Author: Paul Rayment

Paul Rayment is student at Michigan Technological University, and works for the Office of Continual improvement.

Dissecting a SIPOC diagram

An interesting and often overlooked continuous improvement tool the SIPOC diagram. SIPOC is an acronym for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers. The goal of this diagram is to aid the kaizen team in quick high-level identification. That is to:

  • Identify both the suppliers and customers.
  • Identify the scope of the project.
  • Identify the results that will satisfy stakeholders with regards to the problem.
  • Identify the proper metrics for verifying that the customer’s needs.
  • Identify who should participate in the kaizen team.

Completion of the SIPOC involves filling in the relevant data through the following steps:

  1. Process – List the process steps, keeping detail to a minimum by only outlining five to eight steps.  When describing the process steps, try to limit the description to two words. Have each description start with a verb (action) and end with a noun (subject).
  2. Output – Record what information, data, report, material, etc. comes out of this process, or is produced as a result of this process.
  3. Customers – Record who or what receives the outputs of the process.
  4. Inputs – Determine what data, supplies, systems, tools, etc. are required for the process, or who is needed to perform the various steps in the process.
  5. Suppliers – Determine who or what supplies inputs for the process. The supplier can include organizations, systems, databases, individuals, etc.

Typically a quick exercise, a SIPOC is often all that is needed to move forward with an improvement project. If more detail is needed, a SIPOC provides a foundation for detailed process maps such as Swim Lane Process Maps.

The People Factor

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Lisa Cunard

It is around 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, not any old morning.  It is a morning that I have been looking forward to with anticipation all week because it is one of the precious days of the week that I get to sleep-in late.  Why I woke-up with Lean swirling in my brain followed-by a strong-desire to get out of bed, and put my thoughts on paper is something I cannot explain.  So let me share with you how I came to learn about Lean and what was swirling in my brain this morning.

I started my Lean training about three months ago, working towards my Level 1 Certification. My class is not scheduled to graduate until April, 3-months from now, so I have a lot more to learn.  My experience so far, Lean training is like a firehose of information being directed straight at you.  This is not a bad thing!  There is so much to learn, to contemplate and concepts to be explored.  

Where to start?  This is the question I’ve asked myself, as many of the Lean concepts taught in class made me think in ways I won’t normally think about a “process” or “people”.  One of the principles of LEAN that I have a natural resistance to is a “no-blame” environment, meaning when a mistake is made the “person” involved is not to blame, the “process” is to blame.  What? Right?  To further explain, I think Lean’s intent, is to design a “process” so it is difficult to accidentally do anything, but the right thing.  To me, that makes sense (sort of), but if you are like me—my mind keeps inadvertently going back to the question: How can the “process” really be to blame and not the “people”?

I set out to learn more, outside of class.  Our instructor encouraged us to visit a website dedicated to Lean, the GEMBA Academy, which has over 1000 continuous improvement lessons.  The best thing about this website is they offer a large selection of Lean videos that are interesting.  On the website, I’ve watched two excellent videos, so far, “Lean from the Heart: by Karl Wadensten”, spiked my interest and was really helpful to me. I want to share with you some of what I learned about an organization’s successful Lean journey from watching this video.  It was filmed during an Iowa Lean Conference 2015, featuring Paul Akers and Karl Wadensten.  Karl spoke in great length about the “people” part of his organization’s Lean journey and that is where I’d like to start.

Karl shared, GALLUP poll results of a poll conducted in 2015 and it found that in a large number of organizations across the United States, organizations reported their employees were largely unfulfilled at work and divided as follows:

30% of employees – Engaged in their work
52% of employees – Not Engaged
18% of employees – Disengaged – Actively sabotaging and working against the company

I think the reason Karl shared this information was to illustrate that “cultivating a culture” in an organization is the first step in the Lean journey.  That resonated with me, I see it and feel it in the workplace and it speaks to the blaming of “people” that circles in my mind and how it all works into the Lean journey.  Another eye-opener was the Lean timeline of Karl’s company Lean transformation.  In 2000, his company began its Lean journey and they worked solely on “cultivating a culture” until 2005.  FIVE YEARS of working on the “people” part, of the culture!  The company didn’t start incorporating Lean-tools until the culture had changed until the “people’ had changed.  This was a light-bulb moment for me.

