All posts by Ruth Archer

Ruth Archer is the Director of Continuous Improvement at Michigan Technological University.

A Lean Thanksgiving

Your family is gathered for Thanksgiving. The usual mix of relatives is there, and not everyone gets along. After a couple of hours, nerves begin to fray and tempers start flying. What is there to do? Family run-ins during the feast are almost as traditional as the turkey! This year, try practicing the Lean Fundamentals–and I don’t mean eating less!

dog eating turkeyThe two Lean fundamentals are respect for people and humility. Respect for people is more than just using your manners. In the workplace, it’s about valuing individuals and their knowledge about how the process actually works, coaching others to develop their problem-solving skills, and solving problems by focusing on the process, not the people. Humility comes when you admit that you don’t know how to solve every problem. This drives you to seek out the ideas of all the people involved in doing the work. Together these fundamentals create a blame-free environment where continuous improvement is the norm.

Now, think about how your relationships might shift if you apply these fundamentals around the turkey table. Instead of challenging your know-it-all cousins on everything they say, you can simply ask them about their expertise, learning more by using phrases that begin with What, How, and Tell me more. Instead of criticizing the meal planners for forgetting the cranberry sauce or burning the pie, you can ask them about what happened that caused the problems and coach them on finding solutions for next year. You get the idea. Changing how you approach the family gathering can alter the entire dynamic. Give it a try!

Do you look forward to Thanksgiving with mixed feelings? Please share with us how you think Lean could improve your Thanksgiving experience.


A Calm Mind, Ready to Learn

One of the main ways we create value here at Michigan Tech is educating students. Our goal is to get the student in the classroom with a calm mind and ready to learn. Anything that gets in the way of that is an opportunity for improvement.

John ODonnell and LCI

We used to think our job was to just take care of the person in front of us. But we’ve discovered that what happens before they get to us and after they leave us impacts that person as well. Think of when you go and see a doctor. Maybe you were supposed to come early to do some paperwork. Or maybe you weren’t sure if you really needed medical attention, so you waited too long to make the appointment. Or maybe the waiting room is crowded with sick people. Then you see the doctor. Afterwards, you might not have enough money to pay for the prescription. Or you didn’t really understand the doctor’s instructions. Or you don’t agree with the doctor’s diagnosis, so you don’t do what she said. The aim of the system is a healthy patient. Even though the doctor did her job perfectly, these before and after things can have a negative impact on achieving that aim.

In the same way, what happens to a student before they get to the classroom and after they leave the classroom impacts the ability of faculty to educate that student. If students are worrying about their financial aid, they aren’t in the classroom with a calm mind, ready to learn. The same goes for problems getting an appointment with their academic advisor during registration, having long lines at the dining hall, or not understanding their homework instructions. These are all examples of opportunities for improvement using Lean principles, because they affect the students’ ability to fully participate in their education.

The next time you see a frazzled student leave your desk, call the Office of Continuous Improvement. We can coach you through a process improvement in your area.

If our objective is students with a calm mind, ready to learn, what are some other ways we could identify areas that are opportunities for improvement?


Storytelling = Stealth Lean

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Cayce Will, Director of Information Technology for the Vice President for Administration at Michigan Technological University.

At the 2015 Michigan Lean Consortium Annual Conference, I attended a session titled, “Jane & Jack–The Story of Transformational Leadership” by Ms. Christine Coyne, Manager of Global Continuous Improvement at NSF International.  The description for “Jane & Jack” was intriguing to me–it promised to discuss how to facilitate positive continuous improvement behavioral changes in your organization through two things: the use of a fictional story and NOT mentioning Lean.  This sounded crazy, and like something I wanted to hear about first-hand. How could a simple story contribute to becoming a transformational leader?

There are innumerable aspects and elements to being a good-leader-going-on-great, and one of them is the art of reflection.  It is advisable to make, take, or borrow sufficient time to reflect on one’s leadership journey.  Charging ahead without pause to review your course is a sure way to get lost, fast. To start the session Ms. Coyne gave us the background leading up to the writing of the story, background which is pretty critical and, I think, a fairly common situation most Continuous Improvement leaders experience.  Ms. Coyne recounted her rollercoaster ride bringing Lean concepts to management with high hopes and excitement over the great potential Lean had for improving their business.  The tracks dipped a bit when adoption rates were much lower than expected and management didn’t seem to get it.  “More training,” said Ms. Coyne, and round two began. Less excited, more determined, more training and yet again Lean wasn’t taking hold. Ms. Coyne couldn’t quite understand, after all the great training, the clearly laid out benefits, the shiny new tools, why management wasn’t jumping all over Lean and utilizing it everywhere. But, true to the tenets of continuous improvement, she reflected on her situation and decided that a new approach was necessary.

She prepared a story of two people, a thought leader within the organization named Jane and an operational leader on the plant floor named Jack.  Their story described business and operation issues they were running into in their daily work and their approaches to addressing their issues. Nowhere was Lean mentioned in their story.  But the beneficial results of their choices were obvious and it was clear that their Lean based choices were good choices.  At the end of each of Jane’s and Jack’s chapters the reader was asked if they would be willing to try processes and procedures similar to what Jane and Jack tried.  Only a fool snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, and after being presented Ms. Coyne’s story, her management began quickly adopting and approving behaviors that earlier were deemed “Lean” and shunned.  Success.

I like this approach.  It reminds me of a phrase I might have coined–Stealth Lean or Lean by Ninja.  Essentially, avoid lean terminology (it just gets in the way) and teach everyone the practices you want them to follow. Show them the improved results they could sustain by changing their processes.  Don’t call it Lean. Sneak process improvement in without drawing attention to it. As I thought about the message Ms. Coyne’s story conveyed, it occurred to me that we should never be “doing Lean.”  Day-to-day, aren’t we all truly, simply, “doing business?” Perhaps through more storytelling we, too, can positively influence our workplace culture and do our business better.  I’m willing to give it a shot, how about you?

 


Sharpen Your Ax

At the Michigan Lean Consortium‘s annual conference, I attended a session on A3 Thinking for All Seasons by Brian Vander Weele. Brian began his session with a compelling story:

A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.” The young man stepped forward, and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday loggerafternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today.” Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your ax?” The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!”

Sometimes we get so involved in getting our work done, we forget to look around to see if there’s a better way. Using an A3 form is a simple, structured method for improvement. It’s a terrific tool to reinforce understanding the problem before jumping to solutions. It makes the problem and proposed countermeasures visible, and encourages experimentation. But it’s not the form itself that holds the power–it’s the thinking and the process. Lean processes, methods, and tools can be used to create an environment where continuous improvement is the norm.

Tell us about your favorite Lean tool!

 


Lean in Their Own Words

This is the third installment of Lean in Their Own Words. At the April graduation ceremony for our new Lean facilitators, the graduates each said a few words about what Lean means to them. Many of them have given me permission to share their thoughts with you. This week, we’ll hear from Todd Van Valkenburg, Senior Programmer/Analyst in IT’s Enterprise Application Services. 

Todd Van Valkenburg graduation“What does Lean mean to me now that I’ve gone through Lean facilitator training? At the end of every class day, and much to my dismay, Ruth had each of us get in front of everyone and give a quick presentation of what resonated with each of us. At the end of that first day, what popped into my head was the adjective “HEALTHY,” as in a healthy problem solving process. And that word has stuck with me throughout the class.”

“The Lean approach to Continuous Improvement is HEALTHY because: 1) At its core, it’s a non-blame, respectful approach to problem solving. Contributions are taken seriously and all voices are heard. 2) The process encourages people from different departments, backgrounds, skill levels, and experiences to come together to work on common objectives. 3) This approach relies on teamwork, learning from each other, and developing skills that each participant can bring back to his/her own department to share. And finally, 4) we are addressing problems/opportunities head on by carving out the time to really look at them instead of dealing with them later or hoping that they will just go away.”

“I’d like to conclude today with some imagery that also represents what Lean means to me. First, imagine that I’m working alone on solving a complex problem that impacts a few departments on campus. I am NOT using the Lean principles of continuous improvement. Now, further imagine that the challenges, obstacles and constraints I face are gusts of wind pushing against me causing me to literally lean. I could lean too far one way or the other, lose my balance, and fall right over. Now here’s the second image. Instead of working alone, imagine that I’m working right alongside a few others folks in those departments trying to solve that very same problem. This time, we ARE using the principles of Lean. We interlock arms and form a circle. Now, as these gusts of wind hit the group, some of us may lean but the others in the team provide the support and counter-balance to spring us back upright and put us right back on track. To me, this imagery demonstrates that working as a team and applying Lean principles is a very healthy way to solve problems at Michigan Tech.”

Todd working on a training exerciseTake a look at the list of our campus facilitators. Any one of them would be happy to talk with you about Lean and continuous improvement!


