All posts by Paul Rayment

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

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.


Confusion

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
https://www.mindtools.com/media/Diagrams/PDCA2017.jpg

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.


One

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
http://www.inspiredlivingmedical.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/not-my-fault-.png

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.

References

  • Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. The Many Ways We Lie to Ourselves. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201708/the-many-ways-we-lie-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

 

velaction.com/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.


Nothing Else Matters

During my freshman year of high school I ran cross country. For those unfamiliar, high school cross country strictly consists of running 5K races (3 miles). I myself cannot claim to be a quick runner, especially not as a freshman; however, at our school we did have one senior whose both speed and endurance could only be described as completely bananas. He won almost every race he ran in, broke half the records at our school, and still managed to be a moderately modest individual. During the car ride to a particularly large meet, he gave me an edition of a running magazine. I am not one to read magazines, much less magazines devoted to running, but I suppose his legendary status caused me to at least skim a few pages in the magazine. The only article I recall from the magazine was one discussing “flow”, and how getting in a state of flow can help to knock a few seconds off of one’s race times.

Image result for cross country

Image:  https://www.aetc.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2001274521/

One may ask, “What is ‘flow’, and what does it have to do with anything?”. The term “flow state” was officially coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in the 1970s, and characterizes a mental state of complete focus. Colloquially a flow state can be thought of as being in the zone, or having such focus on a task that nothing else matters. Having such focus on a task can amplify the results or decrease the time required of various tasks.

In his article “Create a Work Environment That Fosters Flow”, Steven Kotler discusses the science behind flow states and how to consistently get in a flow state. The complex details behind the neurochemical processes that go on when one is in a state go far beyond my limited knowledge of biology, but the general idea is that during a flow state the brain releases five chemicals each having different effects on our physiology. Some of these chemicals block out pain or discomfort, others temporarily boost one’s creativity, and further still some chemicals temporarily increase one’s happiness. All this combined lead to studies showing that an increase in time spent working in a flow state to 15%-20% of one’s time can lead to roughly double the productivity. One example cited in Kotler’s article was military snipers who reported being consistently in a flow state trained 230% faster than their counterparts. Typically flow is primarily discussed within fields requiring intense physical activity; however, Kotler discusses how to achieve a flow state in the office. Simply put, in order to get to a flow state, one needs to start a task slightly more difficult one is capable of, 4% more difficult being a loose rule of thumb, Kotler suggests. Taking on a task that is too simple leads to boredom and lack of focus, while taking on a task that is too complex leads to one burning out quickly.

Whether at work, at home, on the track, or in a gym recognizing when one is in the zone and fostering this feeling can greatly improve both one’s efficiency and happiness. In order to get into this state, find and seek out tasks that seem mildly out of reach, and get in the mindset that nothing else matters.

Reference: Steven Kotler’s Article.


Welcome Paul!

Joining the team in the Office of Continuous Improvement is a new student Process Improvement Coordinator (PIC), Paul Rayment. Paul is a first year student pursuing a degree in Computer Science. It is with great pleasure that we welcome Paul!

He will now take over and introduce himself.

Hello,

My name is Paul Rayment. I was born in Seattle, Washington, and at the age of two I moved to a small town in the thumb of Michigan named Harbor Beach. I am currently approaching the end of my first year here at Michigan Tech. It has been an interesting time up here, with most of my time filled up with progressing through my classes. In my spare time I love to play a little soccer, play a bit of euchre, play a few songs on a cheap keyboard, and maybe even spend some time programming a few small programs.

I am in the process of training to be a student Process Improvement Coordinator, and I am learning the principles of Lean and all things related. Thus far, the material has been interesting, and I look forward to the experiences here at both Michigan Tech, and at the Office of Continuous Improvement.