What is my point?  What pulled me out of bed at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning?  I think it was the need to share with you what I’ve learned from my personal Lean journey (so far).  My natural inclination to blame people for failures in the workplace has been validated in a sense.  For Lean to work it has to begin with people who collectively create a culture that is based on Lean principles and if the people resist or refuse to adapt to an ever-changing Lean culture, they are to blame for refusing to try.  At the end of the day, the key to the success or failure of a Lean transformation is people. People at all levels of an organization matter a great deal to the success of creating Lean processes that exemplify continuous improvement.  This is what has been swirling in my mind, and I feel I have a greater sense of understanding and peace with how a workplace goes from mediocre performance to continuous improvement and excellence.  Now, I’m ready for my Saturday nap. : )

Sustaining Improvements

Most processes, especially those that involve people, will tend to slowly deteriorate over time. Perhaps after organizing a workspace to perfection, one might find that ten weeks after the reorder the whole workspace is back to where it started. A more solid example of this was seen in one of the improvement events done in conjunction with our office. The improvement event was a digital reorder of a Google Drive. Several years ago the drive started out as a relatively small drive, but over time expanded into over 9000 files, with most of these files being either unnecessary or duplicates. After combing through and removing these unnecessary files, the drive ended with approximately 2500 files that were decently well-ordered.

While the above drive is well organized now, without supervision it will likely slowly return to an unorganized state in the future. However, this slow degradation, as with other processes, can be stopped with periodic audits. The audits for the drive include general standards for organization along with more specific guidelines for naming conventions and handling images. The below standards are scheduled to be reviewed once every 6 months.

The Standards for the Drive

Most improvements, not just those focused on organization, can benefit from the use of audits over regular intervals. Altogether the inevitable decrease in the quality of a process can be slowed or stopped entirely by creating standards and enforcing those standards through periodic audits.

Side Effects

Almost invariably, when one acts they commit that act with a specific goal in mind. The reason why we move is to get from point A to point B, and the reason why we drink is to quench our thirst. In the office it is the same, we create checklists with the goal of ensuring full completion of tasks, and we flip off light switches to reduce the amount of electricity used. Acting with a purpose is quite important, but it is also important to consider the side effects of our actions and the side effects of our processes.Image result for light switch

Side effects can manifest themselves in many forms, both positive and negative. The positive side effect of turning off a light switch could be that natural light is easier on the eyes, while a negative effect could be a lack of vision in some areas. Though it must be noted side effects as with intentional results often interact with many other systems, and can change when other systems change as well.

It is also worth recognizing that the value of a side effect can be greater than the intended result itself, though comparing value is often a difficult task itself. To again use the light example, it is very likely that a lack of vision is far costlier than the small amount of money saved from turning off the light, or perhaps the area is well enough lit with natural light.

Branching side effects.

There are many Lean related tools that can assist in understanding the side effect of processes, even when this revelation is itself a side effect of the Lean tool. Mapping out a process in its entirety can lead to an understanding of many of the detailed side effects involved. Furthermore, a SIPOC (a tool designed to analyze the inputs and outputs of a process) can help one understand the big picture behind a process. Knowing the side effects of a process is an important part of continuous improvement as one cannot improve that which one does not know.

Overall, it is clear that processes and actions are not merely standalone, they often interact with others and produce side effects. These side effects come in all manner of forms, and recognition of these forms is significant for finding areas that need improvements.


The Utility of a 5S

One of the Kaizen (improvement) events that is nearing completion is our 5S of two large storage closest that the dinner services here at Wadsworth are using. Throughout the whole process, the effectiveness of a 5S has really hit home with me. The initial state began with both storage closets being cluttered, with a combination of unneeded junk and items the dinner services would need. Now as the process nears completion one closest is completely empty, allowing other offices to store items there. Furthermore, only necessary items are now stored, and their storage spaces contain labels to prevent future disorders. As far as measurable effects go that is a 50% reduction in the total amount of space. Also, it seems clear that items will take less time to store and retrieve, though there is not enough data to definitively claim this as of yet.

The target state established at the beginning of the Kaizen.

