All posts by mrleveil

Start, Stop, Continue

Although not a Lean specific concept, “Start, Stop, Continue” is one way to gain quick feedback on process improvements and rapid experimentation.  Typically “Start, Stop, Continue” is done in a group or team environment and involves open discussion.  The goal is to take a look at something and determine how it is performing.  This could be a process, a strategic vision, or even an individual’s performance (in a one-on-one setting).

Participants are told to write down their ideas on what should be started, what should be stopped, and what should continue.

For example:

  • Start: utilizing visual controls to reduce errors, holding daily team meetings to increase open communication, or addressing problems that have begun to occur since the last review of a process
  • Stop: holding meetings that have no clear purpose, doing something because “that’s the way it’s always been,” or not listening to employee’s ideas on how to improve
  • Continue: ensuring every customer has a positive experience, seeking ways to improve, or coaching teams effectively

After everyone has done some brainstorming on their own, the group can come back together and prioritize action items.  This can be done by an affinity diagram or any prioritization method.  Overall, the “Start, Stop, Continue” method lends itself to quick discussions that can focus on anything from a company’s strategy, to coaching an individual employee.

Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Recently in my Senior Design class the instructor recommended that we all read the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.  The book is a business story centered on Kathryn, a new CEO to a failing high-tech company, DecisionTech.  Throughout the story Kathryn works her way to the root causes of the executive team’s failures that made me think about lean philosophy.  Although the book never specifically refers to lean, many of the principles presented are similar.

Although DecisionTech’s product was great, and there was plenty of money from investors, for some reason the company was failing miserably.  For this reason the Board of Directors hires Kathryn to be the new CEO.  Kathryn has previous executive experience in the automotive industry (there is a reference to a joint US-Japanese automotive plant in California), and she is older than everybody else on the executive team.  For the first two weeks after being hired Kathryn has the previous CEO (who still works for the company) run the business as usual for Kathryn to observe.  Kathryn walks around talking to employees at all levels and attends as many staff meetings as possible.  When I read this I immediately thought about Gemba Walks and the importance of going to see problems at their physical location.

The book goes on to discuss the five dysfunctions of a team, which are:

  1. Absence of trust (shown by a individuals thinking they are invulnerable)
  2. Fear of conflict (shown by a team creating artificial harmony)
  3. Lack of commitment (shown by ambiguity in team functions)
  4. Avoidance of accountability (shown through holding low team standards)
  5. Inattention to results (shown by individuals focusing on status and their ego more than the team’s goals)

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

All of the dysfunctions tie in with each other, and although none are explicitly lean they can all be related to some aspect of lean philosophy.  “Respect for people” is one of the cornerstones of lean that encompasses all five of the dysfunctions.  For instance, a team that respects its own people would have no problem with healthy conflict and problem solving.  Kaizen events may have intense discussions during root cause analysis or four-step problem solving, but as long as the discussion is “hard on the process, easy on the people” a team can show each other respect.

Overall the book was a quick read that provides a new perspective on teamwork.  Patrick Lencioni does not specifically call out any lean principles or tools, but many of the same thought processes are evident throughout the storyline.  Finally, the storytelling method focusing on Kathryn keeps the book fast-paced and lively resulting in an enjoyable reading experience.

Leaders in Continuous Improvement: Update

Recently the Leaders in Continuous Improvement were able to participate at K-Day as well as hold their first official meeting!

At K-Day many students walked by the booth inquiring about continuous improvement, and what the new student organization will be about.  Additionally there was a ball “game” that was used to demonstrate the importance of standardizing work.  Players of the game had to sort balls into five different buckets, representing each day of the work week, as quickly as possible.  Then, the players standardized one day – meaning that they no longer had to sort their work (balls) for that day.  This exercise resulted in almost 30 additional data points for the student Process Improvement Coordinators to further improve the exercise and show the importance of standardization.

During the first meeting, The Student Process Improvement Coordinators, Kaylee, Megan, and Mike presented a Lean Overview as well as a little bit of the future goals for the organization.  There was free pizza and an atmosphere of excitement.  Leaders in Continuous Improvement will hold their next meeting on Monday September 23rd from 7:00-8:00pm room 101 of the ROTC building.  At this meeting Industry speakers from Caterpillar and Target will be speaking about their improvement journey.  This will be a great opportunity to not only gain insight into how continuous improvement is done in industry, but also to network the day before the career fair.  We hope to see you there!

