All posts by meganj

Calumet Electronics Tour

Recently, Todd Brassard, Vice President/COO of Calumet Electronics, spent an afternoon giving our group a tour of their operations in Calumet, MI. During this tour, we were able to see the complex process (over 40 steps!) that it takes to produce a circuit board. In their manufacturing operations, there were several examples of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma in practice. I’ll talk about a few examples that we saw during our tour.

  • Many pieces of equipment had a three-color light (green, yellow, or red), that indicated the status of the machine, an example of andon.
  • Machines that drilled holes into the circuit boards automatically picked the necessary drill bit needed for the particular hole size it needed to drill, and tested the bit prior to drilling any holes into the circuit board. If a bit is damaged, then the red light on the machine comes on (andon!) so that a worker can come to the machine to inspect the bit and address the issue.
  • Workers that inspect the quality of each of the circuit boards worked in a left-to-right pattern in their work area to ensure that untested circuit boards don’t get mixed in with circuit boards that have either passed or failed the quality inspection (error proofing); only the boards that had passed the inspection made it into the stack on the far right of their work area. These workers also test the circuit boards in small batches of 25 that their computer confirms the count of; this ensures that the whole stack of 25 has been inspected before the next batch can be tested. The computer also says, in clear and large text, “Pass” in green or “Fail” in red (a visual control) when telling the worker the results of the inspection.
  • Todd also noted that for many of their process, they are tracking Cpk, which is the actualized process capability. As a rule of thumb, a Cpk of at least 1.33 indicates a capable process.
  • At the end of the tour, Todd showed our group some awesome data collection and metrics that they’ve begun keeping to track the “health” of their business. To the “data geeks” among us, this was pretty neat!

The Juran Trilogy

The Juran Trilogy was developed by Dr. Joseph Juran, and it’s something I learned about recently in my Total Quality Management and Six Sigma course. The Juran Trilogy is an improvement cycle that is meant to reduce the cost of poor quality by planning quality into the product/process.

The Juran Trilogy

1. Quality Planning

In the planning stage, it is critical to define who your customers are and find out their needs (the “voice of the customer”). After you know what your customers need, you’re able to define the requirements for your product/process/service/system, etc., and develop it. Additionally, any plans that might need to be transferred to operators or other key stakeholders should be done during the planning phase. Planning activities should be done with a multidisciplinary team, with all key stakeholders represented.

2. Quality Control

During the control phase, determine what you need to measure (what data do you need to know if your process is working?), and set a goal for your performance. Get feedback by measuring actual performance, and act on the gap between your performance and your goal. In Statistical Process Control (SPC), there are several tools that could be used in the “control” phase of the Juran Trilogy: Pareto Analysis, flow diagrams, fishbone diagram, and control charts, to name a few.

3. Quality Improvement

There are four different “strategies” to improvement that could be applied during this phase:

  • Repair: Reactive; fix what’s broken.
  • Refinement: Proactive; continually improve a process that isn’t broken (like the continual pursuit of perfection in Lean!)
  • Renovation: Improvement through innovation or technological advancement
  • Reinvention: Most demanding approach; start over with a clean slate.
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Using Lean When Transitioning Into a New Job

This week’s post is a guest post from Heidi Reid, Executive Assistant in Human Resources and campus Lean Facilitator.

It’s always a little stressful when one moves into a new job…

  • What do you do with all those old files from your predecessor?
  • Duties and activities your predecessor “did it just because…?”
  • Jumping into new projects with little training
  • Organizing your desk for the most efficient work flow
  • Where do you find the files or information you need?

These are all concerns when taking on a new position. The good news is it doesn’t have to be a scary transition if you start out the right way.

What is the right way?

To try to incorporate Lean/Continuous Improvement aids, techniques, tools, and standards.

How do you get started?

1. Map out your office and its best layout.

  • Your desk (facing the door if possible)
  • Computer placement (ensure you have desk space to work)
  • Your essentials (tape, pens, stapler, etc.)
  • Is your phone easy to access?
  • Do you need your phone close to the computer?
  • Are your files easily accessed?

2. Once you’ve mapped out your space, you can create standards for where things are housed by outlining them or simply use your maps as a guide to audit your desk daily. Example: Are my essentials in the correct place? Do I have anything on my desk that doesn’t belong there? If so, find where it does belong and move it there immediately.

3. Create a standardized work sheet for your daily duties. Even include basic steps, such as: turn on computer, put on name tag, check emails, walk the Gemba and greet staff, attend daily team meeting, etc.