Lean in Their Own Words

This is the second installment of Lean in Their Own Words. At the April graduation ceremony for our new Lean facilitators, the graduates each said a few words about what Lean means to them. Many of them have given me permission to share their thoughts with you. Here is what Gina Goudge, Manager of Business Operations and Student Employment for Career Services, had to say.

Gina Working on a Training Exercise“When I asked my boss, Steve Patchin, if I could sign up for Lean Facilitator Training, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. Lean was all about organization, right?  I’m organized, I create checklists, I already know all about Lean!

This will be a breeze, I thought…maybe I’ll pick up a few new tools!  Well, I was so wrong, because Lean is so much more.

As I embarked on my Lean journey (and it has been a journey!) I quickly realized Lean was going to push me, force me to move outside of my comfort zone, force me to work on my presentation skills, to face my fear of public speaking!

So as I stand here, facing my fear, I’d like to present my elevator speech…what I believe Lean is and is not.

Lean is NOT about being skinny or “cutting to the bone.”  Lean IS about having the right resources to ensure we are providing the best quality product or service.  Lean IS a way of approaching and thinking through any problem, system, or situation.

Lean is NOT just a few tools to use.  Lean IS an entire toolbox of management practices to help you Gina Receiving Her Lean Facilitator Certificatestreamline a process and continuously strive for improvement.

Lean is NOT mean.  Lean IS respectful toward everybody–a no fault/no blame game that locates the flaw in the system when an error occurs rather than the individual.

This is why I’m so excited to become a Lean Facilitator.  I get to share with others a new way of thinking, a new mode of operation, empowering them with the Lean tools and strategies to constantly question their status quo, inspiring cooperation, respect, change and growth both personally and professionally.”

When you see one of our Campus Facilitators, be sure to ask them about Lean!


Lean in Their Own Words

Pattie working on a training exercise
Pattie working on a training exercise

At the April graduation ceremony for our new Lean facilitators, the graduates each said a few words about what Lean means to them. Many of them have given me permission to share their thoughts with you. In the first entry of this series are the comments from Pattie Luokkanen, Manager of Resource Access and Discovery Services at the Library, and trained Lean facilitator.

Pattie said….

“One of my early encounters with Lean was when I took part in a 5s Blitz.
I was new and didn’t really know what it was all about. I was so surprised to find that the people in the workshop all had some messes to clean up, like cluttered supply cabinets and messy desks. Here we were confessing that we had a problem, but then we were shown how to clean up the mess and keep it that way! We were assigned a coach to help us with this. My coach was Kathy Wardynski. She was a great coach, not only guiding me through my clean up project but also Pattie Luokkanen graduationtelling me other things that can be done with Lean on campus. It was a great experience for me and opened my eyes to other possibilities with Lean and left me wanting to know more.

What I like most about Lean is that it is positive. It’s a positive approach to problem solving. I believe that you can inspire great ideas and creative problem solving in a positive environment. I love the fact that an important ground rule for continuous improvement events is that it takes place in a mutually respectful, blameless environment. That is powerful!”

Visit the Campus Facilitator page on our website to see all of the facilitators here on campus.

 


Instant Application for Workshop-Related Tool

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Kathy Wardynski, Manager of Purchasing and Process Improvement for Dining Services at Michigan Technological University.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Lean concepts workshop  presented by Jean Cunningham. Following the workshop was an opportunity to ask Jean questions. Someone asked her how to approach the improvement process when there are many, many problems to solve. She showed us a tool to use at a weekly team meeting that manages the team’s capacity to problem solve. The tool, essentially a work project kanban, makes the problem-solving process visible, but also restricts the number of problems the team works on at once. It’s a simple chart (see picture) that provides space to track the status of three to four problems or tasks.

Work Project Kanban

When a problem gets solved, it’s removed from the chart and a new task is added. If the problem isn’t solved in a couple of weeks, it isn’t a simple problem and should be removed from this list and considered as a larger project. Using this process will enable a team to focus on quickly solving a few issues at a time, rather than making slow or no progress on many issues.

One of the improvement projects that Dining Services is working on this summer is developing a comprehensive employee training program. This is a very large project that will take several years to fully implement. It’s also something that has to be done in addition to our regular work. Every large project is a series of small tasks put together, so we’re using Jean’s tool to manage our volume of work. A weekly discussion of project status and identifying the next steps to take will keep us on track to accomplish our long-term project.