Poke-Yoke (Mistake Proofing)

The concept of Poka-Yoke was first introduced by Dr. Shigeo Shingo in the 1960’s.  The term “poka-yoke” literally means avoiding (yokeru) mistakes (poka).  Although typically applied to the manufacturing industry, poka-yoke concepts can also be applied to the office environment, hospitals, service-sector industries, and any process where there is the potential for a defect to reach the customer.

Poka-yoke distinguishes between defects and mistakes.  A defect is an error in a process that continues through until it reaches the customer.  A mistake on the other hand, can be detected and corrected immediately.  Poka-yoke seeks to eliminate defects at the source, when mistakes are made.

There are three types of poka-yoke that are used to detect errors:

  • Contact: Identifies a defect through a physical attribute such as size, shape, color, or weight
  • Fixed-value: Ensures that a certain number of movements are made during the process
  • Motion-step: Determines whether or not only prescribed steps are completed

Additionally there are two types of poka-yoke that are used to prevent errors:

  • Warning: Alerts the operator before a mistake is made
  • Control: Prevents a mistake from being made

Examples of poka-yoke can be found anywhere you look.  For instance, the cords between your computer and your monitor, keyboard, mouse, and outlet all have different plugs.  This is an example of the contact method.  Only the correct cord can be plugged in to the correct outlet.

An example of the fixed-value method would be assembling a part with some nuts and bolts.  With the fixed-value method, the exact number of nuts and bolts required is available to the worker.  If anything is left over after the worker has assembled the part, then right away a mistake is detected because somewhere a bolt is not being used on the part.

A final example that combines the contact and warning method is the clearance bar that is seen above any drive-thru.  If a vehicle is too tall, then contact will be made with the bar warning the driver that their vehicle will not fit through the drive-thru.

McDonalds Clearance sign

Theresa Coleman-Kaiser New Volunteer Greenbelt Coach

This past week Theresa Coleman-Kaiser was informed that she will be a Greenbelt Coach for the third cohort of State of Michigan employees to go through a Lean Greenbelt certification program.  She volunteered through the Michigan Lean Consortium.  From a press release on May 20th, 2013, “Good Government is about achieving best-in-class public service through empowered and innovative employees.  Elements of good government are service and process optimization, employee engagement, change management, and performance management.”  Below is a video clip of Lt. Governor Brian Calley at the project orientation in June of 2012.

Lt. Gov Brian Calley Project Orientation 2012

MUB Catering Standards and Visual Controls Part II

At the end of April I was part of a project to 5S a shelf in the MUB kitchen.  The blog post for the first shelf can be found here.  The next step at the time was to do the same process to a similar shelf of catering platters and trays.

Initially we were going to simply 5S the second shelf.  However, after some discussion during the Sort phase we realized that it might be worthwhile to take a look into what was truly value-add that should remain on the shelf.  Originally there were two levels of platters and trays.  One called “copper” and the other called “silver.”  The copper level of service consisted of plastic items.  These platters and trays were prone to being scratched and losing aesthetic appeal, therefore requiring frequent replacement.  The silver level of service, though more expensive, did not require as frequent replacement.

We began asking why we had two levels of service.  At first we thought that having two levels of service gave the customer options and control over what their food was served on.  However, it was found that very rarely did anybody request the plastic level of service.  After performing this informal 5 Why exercise we decided to standardize from two levels to just the silver.  This resulted in

  • Decreasing inventory (increasing shelf space, decreasing capital invested in non-value add items)
  • Improving flow in other catering processes
  • Eliminating the risk of customers having a poor experience with plastic platters and trays

Cap & Gown Shuffle: Going to the Gemba

Last week I was involved in a kaizen event that was organized to counteract problems within the ordering and distribution of caps and gowns for graduation.  Issues the team worked through were the logistics of the sporadic influx of inventory (40-60 large boxes that flood the inventory space twice per year) and the long lines customers dread to obtain their cap and gown.  One important concept I learned from this kaizen was the importance of going to the gemba.  To fully understand the issues and problems, we found ourselves taking many trips to the gemba – the place where the work happens.

