All posts by Dominique Aleo

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

 


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

 

 

 

 


If It’s Not Broke…. Fix It?

The phrase “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” is a concept that seems to be very reasonable and is widely accepted by many. If there’s nothing wrong with the end result of a process, then why tinker with the process at all? Spending energy and time on something that does not have an issue would be a waste of time, right?

Maybe not, this form of thinking and attitude negates Continuous Improvement in that there is no improvement, and a process become stagnant. PDCA cannot take place when it’s met with the notion of “what we do works” and “we’ve always done it this way.” Sometimes it’s hard to see how a process can be changed for the better, especially if you believe the current process is also the best process.

Oftentimes, this way of thinking prevents improvement from ever beginning, largely because  it’s perceived as a waste of time. Everyone is already busy enough without having to put time into a process that clearly works. PDCA isn’t about whether something works, but more, can it be improved? Time spent towards improvement is an investment, and never a waste of time because it increases the value produced by your process.

         LegoImage

Continuous Improvement is not meant as something to point fingers or say that something is being done the “wrong” way. It is meant to allow you to maximize effectiveness and efficiency, to complete your goals and to fulfill a purpose in the best way possible. Improvement should always be looked at in the most positive of light, as it is about evolution and growth, allowing for the best to come out of everything.


The Purpose of Lean

The Office of Continuous Improvement had the pleasure of welcoming guest Karyn Ross on Monday afternoon (and on her birthday, no less!). Having her here at Michigan Tech was a wonderful opportunity, as we get to learn more about Lean from another perspective.

While talking with Karyn and students from Leaders in Continuous Improvement, Karyn was asked how to better cultivate a Lean culture, was there certain tools that they should be using. Karyn’s response was not what I expected, but I was also pleasantly intrigued, as she addressed our usage of tools and Lean culture in a way that allowed be to look at Lean in a way I hadn’t previously.

In terms of tools, there are many that we have in order to help us make an improvement, and there tends to be heavy dependency on these tools. However, improvement is more than implementation of just a tool or tools: it’s the combination of principles, practice AND tools that allow us to accomplish an overall purpose. It is the establishment of the purpose that seems to have been forgotten, which means that an important key to improvement has been forgotten as well.

When beginning an improvement event, the first step is to identify and evaluate the current state, when really we should be asking and establishing what our purpose for the improvement is. “What is it we want to accomplish? What do we need to do, in order to make that accomplishment? How can it be done in a way that fulfills our purpose?” Establishing your purpose allows you to be able to define your target of the improvement. Only after the purpose and  your target are established can you truly look at your current state and start to find how to bridge the gaps. Only then can tools be used without creating waste.

In terms of culture, Karyn asked, “What is the purpose of Lean?”  To which the immediate response was the one I had only ever known; “To make all processes more efficient and effective.”

I was taken aback by Karyn, smiling, saying, “Can we flip flop those two?”

What did she mean, to flip the two? In most everything I had read about Lean, all that I had learned through training, the saying was always “efficient” and then “effective”. How could you be effective without being efficient first? Karyn went on to talk about that when a group works towards their purpose, and produces an end result that adds value to their customer, then they are being effective. The more value you produce for the customer, the more effective you are being, and the more you are fulfilling your purpose. Therefore, being more effective allows you to become more efficient, as you fulfill your purpose in the best, Lean way possible.

In all, I think that there is a lot that we can all learn about our purpose within Lean and about our own culture, Karyn more than helped me learn about my own. Towards the end of our visit, Karyn herself was asked what is the purpose of Lean, to which she replied:

“The purpose of Lean, is to help people improve the world.”

Karyn was overall, engaging and knowledgeable, and I wish I had had more time to talk to her. I hope that now, with my new found knowledge about my own purpose within Lean, that I can help other people improve the world, and do so more effectively.

 

 


The Trickiness of Out-of-Scope

One of my first solo kaizens has been with a group of newly trained facilitators, and has gone smoothly so far! I would like to share how during this particular kaizen, I witnessed this group really dig-down and think of tools and ways that would allow them to cover as many aspects of the root cause as possible.

Recently, the IT library help-desk has been working on improving the hardware drop-off process. The process itself had issues such as miscommunication and lack of information and standards. This left the help-desk with no information about the hardware’s progress as well as other issues, such as the customer not knowing how to access what little information there was about their hardware.

One of the challenges of going through this Kaizen was how often certain parts of the process were “Out-of-Scope” due to the process involving many other departments and people. Though IT could do their best to standardize the parts of the process that they were hands on, there was little that could be done at that time in terms of standardizing the process as a whole.

As ways to address communication within IT and the customer, they came up with ideas such as information cards for customers specifically, as well as more details added to the hardware log. These two improvements helped a majority of the process in terms communication all around.

