. From how to improve your office and efficiency on a personal level to the grander scale of Lean implementation throughout your workforce. In addition to our books, we have tools we can teach you about and classes in lean at Michigan tech that you can take. If you decide to read a book about self-improvement in lean, I would recommend “Organize your office”. This is an easy to read book for beginners, outlining simple steps on self-improvement in your office space. Just try a few tips a week and you will see tremendous results. Just imagine the reaction you could get from your boss if you manage to eliminate wasted time in the office.

Image result for an organized office with lean

If you would like more information regarding lean and how it can help you with your job, please feel free to reach out to improvement@mtu.edu or stop by our office in 136 W Wadsworth Hall between 9-5 during the week. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

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Visual Organization

School is back, and my schedule is busier then ever! I’m sure everyone is feeling a little bit of this chaos with getting back into the swing of things, having student back on campus, and starting classes. With this chaos everyone has their own way of organization to make sure they can remember everything. Actually, many people use personal kanbans and aren’t even aware. A personal kanban is a very versatile productivity system that has basically only two rules, visualize your work and limit your work in progress. Personal kanbans can be made in many different way to organize many different aspect of your life.

Personally, I use my personal kanban to keep track of events that I have and tasks that need to get done. During the school year, I have classes, work, homeowner/study time, and multiple extra curricular that I need to plan out to make sure I get to everything on time and prepared. My personal kanban helps me do that by allowing me to see all that information in one spot and mark things complete when I have accomplished them. Many others use personal kanbans for tasks such as work meetings or projects, home tasks or chores, and homework completion. Some also use them to keep track of all of these things at once.

While there are many different ways to use a personal kanban, there are also many different ways to make a personal kanban. It could be electronically, in a book, on a white board, or maybe even just a piece of paper. I used to use a laminated A3 piece of paper, however I found that I didn’t look at it as often as I needed to. I switched to google calendar and have found great success with that. This way I was able to color code my events, add tasks that I could mark complete, and the best part it was basically always available on my phone. While google calendar worked for me, different platforms work for different people, electronic or not.

Personal kanbans are a life-saver for me and I think they could be for you too! Next time you feel over whelmed and don’t know where to start, try making this visual management system to help you figure out where you are with everything. Also, if you would like help or more information always feel free to stop by the Office of Continuous Improvement and we would be happy to give you a hand. This tool might just be the right step to turn your hectic year into a breeze.

 

PIC Sophie’s Old Personal Kanban

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K Day

I hope you all are excited for K Day as much as I am! It is such an amazing event and over 250 student organizations will be there to show you what they are all about. From fishing to accounting clubs, you will be bound to find something that works for you. I am personally excited to visit the cooking club and try out some pasties with them. It is going to be such an exciting day and so many new students will get to find places they feel happy to join.

 

One amazing thing about K day is the amount of planning and organization that goes into it on all levels. Without the Lean principles, K day would be impossible! Some principles they employ are spaghetti flow charts, a 5S, and the collection of metrics every year. According to Business Analyst Learnings, “A spaghetti diagram is a visual representation of the actual path taken by people as they move through a process within a department to complete their jobs.”. As seen in the picture above there is a ton of people around but there is also some obvious flow of the crowds. Through the use of a spaghetti diagram, the organizers of K day have the skills to direct the flow of people so that there is less chaos. Much like the spaghetti diagram, 5S and metrics helps them keep themselves organized. They can help expand upon previous years successes with the metrics and improve upon their set up and break down systems with the 5S. Lean tools are a necessary part of the success of K day.

If you would like more information on some of the lean tools listed above or what we do here in the Office of Continuous Improvement, then please feel free to drop by in wads 136W or or email us at improvement@mtu.edu. I hope you have an amazing K day and weekend!

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Confusion

Working here at an office, sometimes scheduling events can be challenging. Trying to find a meeting time that works for five to ten people that all work in separate departments is hard enough. Even worse is when someone needs to get a task done before the meeting can be scheduled, or the issues that arise when someone chooses not to respond until that person gets a two-minute task done only to eventually forget about both responding and completing said task. These issues, especially the last one, are problems often caused by simply not starting simple tasks.

PDCA Cycle
https://www.mindtools.com/media/Diagrams/PDCA2017.jpg

Scheduling might be one example, but in the workplace or in personal life there are many instances when small tasks not being done lead to serious issues down the road. Incompletion of small tasks can be something that Lean and continuous improvement can solve, as Lean helps to solve the root cause of these problems. Perhaps the primary reason that a task will not be finished is the fear of reprimand, and/or failure. These fears are at the root of many problems at the workplace. However, it can be solved by one of the most important principles of Lean: sustaining a blame-free environment. Sustaining a blame-free environment is an essential practice that can prevent small problems from spiraling out of control. In a blame-free environment, one can do their work without fear of being criticized for small mistakes.

While keeping a blame-free environment is a good way to solve simple issues, proper planning can prevent small problems from arising in the first place. Again, the principles of Lean are useful to fix many issues. The cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) is at the core of all continuous improvement. This allows for experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t work. Often when going through the cycle, the small issues that seemed to constantly plague the workplace before disappear.

Overall, the piling up of small issues is a serious problem in the workplace. The idea of a blame-free environment and the PDCA cycle can turn these headaches into something that is simple to dispatch.

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School Year Goals

It’s almost O-Week, can you believe it? With a new school year starting, it’s probably safe to say everyone is setting new goals for themselves. Maybe if you’re a student, you want to study more, get better grades, or be more social this school year. If you’re faculty or staff, you might want to better your teaching strategies or increase your productivity at work. While these might sound like simple goals, many people set these same goals every semester and are never able to achieve them. This lack of success can be due to many different attributes but, more often than not, it boils down to not actually knowing the root cause of your issue.

Every start of the year the student employees in the Office of Continuous Improvement set a goal for themselves. The goal can be personal, professional, or academic, it just has to be something they want to accomplish that school year. After they have set their achievable goals, then it is time to create an A3. The A3 helps the students understand the root cause of why they are not currently achieving their goal and how to get there. It also aids in improving your goal so that it is a S.M.A.R.T. goal, which makes it more likely for you to obtain.

This last year I decided my goal would be to improve my study habits. When first looking at this goal it seems very vague, this is where the A3 came in. It allowed me to assess why my current study habits were not working and what study habits would work for me. I also used tools like a fish-bone diagram and the 5 why’s. Laying out the issues around my study habits helped me find the root cause of my poor study habits and how to improve them.

Using an A3 to map out your goal and the issues associated with what you are currently doing is a great way to come up with solutions. If you are interested in trying out an A3 with your school year goal, you can find an A3 template and quick point on the Continuous Improvement website. It’s definitely an effective way to kick off your journey to your goal!

https://www.shmula.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Lean-Manufacturing-A3-Report-Haiti.jpg

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