To achieve these results, we followed the process that every other 5S follows as well. Each of the “S”s in the 5S is another step of the process. The five different “S”s are sort, set, shine, standardize, and sustain, with most 5Ss following that order.

The sorting step entails categorizing each item or cluster of items by importance (for our 5S we simply assigned items colored stickers). Then,  useless items can be re-purposed, or discarded.

The next step is the set step. In this step, the position of each item or cluster of items is determined through careful planning to ensure an organized area. Then, these items are put into their rightful place.

Following this is the shine step. This step is the continual process of keeping the area clean. This step is critical to sustaining the results of the previous two steps.

After this is the standardize step. A standard is created so, the current organization is not modified. This standard is recorded to allow future employees to be able to keep the area organized without being part of the improvement event themselves.

The last step is sustain. This step entails having a formal system to ensure that each previous part of the 5S is not changed over time. Typically, this is done by setting up periodic audits to determine if there are any issues with the execution of the 5S.

Overall, a 5S is a very effective workplace tool that, when followed, has proven to improve organization in the workplace.


Working here at an office, sometimes scheduling events can be challenging. Trying to find a meeting time that works for five to ten people that all work in separate departments is hard enough. Even worse is when someone needs to get a task done before the meeting can be scheduled, or the issues that arise when someone chooses not to respond until that person gets a two-minute task done only to eventually forget about both responding and completing said task. These issues, especially the last one, are problems often caused by simply not starting simple tasks.

PDCA Cycle

Scheduling might be one example, but in the workplace or in personal life there are many instances when small tasks not being done lead to serious issues down the road. Incompletion of small tasks can be something that Lean and continuous improvement can solve, as Lean helps to solve the root cause of these problems. Perhaps the primary reason that a task will not be finished is the fear of reprimand, and/or failure. These fears are at the root of many problems at the workplace. However, it can be solved by one of the most important principles of Lean: sustaining a blame-free environment. Sustaining a blame-free environment is an essential practice that can prevent small problems from spiraling out of control. In a blame-free environment, one can do their work without fear of being criticized for small mistakes.

While keeping a blame-free environment is a good way to solve simple issues, proper planning can prevent small problems from arising in the first place. Again, the principles of Lean are useful to fix many issues. The cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) is at the core of all continuous improvement. This allows for experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t work. Often when going through the cycle, the small issues that seemed to constantly plague the workplace before disappear.

Overall, the piling up of small issues is a serious problem in the workplace. The idea of a blame-free environment and the PDCA cycle can turn these headaches into something that is simple to dispatch.


The continuous cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) is a mantra often repeated here at the Office of Continuous Improvement. It can be thought of as the origin of all the other tools and ideas that we use for improvement. As our Director of Continuous Improvement, Ruth Archer likes to point: if tomorrow we forgot all the tools and process aside from PDCA we would eventually create each one over again. PDCA is a cycle because once the planning and the doing have been done, one checks the process, and then acts on their observations, with the goal of reaching the target state.

Part of the process of PDCA is recognizing that one cannot get from step 1 to step 100 instantaneously, but rather through taking several small steps. This allows one to check each part of the process individually, as each step can be thought of as an experiment. As an experiment, a positive result is not guaranteed. Thus, by checking each step one can find errors in the process one by one, rather than as a whole. After each cycle, a standard is set in place to prevent the quality of the process from slipping.

Overall, PCDA is an effective customizable tool that can be used for any process, whether it be in the workplace or home life.

Holier Than Thou

I am sure we have all been there, someone else makes a mistake, either at work, at class, or at home. If that individual comes back after failing an exam, we may think to ourselves, “What a fool, who would think World War I started in the 19th century? Not I”. If that individual messes up at work, we may think to ourselves, “What a simpleton, who would leave a bubble in the carpet? Not I”. If someone swears in the basement of a church, we may think to ourselves, “What a sinner, who could say something like that, most assuredly not I”. This mindset has many problems, least of which is the obvious hypocrisy seeing as I doubt any of us could honestly consider ourselves to be free from mistakes. The chief concern, in the workplace, at any rate, is the inefficiency that this mindset causes. An inefficiency that the blame-free environment of Lean can solve.

