All posts by Aspen Holmes

Biting the Bullet

As an American, discussing our country with foreign spectators (or outside eyes as we like to call them in the continuous improvement world) can raise a lot of questionable perceptions about our culture. While preparing to go abroad, I remember talking with international students who genuinely thought before arriving on American soil that everyone in the United States drove pick-up trucks, ate an absurd amount of McDonald’s, and most importantly: had firearms on hand at all times. I would always politely correct them that we in no way eat that much fast food, but the rest happens to be true… at least in my family. Growing up in an area where the 2nd Amendment is carried with the pride of a militia, this gun-slinging view of our nation supports the American ideals of strength, reliability, and deadliness. The country is a powder keg right now- fully loaded, ready to blow at any moment. The people are like ammunition; bullets- “quick, steady, and unforgiving.” We are all hunkered down ready to defend what we think is right, preparing for what seems to be an uphill battle fought in the name of great change. That is the thing about us- we are adaptable and above all we are resilient in the face of grand controversy.

No one knows what is going to happen, but we as a united nation are planning for anything. Things are shifting at this point in history and thus we must adapt our tools and habits accordingly. More and more people are reverting to traditional methods of data storage and organizational standards. For example there has been a shift from the impersonal and untrustworthy computer to modern concepts of planners and journals for people to log their thoughts and plan their days. Bullet journaling was recently developed in Chicago by a graphic designer as a means to compile all of the thoughts and worries of one person into a comprehensive and ever-evolving to-do list/planner/diary/motivator/bucket list. Using the structure of an index and page numbers, bullet journals allow for someone to put their entire world into a tangible collection with easy access. It takes a bit to get started, but once you do it has said to be life-changing. These are the kinds of things that the modern Americans must turn to in order to adapt privacy to the ever public lives we live in this day and age.

There is no doubt that we will pull through this together and find new ways to move ahead as a nation. We will improve and adapt by utilizing new tools and approaches to how we do things. If you would like to adapt as well and want to read more about bullet journaling, you can find more information here:


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Rooted in Health

Flu season is upon us! (Unfortunately). Now is the time to stock up on vitamin C & D before winter hits. Wash your hands, disinfect your surfaces, and be sure to drink plenty of fluids — but I don’t need to tell you this, it is information you’re told year after year since you were in elementary school. We are constantly surrounded  by others, and during this cold season, it is less than ideal and can have a profound impact on your level of productivity. Today, I  reminded my coworkers in the Office of Continuous Improvement of these vital autumn tips towards health during our daily huddle. However, I don’t believe caring for your health should be a seasonal objective and should stop here.

The last few weeks I have been very ill, giving me a lot of time to reflect on where our success is rooted as individuals.  When you’re miserable, it makes you feel as though you will be perpetually miserable. It takes a strong will to power through an illness, especially one that renders you immobile for a few days to a week. It feels as though you will never get better and you start to fall completely off the bandwagon. You lose track of work, you don’t contact friends for a while, you forget about assignments- your only focus is improving your health. What do you do once you’re better, though? This is what I have really been trying to figure out. “I have been sick for so long… what will stop this in its tracks? How can I improve my life so this doesn’t happen again?”

The answer is simple, but for some students and adults, is a difficult one- take care of yourself! You can’t think without eating- so eat. Drink plenty of water. Go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. Develop a work out routine, even just a short one. Every day do something spiritually uplifting. Every day, find something beautiful. Wash your hands. Bathe regularly. Focus on the basics first and you will build a foundation strong enough for any skyscraper. Problems start and are solved at the root, solutions are also found there. Sometimes the most simple of answers can have the most amazing results, so take baby steps! If you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to take care of everything else.


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When The Going Gets Rough

We’re human. We can strive for perfection, like Lean dictates, but we’ll never be inherently perfect. As someone who has always been weighed on heavily by her potential, I have always been anxious to be perfect. I have to get good grades, I have to make my parents proud, I have to outshine the rest of my peers. With school starting up again in just a mere 17–I repeat, 17–days, the stress to be perfect is much more real than it has been all summer. After coming back from the Michigan Lean Consortium’s annual conference (which was awesome by the way) in Traverse City, MI, my life was quickly turned upside-down. This week has been a tough one, and I feel that I’ve been terrible in the sense of being a continuous improvement practitioner. I have found myself behind on my work, my bedroom a disaster, all my laundry dirty, and impending tuition payments on my doorstep–I’ll admit it, I kind of freaked out and bogged myself down…

But then I remembered something–Lean is a journey. I am still human. These things happen and setbacks are to be expected. I remembered how hard Lean was when I first started back in December; I couldn’t even really wrap my head around it back then. The culture confused me and the tools seemed to be described in a different language (unfortunately none of the ones I know). I was told it would be difficult and that there will be days where I would want to throw away all of my post-its and flashcards with random Japanese words on them… But here I am.  I have grown and learned more than I could have ever hoped to in this position in just a few months. I have networked, become more professional, and become part of the best team of practitioners a young lady could ever ask for. Lean is not about where you will get to, it’s about taking that next step that matters. You can’t expect to succeed without failing a few times and that has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn–and continue to learn. Even though this week has been tough, and I am a bit disappointed in myself, I know now what I need to do to be better and will do so! Here’s to fixing what we broke, starting fresh, moving forward. We aren’t perfect, but we can certainly strive for it one baby step at a time.



Lean and Religion

In Zen Buddhism they have this concept known as “shoshin” or the “beginners mind”. The beginner’s mind is one of endless possibilities and connections to be made. It is the biases we learn over time that limit our ability to think outside the box.