As noted by Wikipedia, problems are visible at the gemba, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to the gemba. For this kaizen, we spent some time in the inventory room of the Michigan Tech Campus Bookstore to take a look at the current situation.  The picture below shows discussion during one of our gemba visits (note the large boxes that don’t even fit on the shelf).  Each time we went to the inventory room we were better able to understand the limitations of the space and brainstorm countermeasures.

“Gemba walks” are not just for kaizen events.  Ideally they should be done as often as possible to provide supervisors and management with a true picture of what workers are experiencing on a day-to-day basis.  Mark Graban, a lean consultant with a focus on healthcare, recently wrote about an article by Delos Cosgrove, President and CEO of Cleveland Clinic, and his experience with going to the gemba.  These walks are not only important in industries or businesses with physical inventory such as manufacturing, merchandising, or healthcare.  In a knowledge-based industry it is still effective to go to the place where work is being done on a regular (though unscheduled) basis to “go see, ask why, [and] show respect.”

MTU Campus Bookstore Back Room
Going to the Gemba

Using a Fishbone Diagram

A recent kaizen event addressed a couple problems in residential dining: unauthorized access into the dining halls, and theft of food and utensils.  One tool that we used to drive each day’s discussion was a Fishbone Diagram.  After determining what was currently happening in contrast to an ideal state, a fishbone diagram was created to understand what problems stood in the way of reaching the future state.

The team brainstormed these problems and listed them on the diagram under headings (see picture below).  The diagram aided in creating good discussion and exploration of the problem, the team members were able to piggy-back ideas that related to each other.

After the brainstorming cooled down and the team felt the diagram was complete, various techniques were used to prioritize the issues to see which ones will be tackled and in what priority.   Common themes easily emerged showing where the team should focus their efforts.  At the end of the kaizen event the team had a clear understanding of the problem, its causes, and where to go with countermeasures to improve the problems.

MUB Catering Standards & Visual Controls Part I

The first lean project I assisted has finished up its first phase.  I worked with Eric Karvonen, Executive Chef and Kathy Wardynski, Manager of Purchasing and Process Improvement on a shelf that holds catering bowls and utensils inside the MUB kitchen.  We used 5S methodology to tackle the current state problems.

On the first day we took a look at the current state: lots of clutter, lack of organization and no system to sustain any organization that is attempted.  To begin work we removed any items from the shelf that should not have been there.  All of these items already had a proper place to be stored, but had accumulated on this shelf.  Next, we began trying different arrangements of the bowls and utensils that would remain.  After consulting a few subject matter experts (catering staff, dish washing staff) a final arrangement was agreed upon.  Along with the organization, the fluid ounce capacity of each size of bowl was determined to make bowl selection easier during food preparation for catering.

Before the next visit to the pebble bowl shelf, labels were created for the new organization.  The next day consisted of applying duct tape to section off parts of the shelf for each of the bowl sizes and utensils.  The labels were applied for each position to sustain the new current state.

Overall, this phase of the project went great.  Future phases of the project will continue throughout the summer, next we will begin work on the storage of catering trays as well as various sauces, oils, and vinegars.

New Student PIC

Hello there,

I am Mike Leveille, a new Student Process Improvement Coordinator working in the Process Improvement Office.  I am a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student with a minor in Mathematical Sciences.  When I graduate in spring 2014 I will be commissioned as a 2d Lieutenant into the US Air Force.

Two concepts that are important in the Air Force are situational awareness and attention to detail.  The OODA loop is one way that these concepts are emphasized when making a decision.  The OODA loop was originally developed by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd for military strategy.  This decision making loop has also been adapted for use in the business world.  The OODA loop stands for:

Observe: Collect information.

Orient: Analyze the information you’ve gathered and use it to get in tune with your current state.

Decide: Decide on a plan of action.

Act: Carry out your plan.

I am relatively new to Lean concepts and continue to learn more about them every day.  I have learned that OODA loops can be compared to a cycle commonly used in Lean practice, the PDCA cycle.  Like PDCA, OODA is a continuous cycle where you continue to collect feedback and make adjustments to your decisions and actions as needed until you have the desired result.

I am looking forward to begin my first Lean projects for the office.  You can contact me at  Have a good day!


Note: Image from: