All posts by Ruth Archer

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

OHIO — Only Handle It Once

The following guest post was written by Kaylee Betzinger, a former student process improvement coordinator here at Michigan Tech and currently an intern at Amway in their Enterprise Excellence Department.

For the past 13 weeks I’ve been interning with Amway in their Enterprise Excellence Department. While in this position I’ve gotten to partner with a variety of cross functional teams throughout the business and within the West Michigan community. One project in particular is a non-profit venture with Mel Trotter Ministries. Mel Trotter Ministries exists to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ toward the hungry, homeless and hurting of the greater Grand Rapids area (www.meltrotter.org/mission). They are able to provide a variety of services to these people in need because of their 4 thrift shops located throughout West Michigan. I’ve been working closely with Greg Alvesteffer, Assistance Vice President of Retail, on their donation process.

Before I began working with Greg and his team, their donation processes were quite a mess. First and foremost, there was no standard process spanning all of the stores (yikes!), making it difficult for the store managers and Greg to share ideas with one another. We also found numerous wastes in their process, the biggest being over processing. Multiple employees were touching the same donation multiple different times which was resulting in huge batches (they would create a batch of 50 donated clothing articles, then push them down an “assembly line” for the next employee to work on). While observing at the Gemba, we asked the question “Why do you create these batches?” That got me a variety of answers and a few weird looks, but ultimately the answer was “that’s just how it’s always been,” a typical answer in non-continuous improvement environments.

After multiple days observing and a few hundred questions we began to experiment and change things around a bit. My Amway mentor, Steve Sweers, and I explained the value of one-piece flow in what Steve calls the OHIO method (Only Handle It Once). This really seemed to resonate with Greg and the employees we were working with.

After a few weeks of experimentation, I did some time study evaluations to compare the old process with our new process and the results were astounding! By eliminating the batching process and installing a one-piece-flow production we were able to decrease space requirements by 70%, reduce labor requirements in that area by 83% (they were able to reallocate several employees to other departments within the store), and ultimately increased productivity by 480% (yes, that is possible!). It’s incredible to know that we were able to get these results without any capital investment. All we needed was to apply some continuous improvement principles in their processes and presto, huge improvements!

Being able to share this knowledge with a business like Mel Trotter has been such a rewarding experience. I will be continuing this partnership this fall where we plan to continue to make improvements throughout their retail stores.

 


Lean Principles and Tools in Industry

We are pleased to present this guest blog by Mary Fogelsinger-Huss. Mary is currently an ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt working for the Dow Corning Corporation in Midland Michigan. She has nearly 30 years experience in the chemical industry, with nearly half that time involved in quality practices for various product lines in the company. She holds a bachelors in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Technological University.

Lean Six Sigma has been widely accepted in the industrial setting as a method to improve many types of processes. The Lean Toolset is easily applied to nearly any setting that you can think of. The basic fundamental ideas of “making value flow” and “eliminating waste” can be as appropriate for a manufacturing company as it can for your own home. The first idea that many people like to apply is the “5S” concept:  Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. The first three are usually pretty easy to accomplish and are pretty straightforward in many settings…it’s that Standardize and Sustain thing that many of us struggle with. Here is an example, using a receiving dock at a manufacturing site:

1-beforeNotice the stuff piled on top of the drums, and the inability to access many of the drums. In working with this team, they realized that many of the items had been in the area for far too long, and they weren’t sure why they were there.

SORT will eliminate the items that are not needed or are in the wrong spot. Remove those items to a different location by keeping in mind the idea of “Runners, Repeaters and Strangers.” Runners are items used daily, and should be kept close at hand. Repeaters are items used weekly and should be kept in an easily accessible storage area. Strangers are those items that are rarely used and should be in a designated location. Anything that doesn’t get classified as one of those goes to the “Red Tag” area, and is either moved to the appropriate location or disposed of.

STRAIGHTEN  is the organizing of the area in accordance with the Runners, Repeaters, Strangers strategy and determining the optimum positioning of items. This is much easier with all the excess (waste!) removed from the area.

SHINE is the process of cleaning the area and upgrading the surroundings to a level that encourages pride in your work area, and making sure all your work items are in a usable condition, when needed. Whether that means replacing cabinets or a simple coat of paint…it all adds to increased pride in your work space.

STANDARDIZE the area to ensure items are returned to the appropriate spot and that any “nonconforming” item is recognized right away.  This is usually accomplished by labeling areas, creating shadow boards, or marking an area with text for what goes there.