I am currently in the beginning of my Lean journey and I want to always keep it that way. From here, I see an infinite set of paths to be followed that will lead me to success and the continuous improvement of both my professional and personal self. When striving to be successful, there are a lot of mental roadblocks that can get in your way. Fear and worry are natural occurrences, but it is what you do with these feelings that really matters. If you go forth with excitement, using these feelings as motivators instead of detriments, you will find yourself doing things you never expected to do (climbing that mountain, boarding that plane, nailing that proposal!).   The brain is something that can always be rewired, so if you spend your time going forth positively, new connections will be created and you will spend less of your time anxious about things that cause you more harm by overthinking about them than the actual task itself.

Growing up I was taught to live my life by the Wiccan principle known as “The Power of 3”. This is the concept that whatever thoughts/energies/ideas/actions you put into the world will come back to you threefold over time. Think outside of the box! If you put creativity out there, you will find yourself feeling more creative in the future. Put understanding out there and you will find yourself being understood (even if it needs a little explanation). If you find yourself always moving forward, you will find yourself leagues ahead of the competition.  Lean is a journey, as is life. If you’re always curious, always live in a shoshin-like state, new things will be discovered every day.


“PDCA Yourself, Before You Wreck Yourself”

… This is plastered on a sign taped to the front of my desk and they are words I live by. PDCA is a tool that every lean practitioner should use on a daily basis. Plan Do Check Act is used primarily when tackling projects or completing tasks in a timely, orderly fashion. However, I have recently found that it does wonders for your personal life.

I am a social butterfly. I pride myself in my ability to surround myself with genuine, caring, successful people… and a lot of them. However, sometimes it grows overwhelming to be this social all the time and I find that I spend less and less time caring for myself, because others tend to be more important to me. Eventually, I found that I was being walked on, that I wasn’t acting my normal happy-go-lucky self. PDCA saved the day! Now, I try to incorporate it into my daily routine to balance my tasks for the day. I plan my day out thoroughly and analyze each task, as well as how I am feeling, as I do them. After all of my necessary tasks are done (which now also includes thorough self-care) and I feel satisfied with myself, then I try to incorporate other people into the plan. At the end of the day I check how I am feeling again and go over the events of the day to see where things went wrong. Now I act by adjusting my plan for the next day, if need be!

So far this has been a great system of checks and balances for me. I highly recommend everyone PDCA all aspects of their life, not necessarily just professional. I myself am slowly learning that life will be more efficient and your time will be spent far happier if you pay attention to how you are feeling and adjust accordingly.Dont let the best youve done so far become the standard for the rest of your life

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

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Aspen Holmes
Student Process Improvement Coordinator
The Office of Continuous Improvement

Daily Continuous Improvement

The ultimate goal of a Lean practitioner is to incorporate continuous improvement into every facet of their life. Contrary to popular belief, Lean is applicable in more environments than just industry. Tools like 5S and “Plan, Do, Check, Act” (PDCA) allow anyone to revamp the areas of their lives that may be creating “muda” or waste.

In our office we’ve used 5S to organize our supplies and we continue to sustain it by auditing twice a month. I have gone on to use Lean tools to clean and de-clutter my apartment, inspiring others to do the same. Life is chaotic, but when things are broken down piece by piece like Lean allows us to do, we can get more done with less stress.

Every day is an opportunity to improve and if what we have already implemented fails or has problems, we can fix it. Nothing is perfect the first time, but through continuous improvement we can sustain an environment that always changes for the better.


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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Meet the PIC- Aspen Holmes

Hey everyone!
My name is Aspen Holmes and I am a first year Communications major here at Michigan Tech. Over break I was hired as the new Student Process Improvement Coordinator and will be joining Elizabeth and Nate in Lean and Continuous Improvement activities around campus. I’m still finishing up my training, but find I have already caught the improvement bug. I’m enthusiastic about Lean philosophy!

I grew up in the Keweenaw and with that I carry a hefty amount of Yooper pride. I can’t imagine a better place to live and hope to raise my own kids here. Along with this Yooper pride comes a sense of exploration, a willingness to be pushed out of my comfort zone, an insurmountable appreciation for the outdoors, and a tough-as-nails attitude towards everything I do. I grew up in a household that tried to continuously improve the community around us. As a result of this I see the world through a humanitarian-based perspective, trying to find ways to help in any situation that crosses my path.

Graduating a year early from Hancock Central High School in 2014 I spent the following year abroad in Blumenau, Santa Catarina, Brazil as an ambassador of the Rotary Youth Exchange program. While there I integrated myself into the culture and the community- I went to school, adapted Brazilian habits, learned the language, and volunteered. I am conversationally fluent in Brazilian Portuguese and am in the process of learning German through Michigan Tech. It is my goal to eventually speak a language from every continent. I am an avid traveler and will never say no to a proposition of adventure. I miss, and think of Brazil every day. The transition through reverse culture shock was definitely a difficult one, but I finally feel at home again here in the United States. Michigan Tech has pushed and aided me in the process of rediscovering the area, finding new hobbies, and making many new friends. I strive to utilize every opportunity that comes my way and will continue to do so throughout my time as a Husky.

I look forward to my time in this position and am already passionate about the work I will be doing. I am truly blessed to work with all of the wonderful people in the Office of Continuous Improvement and look forward to what the year will bring. I am incredibly thankful for this amazing opportunity. I will continue to learn everything I can about Lean initiatives. I hope to make a substantial impact on the university by utilizing my quirkiness and unique perspective to find unconventional solutions throughout my collegiate journey.