Although it was established earlier that areas of the process that took place in and with other departments was out of scope, the team came up with a fairly simple idea that was still able to address the lack of communication and was able to help bridge between the current improvement and the out-of-scope. Their idea was to create a channel that allowed communication only between the main contacts of IT and the other heads of the process. This way, there’s more effective communication between all groups involved in the process.

It was very exciting and refreshing to see this group take on improvement in a creative way, in which they didn’t let the out-of-scope deter them from improving what they could.


Blame the Process

I was recently presented with an opportunity to “think Lean” outside of my normal work setting, with others who are unfamiliar with Lean. I have found that in a work place where Lean is the norm, it is very easy to do things the Lean way, especially since everyone is working towards Continuous Improvement. The real challenge is to implement Lean in areas of your life that you hadn’t normally before, and to challenge the way you previously reacted to situations. One of my personal challenges has been to remember to “Blame the process” when there’s an issue, instead of blaming myself or another. Instead, you must look at the process in order to find the areas that create opportunity for mistakes and waste.

Our student organization MEDLIFE had a shipment come in for a fundraiser, in which we looked at the master sheet to make sure we had everything we were supposed to, which we did. Off to a good start, we started distributing the goods. It wasn’t until we came to the last few orders that we realized we were short multiple packages, and customers orders were missing items. After wracking our brains and consulting, we found out that an entire order hadn’t been ordered, as the order sheet was in an envelope that was thought to contain only money, and it was never opened.

In situations like this, I have time and again looked for the person to blame, the person who “screwed up”. It was what I had been used to, and was something I used to witness on a daily basis. However, before I could let this take hold of me, I took a deep breath and chanted to myself “Blame the process, not the person.” And so, after figuring out how it was corrected, we all congregated and began the break-down of the issue.

We used 5 Whys to understand what lead to the envelope and order being missed, which led us to understand that the overall collection process had been terribly messy and un-standardized. People had randomly dropped off orders, names were not on all the papers, some money was in envelopes, some money was just clipped together, and most of it was not labeled. In addition, if we had taken the time to separate orders before allowing people to pick them up, we could have caught the issue sooner and there wouldn’t have been multiple incomplete orders.

Overall, a recipe for disaster! After going through everything, I was astounded by the fact that only one order had been missed, as it must have been very frustrating for those who had the job of counting everything up and recording the orders. With this information, we now have a standard of how things are to be labeled and turned in, as well as by whom and when. This way, our collection process for any future fundraiser will be much more efficient, and less stressful for those who are collecting.

Not only did it feel good that I was able to react in a Lean way, but it was also a good experience to correct an issue the Lean way with others.


Incremental Improvement

Here in the Office of Continuous Improvement, we are always striving to continuously improve in all of our activities. Recently, we were introduced to another opportunity to grow through a new practice (to us) called Incremental Improvement.

Most often, our work consists of large massive sweeps of improvement, tackling large projects and issues with Kaizens. This calls for the scheduling large increments of time around multiple busy schedules. Daily office work usually includes dedicating chunks of time to a project until it’s complete, before moving on to the next project on the agenda.

Incremental Improvement focuses on smaller solutions and actions when tackling large projects, and allows for completion through small steps and not leaps and bounds. It allows for easier implementation of ideas, which meets less resistance as any changes are slowly made and adjusted to. Changes implemented are less risky, and allows for PDCA on a smaller scale. Overall, the improvements made are done by the staff collectively, as they all have the knowledge and power to implement more beneficial improvements.

Right now, the Office of Continuous Improvement is working on a Lean Lending Library project, where we’re making a standardized activity check-out. This would allow anyone to come in and check-out a learning activity and have all the information and materials they would need in order to do the activity. We could see right away that it definitely would be a large project, but were ready to get down to business!

At first, we wanted to just start tackling it head on, and initially figured someone would be assigned to work on the project with it as a priority. However, after being introduced to the concept of Incremental Improvement, we began looking at how we could break the monster project into smaller steps instead. Now we’re steadily going through each step, bit by bit. Small amounts of time are consistently made for us to work on the steps of the project, in comparison to someone working on it for large chunks of time when they’re able to.

Already, the progress we have made is tangible, though there is still a lot more work to do. I personally have found that this large project is not so daunting now that it has been broken up, and is continuously being worked on bit by bit. I’m very excited to see the end results of our Incremental Improvements!


Standard Work- Managing Your Day

We are pleased to present this guest blog by Brenda Randell, Executive Assistant at Michigan Technological University. 

 

Are you running from meeting to meeting, feeling overwhelmed and un-prepared? Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Senior Associate Vice President for Administration, has been there and has since implemented a system to help overcome those obstacles. The system continues to improve, but I would like to share how we currently manage events in order to keep her feeling calm and prepared throughout the day.

The system depends heavily on the Google Calendar, Brenda, and Theresa herself. It also depends on the folders and our filing system that we have in place. Most value-adding elements that Theresa needs to do is scheduled on her calendar, leaving 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. “available” for emails and follow-up from the day’s meetings. Things often come up throughout the day and she uses this time to catch-up.

Theresa’s calendar is very detailed, with standards set. There is a standard 30-minute prep for every meeting, which is scheduled two days in advance (allowing for the possibility of needing to reschedule that time.) If Theresa gets ahead of schedule, she moves on to the next item. Travel-time is booked on the calendar as well. Color-coding occurs, but is done very cautiously because colors start to become meaningless when you use too many. Theresa uses four different colors, with red signaling “do not schedule”. Work-time is scheduled on the calendar with each block including additional details such as date of request, the number and the number of occurrences (i.e. 1 of 1), amount of time specified, and the due date. I am starting to include this with Theresa’s meetings that she requests, and I find it to be especially helpful for me if I need to reschedule that particular meeting.

Theresa is responsible for informing me what is needed and everything she needs is noted and put into my box. She is also in tune with the system so if I am not here, she is able to continue working through her day(s) without difficulty.

Folders used throughout the day are filed according to a previously developed standard. That standard color-codes sections (departments). For example: Human Resource-related items are placed in a green folder. Each folder has a standard label with the font, size, and information. The example below shows the folder title as “compensation strategy task force” and the sub-title explains the location of the file. Filed under “employment” in “Human Resources”. Having this standard makes it easy to file as well as find the file.

Theresa’s work flow circulates. I easily pull the folder that relates to the calendar item and set it up in a parallel sequence to her calendar. Theresa pulls the folder and takes care of the calendar item. She then writes notes of additional requests for that particular calendar item and puts the folder into my box. I then take the folders out of my box multiple times per day and do one, or multiple, of the following tasks: complete/finalize agenda, email and print agendas/attachments, schedule work time, schedule meeting, file the folder, and/or place folder in the pile for the next day that it will be needed.

What tips can you share to add flow to your work day?

 

Sample label – this particular label would be placed on a green file folder.

                         COMPENSATION STRATEGY TASK FORCE                            

                                 (Human Resources – Employment)

 

 

Theresa’s box with folders paralleling her calendar. Once the item/folder is complete, Theresa moves the folder to my box, right beside hers.
Theresa’s box with folders paralleling her calendar. Once the item/folder is complete, Theresa moves the folder to my box, right beside hers.                                                                  

 

Theresa’s folders for the next day. These are ready to be put into her box at the end of the day, or right away in the morning.
Theresa’s folders for the next day. These are ready to be put into her box at the end of the day, or right away in the morning.

  

 

 

 

 


Lean Culture; Why Isn’t This The Norm?

This past month, I was able to participate in the making of a video with Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, and it was my first solo project as a PIC. I was both extremely excited and cautious, as I wanted to put to work the Lean knowledge and values my training had instilled me with, but I was also worried. What if I couldn’t do my job well? What if I under-performed what was expected of me? My first project was working with the “Big Dogs” and what if I couldn’t cut it? After a very reassuring meeting with Ruth about the basis of the project, I tried to go into it with the best outlook. No matter what happened, it would be an experience that would allow me to grow, and overall, improve.

It should not surprise you that the environment with which I met was nothing like I had feared, in fact, I felt no different than if I were back in the office as usual. The meeting with Mrs. Coleman-Kaiser went so easy and smooth, and not once did I feel inferior or inadequate. The conversation was natural, my questions came out unhindered, and overall I felt completely confident in my abilities. It was the same kind of  culture I experience everyday in the office, the very embodiment of lean culture I read about during training and in books. So why was I expecting any different?

Lean culture is one where respect for people is central, no matter status or position of individuals. The establishment of respect cultivates teamwork and camaraderie among everyone, and together we work towards the common goal of improvement. This allows for a blame-free space, where a mistake means an opportunity for improvement and the evolution of our standards. There is no need for taking the credit or pointing fingers, because we are all working towards the same goal; improvement.

In theory, the culture of Lean sounds great, as it gives the best approach towards a system where everyone is equal and working together.

Realistically, Lean culture in practice is even better. Lean culture allows you to function uninhibited by fears or worries, because not only are you geared towards the same end-goal as those around you, but because there are no mistakes, just areas that you recognize could use improvement. There is no failure in Lean culture.

The reason I expected different is because the culture of Lean is not what the majority encounters normally. Before my introduction to Lean, I had never encountered a work environment such as this, and I thought it too good to be true, even though it’s a workplace we all deserve.  Here we have a healthy, high functioning, improvement-promoting environment that yields the best of results, and yet it is an environment known by only few. What a concept! Now that I have been immersed in Lean culture for a few months, it is becoming the norm for me. I am becoming more sensitive to the differences between this work environment and other work environments that are not Lean.

As we continue our work with Lean, and continue on the path of continuous improvement, not only do we strengthen the standard of Lean culture, but it is so important that we also continue to  introduce others into the Lean and its values. It is very important to spread so that everyone everywhere is working at the same standards, and working towards the same goals. Hopefully someday the majority shall be Lean, and Lean will become the new societal norm.