All posts by Ari Laiho

Ari Laiho is a Process Improvement Coordinator at Michigan Tech.

Welcome Dominique!

Joining our team of PICs is one of our newest additions, Dominique Aleo. She has continually expressed her excitement to work in the office and is already hopping on her first kaizen. Already she has shown she has taken her training to heart by applying it to other aspects of her life, including the student org. that she is president of. We are as excited to have Dominique here as she is to be here, and I’ll let her take it from here!


My name is Dominique, and I am training as one of the new Process Improvement Coordinators here at the Office of Continual Improvement.

I was born and raised in a small town called Herman, outside of L’Anse, and graduated from L’Anse Highschool in the year of 2015. In the fall, I started at Michigan Tech in persuit of a Biological Sciences Bachelors, with a concentration in Pre-Medicine. It has always been my dream to be a doctor, and a part of that dream is to return here to the U.P. to work in the rural areas like the one I grew up in.

Most of my time is spent with my family, as I am the second oldest out of 7, and most of the kids are still at home. Growing up in the U.P. most of my favorite activities are outdoors, such as Dom picswimming, hiking, biking, and hunting. Other times, I’ll usually have my nose in a book, be watching a movie or The Office, painting, or enjoying time on the piano or my saxophone.

I personally had never had any experience with Lean (or any I was aware of, anyways) until I began training in the office. I had talked about it with others before, but until training and really learning about Lean, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect. Now I can see the light! I have learned so much in my training, and I believe I will continue to learn so  much more as I continue in this office. I am very excited to become part of the Lean culture, as well as watch the effects of implementing Lean on University life and in my own.


Thank you!


Burning Brighter

I attended my first Michigan Lean Consortium (MLC) Annual Conference this past week in Traverse City, MI; it was a fantastic experience! Between Key Note Speeches, Active Learning Sessions, and networking opportunities I was surrounded by people from a variety of backgrounds at various stages of their Lean Journeys. Especially coming from an engineering background, it was eye opening to get to know people from the different industries represented at this conference. It opened my eyes to how remarkably different each person’s experiences have been, and yet they still had many similar underlying stories.

Throughout the conference days, I took more notes than I really know what to do with, talked to so many people that the conversations ran together, I ate well, and I learned more than I thought I would in just two days. The more speeches and activities I attended, the more inspired and empowered I felt. One of the activities I participated in involved creating a slogan to brand Lean to the world; and this session is what stuck most with me. The focus of this session was to find fun in facilitating and improvement events, and we certainly had a good time. We were split into competing teams and went through an activity called Ritual Dissent, this turned out to be a wonderfully engaging and fun way to get teams to reach a consensus. So what did we come up with?

Relentlessly, Continuously, Positively Improving People’s Lives


Working together to make life better for all of us

It is entirely up to you to decide how much you like our slogans, but given 20 minutes of thought and two iterations of editing, they are not bad. I never really considered the potential for Kaizens to be truly fun, but this theme ended up continuing throughout the conference. Making events fun not only makes them more enjoyable, it increases team member buy-in, overall satisfaction, and quality of the outcome.

There was also emphasis on creating competition as a way to drive people to actually improve continuously. Many people think of events as one-time occurrences, or something to drop by without getting too involved in; calling Kaizens “Improvement Events” carries those associated thoughts when in reality a Kaizen is just the beginning and creating some friendly competition keeps employees engaged and motivated to seek perfection and keep improving.

Beyond anything else, this conference really inspired me to take back my new knowledge and apply it in my work and my personal life; it lit the fire of improvement, now it’s up to me to carry the torch.

Perks of having a Kaizen

Changes are always being made campus-wide; some so small they’re hardly noticed, others are unavoidable, and not all of these changes happen through our Office of Continuous Improvement. We actually have a large number of Lean Implementation Leaders campus-wide who are focused on improving aspects of their department on a smaller level. However, there are some clear advantages to having a Kaizen with the support of our office.


Each time we left the Kaizen having learned something new. We found creative ways to think and work functionally and efficiently, now everybody is less stressed.

With a Kaizen it is easy to bring in outside eyes, people who are not yet familiar with the process, these people are often a key part in identifying problems or waste and suggesting improvements for the process since they will inherently ask different questions and think about the issue from a different point of view. Depending on the department the “outside eyes” come from, they may come up with a completely new potential solution for the problems at hand, even if the team may think they have already considered all possible solutions.


The most helpful aspect of the Kaizen was being able to interact with our customers and hear feedback directly from them. We found a lot of them had similar issues and when talking about experiences the conversation would just continue as they all shared stories.

Kaizens also require multiple facilitators, these people are trained to identify wastes as well as to help guide the group to find answers for themselves. They bring along necessary tools and will also offer suggestions or just help keep the group on track. We have a large pool of facilitators from all different backgrounds and departments and they are all people who enjoy what they do and genuinely want to help make Michigan Tech a better place. One way to reach this goal is to keep improving the processes that we already have in place or continue creating new ones, and then adjusting and sustaining them.


You do not know what else is out there unless you embrace change and ask.

Kaizens also provide a platform for many people from different parts of the university to meet up together to focus on resolving specific issues. It also makes it easy to interact and get direct feedback and input from customers or co-workers. Kaizen teams are often made up of people close to the work as well, and it is a good opportunity to empower employees to make improvements in their own processes. The involved employees feel that buy-in and they invest more effort into improving their work as a result, and often find they enjoy their work more after. So next time you stumble upon some waste or find a process that could use improving, consider having a Kaizen, you will find you get more out of it than you may expect.


Lean at Home

When I last visited home, something in the relationship dynamic I have with my dad shifted; not only did I occasionally treat for coffee, but we had conversations about work. This is not to say we never talked about work prior to this trip, but the conversation was significantly less one-sided and lasted easily ten times as long. Until recently our work never really overlapped, he did his job and I did mine in completely separate worlds, Lean is what bridged the gap.

Becoming immersed in Lean Culture has actually filled many gaps throughout my life. Starting to take part in Lean around campus reminded me of the “Chores Board” my parents used to assign my sister and I tasks well before I could even say the word “Kanban”, or my dad’s tool board in the garage with clear spots for all of his tools. Lean was all around me before I even knew what it was, and upon telling my father of this revelation I had he laughed briefly and said something to the effect of: “of course, because Lean just makes sense.” He was right, it makes sense to organize different tasks somewhere you can see them so that they actually get done, it makes sense to keep things near the location they will be used at, and it makes sense to organize your work space and reduce excess so that you can easily find the things you need and increase your productivity. It turns out that Lean had been ingrained in my home life in a way I never really noticed.

If you walk into the Office of Continuous Improvement here on campus, it is easy to initially feel a little overwhelmed by all of our visual management systems and you can pretty immediately tell there is something different about the culture here compared to most office environments. Our office has five full whiteboards that help keep us on track, and that’s what many people think of when they think of where they would see Lean Culture; they think of work.

My home growing up had elements of Lean Culture all around without most people noticing it, and it still does. My apartment seems pretty normal, maybe a little more tidy than necessarily expected of a college student, but otherwise normal. Underneath the appearance, are all of those Lean principles that have silently guided my life thus far. Everything in my apartment has a place, and if it does not yet, it will shortly. This goes to show that practicing Lean does not necessarily mean having bright post-it notes everywhere or giant kanban boards, it can be as simple as using 5S in your garage, or using visual management to help your kids keep track of their chores.

Having Lean principles implemented around me during my life has definitely helped me develop into a better organized, more productive person, and to me it makes sense; it can to everyone. Likely you have already practiced some element of Lean either in your personal or professional life, just maybe without realizing it, much like I did.