A simple example of a daily work sheet.

Use this work sheet to prioritize and “map out” your day. List all the duties you need to perform (AKA your “to do” list)– even if you know you won’t get them all done today. Prioritize your list (for example, from A to Z); this will help you when wondering “What should I do next?” Simply follow your priority list until all items are complete, highlighting or striking through as items as they are completed. It feels good to mark tasks as “Complete”! If an item on your list is not complete, add it to your next day’s priority list.

There are many different ways to achieve the same outcome; this is just an example. You can create a system that works for you! Some choose to use what is called a “priority matrix” (from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).

Covey's Prioritization matrix for time management (Image from

Come Check Out the Lean Model Office!

The Office of Continuous Improvement has been working on a Lean Model Office tour, open to anyone on campus that is interested. The self-guided tour includes bright signs throughout the office to explain how we use the Lean concept or tool. Tools and concepts presented in the tour include: 5S, A3, Andon, Poka Yoke, Audit, Kanban, Visual Controls, PDCA, and more! Feel free to come visit us at 136W Wadsworth Hall to check it out!

Our photo copier is an example of andon from our Lean Model Office tour.
An example of a visual control and our kaizen hopper.

Rapid Experimentation

Rapid experimentation can be used to test out a hypothesis or countermeasure that can be easily and usually inexpensively implemented, allowing quick iterations through the PDCA cycle.

During a recent 5S event with Kathy Wardynski, Manager of Purchasing and Process Improvement for Dining Services, it was determined that Kathy had a need for an inbox where coworkers could leave information for Kathy to “pull” from,  rather than having the work “pushed” at her by dropping it off directly on her desk. So, we did a little rapid experimentation! We put creativity before capital and used some funky duct tape from our office to attach a spare wall pocket just outside the door to Kathy’s office. Now Kathy is able to pull work from this inbox as she has time to process it.

Our rapid experiment with a new inbox for Kathy! Who said Lean isn't fun?

Campus 5S Blitz!

Are you always searching for lost files or tools? Do items from your area seem to just “go missing”? Is it hard to find files on your shared network drive?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, the 5S Blitz might be for you! The 5S Blitz is a Lean Workshop for those who are interested in learning more about Lean and in using 5S to improve their (physical or virtual) work spaces. 5S can be applied to your personal desk, a lab, a supply area, a network drive, and more! The workshop will be taking place on January 28, 2014.

In the 5S Blitz, participants will have a learning session in the morning, and then will be able to go to their work space to start implementing 5S with the help of a campus Lean facilitator before coming back in the afternoon to share their progress and any lessons learned. Throughout the following two weeks, participants can continue to work on their 5S project before sharing their experience in an open report out.

If you’re interested in participating, you can find out more and register today on the Lean Workshops page of our website. You can participate individually or with others from your work area. All you need to register is a 5S project idea!

A disorganized cabinet before 5S...
...and an organized cabinet with visual controls after!

Lean Greenbelt Coaching Experience Recap

Guest post by Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Assistant Vice President for Administration

Last year the State of Michigan embarked on a journey to bring Lean to state government as part of the Good Government transformation.  The “Lean Greenbelt” program was offered through a collaboration with Oakland University and the Michigan Lean Consortium (MLC), and to date 52 people have been certified, representing every state agency.

Through the MLC, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a coach to individuals in the third cohort of greenbelt candidates as they worked on their first projects of implementing lean in their state agencies. It was my job to provide guidance, feedback, and act as a sounding board to issues experienced on the projects, since I had walked in their shoes in my own Lean Journey.

My three candidates’ departments and projects were:

  • The employee onboard process at the Department of Technology, Management and Budget’s Organizational Performance & Measurement department
  • The out-of-state travel reporting process at the Department of Natural Resources
  • The Institutional Review Board (IRB) Process at the Department of Community Health

Without any background in state government, I was apprehensive about the coach’s role but was pleasantly surprised to find that the processes identified for improvement were very much like processes I would find here at Michigan Tech. In fact, we had done an IRB kaizen event here several years ago that I was familiar with.  Many of their questions and concerns were exactly the same as I had when I first began my Lean journey, such as which tool to use at any given point in time and how to best communicate improvements.

The candidates utilized a pull system for their coaching needs, and the way this worked is that I only provided coaching when they asked for it.  To familiarize myself with their projects, I first helped them develop and revise their project charter, which is similar to a kaizen profile that we would use at Michigan Tech.  This was accomplished through email and individual telephone calls.  I also set up a weekly conference call with the promise that I would be on the phone line to answer their questions during those weekly “office hours” if they needed it.  Almost every week I had at least one candidate calling in with questions or asking for suggestions on how to approach their lean implementation.