Image result for blame thrower

Why is a blame-free environment the most efficient way, one may ask? The reason is that it allows the limelight to be placed on the process rather than the individual. For example, in the instance of a student failing an exam, it would be unlikely that the mistake lied in the amount of effort that was put forth on the exam. Rather, the mistake likely lied in the entire process that that individual followed. Likewise if one makes a serious mistake at the workplace, the error likely falls in the process, not in the present decision.

There are many components that go into sustaining a blame-free workplace. One of the most important is respecting people and their abilities. When a mistake is made respect should still stand, rather than accusations of delinquency. In addition, fostering a workplace where excuses are not mandatory is important. In a blame-free environment, one can admit their wrongdoings without fear of accusations and repercussions. Perhaps the most important part of sustaining a blame-free environment is communication with others. Lack of communication can lead to assumptions of blame (I personally start jumping to conclusions when I am not communicated with).

Overall, getting off of our holier-than-thou soapboxes, and using Lean to foster an environment that is free of blame, is essential for any workplace.

Jump in the Fire

Recently, I discovered some interesting academic writings. I found my self attracted to one professor in particular. He has several interesting ideas, mainly in topics that go far over my head, that usually have something to do with “Jungian Archetypes”, “Lobsters”, or the like. One of the ideas that I actually could comprehend was his ideas on truth, perhaps best explained via his quote here, “The truth is something that burns, it burns off deadwood, and people don’t like having their deadwood burnt off because they’re 95% deadwood”. As an interesting aside, he even went so far as to hypothesize that perhaps, symbolically, this was the reason that when God spoke to Moses, he did via a burning bush.

Now I think it may be reasonable to assume that the readers that frequent Michigan Tech’s website here, may have the age and experience to make the phrase “95% deadwood” become slightly hyperbolic, but I’m sure the general thought that we all have weaknesses and bad habits that need to be disposed of, is a true idea. These weaknesses that we all harbor can have a negative impact on both our professional and personal lives.  Yet we hide these weaknesses not only to others but also to ourselves. Shahram Heshmat, in his article “The Many Ways We Lie to Ourselves” says, “90 percent of all drivers think they are above average, and 94 percent of professors at a large university were found to believe that they are better than the average professor”. It may seem obvious that 50% of us are below average when it comes to driving, but admitting to one’s self one’s own incompetency is a difficult thing to do.

Often when one speaks of Lean or Continuous Improvement it is in the board context of organization; however, the principles behind Continuous Improvement require growth as an individual. Once an individual recognizes their own flaws then they can begin to “burn off the deadwood”. I doubt that I, in my youthful ignorance, could begin to articulate any processes for self-growth after this, but I do think it is clear that, metaphorically speaking of course, every once in a while we all need to Jump in the Fire.


  • Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. The Many Ways We Lie to Ourselves.

Eye of the Beholder

One of the small projects that I’m helping with here at work is the cleaning of two storage spaces for the dining service staff here at Michigan Tech. In cleaning it out we had to get rid of several useless old kitchen appliances. One of the appliances that we were planning the get rid of was an old pizza oven. The cafeteria didn’t need or want it, and I presumed that nobody would need or want it. It almost seemed comical that someone would want such a thing. However, a few quick calls later, and sure enough someone at the school wanted it. Thus it happened that an item I considered to be practically useless found a home.

In a similar vein many items or ideas considered to be foolish by one can be useful to another. No matter what ones background is, they will always see things at least slightly differently than their peers. One could simply point out the apparent foolishness of the other’s opinion, but often this can lead to waste. For example, in the example I gave above, if someone asked, I would most likely have given the answer of tossing the pizza oven, with all the other appliances we threw away. It is essential that with any project that involves more than one person, every person with some skin the game has their voice heard.

During the regular improvement events that we participate in here at the office we regularly create a “newspaper” for our plans. A newspaper is a simple tool used to delegate tasks to different people and keep tabs on the progress. When we create a newspaper for any project, it is essential that we get the opinions and feedback from everyone involved in order to make sure nothing is missed.

Kaizen Newspaper

Overall, it is important to receive feedback, and opinions from everyone involved with any event, no matter how obscure or obvious the right path forwards appears to be.