SUSTAIN is one of the “5S’s” that we all struggle with. Everything goes great for a while, then we get busy or rushed and just “put this here for a minute”…then never get back to take care of it. One way to manage this is through the simple reminder of a photo.  Many of our areas have a photo of what the area should look like, and at the end of the day (or shift) we make sure it’s returned to that image. The photos are posted in a prominent place like a bulletin board or on a wall near the process area.  Also, in a more formalized 5S program, a monthly audit can be used1-after to ensure the gains made with the 5S activity are maintained.

Here’s how the area looks after the 5S. Notice the paint lines on the floor and labels on containers. All unneeded equipment and materials have been removed and, as you can see, the floor just shines!

Which area would you rather work in?


Sponsored Programs Kanban

Sponsored Programs Kanban for the end of the fiscal yearMichigan Tech’s Sponsored Programs uses a Kanban to keep track of all the tasks they need to complete at the end of the fiscal year. A Kanban is a visual management tool that shows you the status of a process at a glance. The university has two financial closes for the fiscal year–one on June 30 and a final close around the second or third week in July. This Kanban helps them keep on track. They review and update it in their daily 15 minute group-ups. Each horizontal space represents a task that must be completed. Each task and associated team are written on sticky notes. A task which has not been started is placed on the far left. The responsible team is next to it. As the task is completed it’s moved to the right, first to 25% complete, then 50%, 75%, and finally, 100% complete. Any person in the office can look at this Kanban and know what’s complete, what needs to be done, and who might need some help. Tammy LaBissoniere, a Lean Implementation Leader in Sponsored Programs, uses Kanbans to keep track of several different processes. Talk with her if you think this might work for you. Or contact our office anytime!


The Lean Help Loop

The Lean Help Loop
The Lean Help Loop

When you’re improving a process, it’s important to make sure a help loop is in place. The help loop ensures that when employees encounter a problem they can’t fix themselves, someone will come and help. Without a help loop, the improvement will not be sustained.

Your most important processes should have both a Standard and a Visual Control. Establish a Standard so that it’s easy to see when the actual outcome doesn’t equal the expected outcome. Then create a Visual Control that allows everyone to easily know if the process is working properly (called an Andon). It  needs to be updated only as often as management is willing to both check it and take action if something is wrong. The Visual Control isn’t just for information. If actual is not equal to standard, management must not only respond, they also have to respond in a positive and timely manner. At this point, supervisors work through the problem with their employees, using the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) model, to develop countermeasures that will fix the problem, bringing the process back to Standard.


Lean at Tech Update

Michigan Technological University campus

At Michigan Tech, continuous improvement is being integrated into the everyday operations of the university. A central Office of Continuous Improvement supports departments and individuals in their efforts and functions as a knowledge bank for people seeking more information. This office connects people who want to do a continuous improvement event with a trained facilitator; the university’s 24 facilitators are all volunteers.  

Training, workshops, and coaching help to develop a continuous improvement culture. The Lean facilitators and Lean Implementation Leaders attend monthly continuing education to keep their skills fresh. All new supervisors are required to receive basic training in Lean principles. In addition, periodic workshops on topics like 5S and Process Mapping make Lean immediately useful and accessible to university employees.

Michigan Tech’s Continuous Improvement program also increases campus and community awareness, exposure, and engagement. Initiatives in this area include an active website, this blog, a recurring article in the university newsletter Tech Today, a Twitter account (@Lean_at_MTU), and a Lean Library. A Lean Model Office tour showcases Lean practices in an office environment; stop by the office at 136W Wadsworth Hall to take the self-guided tour. Michigan Tech also organizes a quarterly meeting for the Copper County Lean Group made up of 26 area businesses who gather to learn more about Lean and continuous improvement, share stories, collaborate, ask questions, and celebrate successes.


Goodbye, Megan

Today we bid a fond farewell to Megan Johnson. Megan has been a student Process Improvement Coordinator in the Office of Continuous Improvement for 3 years. In that time, she was involved with dozens of Kaizen Events, both as a coordinator and as a facilitator. 

We have a Megan for that! The Two Megans partnership has come to an end.

Megan recently graduated from Michigan Tech with a degree in Biomedical Engineering. She’s taking a position with a global manufacturing company as a Value Stream Team Leader. A value stream is the series of events and the information flow required to transform a customer request into a good or service. Value streams generally cross production lines and departmental boundaries; they have an enterprise focus rather than a functional focus. Megan credits the skills she developed as a student Process Improvement Coordinator and as the president of the Leaders in Continuous Improvement (LCI) student organization with giving her the competitive edge during her job search. 

