Welcome Rick Berkey: Faculty Fellow in the Office of Continuous Improvement
This year, Rick Berkey joins us on a special assignment through Michigan Tech’s Faculty Fellows Program. In this role, Rick will be focusing his efforts on broadening and strengthening continuous improvement in the academic units.
Good morning everyone! I’ve been fortunate to get to know many of you across campus in my role as Professor of Practice and Director of the Enterprise Program in the Pavlis Honors College. Some of you also know me through my involvement as a Lean Implementation Leader, where I have facilitated several Kaizen events going back to 2010 when Michigan Tech began investing in a more formal Lean and Continuous Improvement (CI) initiative. I have been at Michigan Tech since 2006, when I transitioned to academia following a successful industry career that spanned 12 years, three companies, and numerous roles in engineering, product development, program management, operations, quality, and continuous improvement.
Five years into my career, I was selected to participate in Honeywell’s Six Sigma Black Belt program, an intense 160-hour training program involving the use of CI methods and tools to improve business performance and success. My certification project was the development and launch of a new product line (still in production today – the FRAM Xtended Guard oil filter). Looking back, my Black Belt experience was career and life-changing for me — the tools and methods “clicked” and just made good sense, and more importantly the corporate culture embraced continuous improvement as a key enabler for achieving its strategic goals and objectives. This experience opened up many doors for me professionally, and in fact my corporate Six Sigma training and Green Belt mentoring activities played a large role in my decision to pursue a career in higher education. Like many of my peers, I find great reward and satisfaction in my interactions with Michigan Tech students — whether it be in my two Six Sigma courses, helping to ignite that same “spark” I felt in my early career; in my advising role to the Supermileage Systems Enterprise; or in the periodic interactions I have with the hundreds of students enrolled in our signature Enterprise Program. Our students are our future, and from what I can see it’s look pretty bright!
This year, I “raised my hand” to get more involved in Michigan Tech’s continuous improvement efforts through a part-time faculty fellow appointment. One of the goals I have is to lead by example to show how it can be applied more strategically and successfully in our core academic value streams: teaching, research, and service. Admittedly the language of continuous improvement can be confusing, the tools can be misapplied, and skeptics can and do question its relevance to their work. However, I think CI is quite simple and it really boils down to some key elements that should resonate with employees in any organization:
- Continuous improvement is a culture…it’s a mindset that strives for perfection and recognizes that you’re never fully there. It rewards calculated risks and embraces change.
- Quality starts and ends with the customer…it’s about knowing your customers, and striving to deliver the quality and value they (and their customers) expect from your products, processes, and/or services. After all, there is always competition and choice in the marketplace.
- Customer value is created through processes or value streams…these can be transactional/service as well as manufacturing/product-oriented. Organizations define the processes they use to create and deliver value, meaning they also have the ability to change these processes in order to improve performance.
- Waste is anything that doesn’t directly create value for the customer…most processes have significant amounts of waste, and learning to identify and minimize waste in its many forms is a core strategy of a successful CI program.
- Continuous improvement is really about building and freeing organizational capacity, not cutting costs and people. Capacity gives organizations agility and options, whether it be investing in new growth, reallocating existing resources to higher value activities, and/or sustaining competitiveness during downturns and market contractions.
- Respect for people is the foundation of any successful CI initiative…fundamentally this means empowering employees, harnessing their knowledge, actively involving them in improvements, and avoiding blame (focus on the process, not the person). It also means developing empathy for your customers and their experiences with your products, processes, and services. Finally, it’s also about celebrating the successes achieved together through continuous improvement.
I have experienced first-hand how continuous improvement can fuel the growth and success of an organization, enabling it to not only adapt, evolve, and stay relevant, but also to lead in dynamic market conditions. This is what motivates me to take on my faculty fellows assignment this year. The timing couldn’t be better — as we embark on the University’s Tech Forward initiative, I firmly believe our continuous improvement culture and tool-set can and will help us achieve the goals we’ve outlined for our institution’s future. Fortunately we have a good start already, and I’m excited to play a more active role and look forward to working with more of my colleagues. I will be reaching out to many of you soon as I begin working on the initial opportunities we’ve identified. Likewise, I welcome your input and thoughts on areas where you see CI being used to improve the success of our great University. –Rick