On October 17th I was able to travel to Lansing to see the final report-outs of all 19 greenbelt candidates, including my own three coachees.  This was an extremely rewarding experience for me, to be able to share my knowledge and lessons learned from my own Lean practice.  I am also proud to know that these projects have produced time savings, financial savings, improved morale and have reduced waste to make Michigan an even better place!

Why Report Out?

A Report Out is an event that is usually put on by the members of a kaizen team after their improvement event is completed. It is a presentation where the whole team can share their problem solving process and celebrate any positive results that have been seen from their improvements. During a Report Out the team might discuss what their area of focus was, their current and future state, metrics, results, and their newspaper items. But why should a team report out? I’ll share a couple reasons!

In addition to being an opportunity for a team to celebrate their results, it also provides an opportunity for the team to reflect on their experiences and provide clarity for the team at the end of an event. Reporting out on the newspaper items from the event can also help with accountability and sustaining of improvements. In Auxiliary Services at Michigan Tech, we even ask past improvement events that have already reported out to give updates on past kaizen events at our monthly Report Outs. This provides the team with an opportunity to give updates on accomplishing their newspaper items or to share any further “PDCA-ing” of the process since the kaizen event.

Having a Report Out event is also a way to share an improvement with anyone who needs to know about the improvement (if they might be effected by the change) or anyone who just might be interested! Reporting out on an improved process could be a way to share current best practices with another team that works with the same or a similar process. For example, if one dining hall on campus made improvements to a particular process, such as, how they schedule their student workers, they could report out to share the improvement with the other dining halls on campus.

A team from Dining Services reporting out on their improvement event.

So, why report out? To celebrate, reflect, and share!

Socratic Questioning in the Classroom and Lean

The Socratic Method, or Socratic Questioning, is a type of questioning used to encourage critical thinking, analyze assumptions, determine knowns and unknowns, and help stimulate open discussion.

There are six main types of Socratic questions:

  • Clarifying the question
  • Challenging assumptions
  • Evidence as a basis for argument
  • Alternative viewpoints
  • Implications and consequences
  • Question the question

As a student, I have frequently experienced Socratic questioning firsthand in the classroom. Using Socratic questions furthers understanding by helping us as students think more deeply about what we’re learning, challenge the concepts, and be more involved in discussion.

For example, let’s say a professor is explaining an equation used to model a phenomenon; perhaps the flow of blood through a vessel or analyzing the forces acting on an object. Often when modeling a behavior we make assumptions about variables that we can neglect to simplify the equation, and these assumptions can lead to Socratic questions:

  • Why are we assuming we can neglect this variable? (Challenging assumptions)
  • Can we always neglect that variable? When can’t we neglect that variable? (Asking for evidence as a basis for argument)
  • How does that variable affect the model? (Implications and consequences)
  • Why is learning this model important? (Question the question).

While Socratic Questioning is a useful practice in the classroom, it’s also a great tool for problem solving in Lean processes. Using Socratic Questioning can help a kaizen team with opening up problems, analyzing the process, and engaging in discussion.

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Metrics & Culture

Hello everyone! I’m back at Michigan Tech after a second summer with Caterpillar. Although I wasn’t working directly with continuous improvement during my internship, I had a conversation about metrics and how they affect the culture and empowerment of employees that was a really big “aha!” moment for me that I wanted to share.

Before this conversation, I had primarily thought of metrics as data that you track to make decisions on what improvements to make, and then for tracking improvement success. It hadn’t really occurred to me that what you track and how you track it really affects decision making and empowerment of the front line workers.

The example we talked about in this conversation was how a customer’s maintenance department might track their performance by tracking their ability to stay within their monthly maintenance budget. Unfortunately, with employees knowing that they are being judged by how much they spend on maintenance, there are instances where some maintenance that should occur goes undone so that the metric can be met; the employee isn’t empowered to make the right choice. As a result, sometimes money is saved on preventative maintenance in the shop… only to have a more costly failure occur in the field, increasing both the maintenance costs and causing a loss in productivity.

In this case, an alternative to the dollar amount metric would be tracking the frequency of maintenance to track success: the goal would be to only have the machine down for planned maintenance and reduce the number of unnecessary failures in the field. This metric would empower employees to make the right choice about choosing to do preventative maintenance before a failure occurs, which is overall going to have a positive impact on the business!