Megan sends her thanks to all of the wonderful continuous improvement facilitators and team leaders that she’s worked with. 

Goodbye, Megan. Have a super sparkly career!


Collaboration with State of Michigan

We are pleased to post this guest blog from Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Assistant Vice President for Administration.

As a volunteer through the Michigan Lean Consortium (MLC), I was asked to work on an improvement project focused on revising the Michigan Department of Education’s (MDE) Scorecard to align more directly with the department’s articulated priorities.  My role was that of a Lean facilitator.

The work of planning, data collection, meetings, and a final workshop was done virtually through email, conference calls, and by using Skype.  This worked extremely well since I’m located in the U.P. and all the others in Lansing, MI. I initially worked with two representatives from the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget who coordinated and co-facilitated as “boots-on-the-ground” representatives responsible for the continued deployment of the Governor’s initiatives, and with key leadership in the Michigan Department of Education.  The work concluded with two larger meetings that included the Deputy Superintendents and/or the Special Assistants from the various areas within the MDE.

The key deliverable was to create a pathway to get from the scorecard in place when we began this work in November, 2013, to a revised future-state scorecard that linked directly to the MDE mission and priorities that have been articulated for 2013-2015.  At the conclusion of the final workshop, held in March 2014, the group had established a goal of two metrics for each of their seven strategic goals.  Each scorecard metric would represent either a student outcome measurement, or measurement of a process that drove student outcomes.  A few organizational metrics, such as employee turnover, were recognized as valuable although not directly tied to priorities. 

While some follow-up work will need to be done to determine the final scorecard metrics and receive approval to execute the update, the group left the final workshop with a decision-making framework that will ensure the Scorecard metrics align with strategic priorities, is outward-facing whenever possible to inform the public, drives the desired behavior, and is appropriate at the departmental level.

This work will significantly change the metrics that appear on the MDE scorecard as well as significantly reduce the total number of department-level metrics from the current 27 to between 15 and 20.  Many of the existing Scorecard metrics will either be pushed to an Office-level scorecard or eliminated entirely.

Facilitating this improvement work was a great professional development experience for me that provided an opportunity to exercise my facilitation skills and sharpen my thinking on metrics.  I had a really fun group of people to work with and greatly enjoyed this volunteer experience.

The MLC partners with the State of Michigan to provide assistance in implementing the Good Government imitative, which 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.


New Manager of Process Improvement

Ruth Archer, Manager of Process Improvement
Ruth Archer, Manager of Process Improvement

Hello! I’m Ruth Archer, the new Manager of Process Improvement. I’ll be maintaining and building on the excellent foundation of continuous improvement using Lean principles already established at Michigan Tech. I’m responsible for the leadership and support of process improvement activities on campus. I’m pleased to be leading this highly skilled team and look forward to taking on the challenges of the position.

I believe that following a continuous improvement philosophy is an excellent way to be successful, both professionally and personally. Integrating continuous improvement into your work can increase your effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity. Bottlenecks and non-value-added steps can be identified and eliminated. Costs can be reduced through savings in money, time, and materials. In addition, continuous improvement can increase your job satisfaction because you’ll feel empowered. Decision making is pushed down to the lowest possible level. Employees are enabled to challenge the status quo and offer ideas for improvements. And the system ensures that people’s ideas are listened to and discussed, so, even if your idea isn’t ultimately used, you’ll still feel valued. Finally, continuous improvement increases customer satisfaction because the customer gets a quality product at the lowest cost. Satisfied customers will return for more and recommend your organization to other people.

The best part is that you don’t have to figure this out on your own! Our team of experienced facilitators and process coordinators will help you form the right team and lead you through every step to get your process improved.

I personally enjoy practicing Lean principles. When I was an aircraft technician in the Air Force, my shop lived by the 5S’s: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. Our tools were carefully arranged, including our bench tools and our toolboxes. Our workplace was cleaned at the end of each shift, and our work on the aircraft had to be meticulous. We used technical orders to standardize tasks and regular inspections to sustain adherence to procedures. As a university instructor, I used continuous improvement as an integral part of teaching. I applied the Lean principles of creating value for the customer, eliminating waste, and respect for people to improve my courses. For example, reviewing the type and spacing of assignments to provide a steady work load for students, explicitly relating assignments to learning outcomes, and ensuring all assignments have a clear format and grading rubric are all continuous improvement processes for faculty.

Contact us and we’ll come and talk to you about how you can incorporate continuous improvement practices into your everyday activities.