Understanding Lean Concepts Workshop

IMG_2378This week, we were fortunate to have Jean Cunningham present a workshop on understanding Lean concepts using hands-on simulations. The fun activities demonstrated some of the key elements of Lean: pull and flow, value add, set-up reduction and workplace organization.

During the activities, Jean asked us several times “What did you observe? What did you see?” At the beginning of the workshop, we tended to respond with our conclusions or assumptions based on our observations. It took some prodding from Jean to get us to start reporting what we actually saw, but by the end of the workshop, we finally got it. Before: The pin person is careless. After: Some pins fell on the floor. Before: There’s a bottleneck at the welder. After: There’s a lot of product waiting for the welder. Before: The supervisor has too much to do. After: While the supervisor was in meetings, no product was moving in the factory.

IMG_2384

Why is it important to differentiate between observations and conclusions? Because we often make a subconscious leap to these conclusions without considering all of the possibilities, and then we form our solution based on that poorly considered conclusion. Reprimand the pin person vs. altering the work surface to prevent pins from rolling off. Adding a second welder vs. redesigning the process to level the work load. Take responsibilities away from the supervisor (and express your disappointment!) vs. adjusting decision making to the appropriate level to free the supervisor for higher-level decisions.

The workshop participants had a good time and learned more about Lean and continuous improvement.

Jean Cunningham is principal of Jean Cunningham Consulting, which provides lean business management services including workshops, kaizen events and strategic coaching. She speaks at Lean conferences and teaches Lean Accounting for the Ohio State University Master of Business Operational Excellence Program.

Jean is widely recognized for her pioneering work in Lean Accounting, IT, HR and other non-production functions (Lean Business Management, The Lean Office). She is the co-author of Real Numbers (Lean Accounting) and Easier, Simpler, Faster (Lean IT), which won the 2004 and 2008 Shingo Prize for Research respectively. Jean was previously the CFO at Lantech Inc. and Marshfield Door Systems and the voluntary CFO for the Association of Manufacturing Excellence. She has a BS in Accounting from Indiana University and an MBA from Northeastern University’s Executive Program.

The workshop was partially funded by the Visiting Women & Minority Lecturer/Scholar Series (VWMLS) which is funded by a grant to the Office of Institutional Equity from the State of Michigan’s King-Chavez-Parks Initiative.


Regular Leadership Huddles Produce Insightful Reflections

We are pleased to post this guest blog from Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Associate Vice President for Administration at Michigan Tech.

great ideas great staff

Auxiliary Services at Michigan Tech has a practice of a weekly leadership huddle that takes place for 30 minutes each Tuesday, using the virtual platform of Google Hangouts. This use of technology saves travel time for the 10 participants (who are located all over campus and more than 5 miles apart), allowing them to tune in from their offices and share their desktops when referring to metrics.

The meeting follows a standard agenda of each manager reviewing immediate concerns or hot topics, key schedules, an accountability review of leading indicators and a short report-out on continuous improvement events and projects for their area.  The meeting is kicked off by a safety topic and a lean focus, and responsibility for reporting on these topics is rotated among the leadership team members.  Recently as his lean focus, Mike Patterson, Associate Director of Dining Services, shared reflections on a Residential Dining Blueprint kaizen event in which the dining leadership team reviewed the improvement strategy they had develop last year, measured progress-to-goal, and set new priorities.

Mike reflected that while this review was at the strategic level and involved primarily management, the kaizen identified a number of “spin off” kaizen events in which involving those hourly and student employees closest to the work would be critical.  As part of this reflection, Mike referenced a blog post by Brynn Neilson that focuses on pulling improvement ideas from staff and understanding your business by focusing on what the customer values.  The blog lists 30 simple guidelines to ask ourselves and our employees that can help us improve in the areas of customer wants.  Customer wants fall into four general categories of VALUE, FASTER, EASIER, and BETTER.  This practice leverages what Neilson shares is supported by statistics, which is that “53% of great ideas come from staff on the shop floor.”

After Mike referenced this blog post, I read it and would now definitely recommend it to those interested in building an improvement culture focused on customer-defined value and respecting those closest to the work.  The list of 30 guidelines for triggering improvement ideas is worth printing off and keeping handy for future reference.

References

Neilson, Brynn.  (2012, July 16).  Continuous improvement – 53% of great ideas come from staff.  Spinning Planet [web log].  Retrieved from:  http://www.spinningplanet.co.nz/about/blog?view=46