Author: rikostre

Farewell, Rylie!

Like Dominique, my time in the Office of Continuous Improvement comes to a close as I graduate and embark on my next Journey in Indiana. My time here in the office has been one of profound growth – both for me as an individual and a professional. These last three years have opened my eyes to the importance of change and networking. The greatest part about this job is the people that I may never have met otherwise.

Nearly two years ago I put out a simple question on LinkedIn, and since then I’ve referenced this experiment numerous times. This question I asked of Lean practitioner’s everywhere was “What is Lean to you in a single word?” The outpouring of responses was overwhelming. In 5 hours I had 150,000 views and over 400 comments from practitioners all over the globe.

Not only did the response volume shock me, so did the responses themselves. These 400+ people chose their single word as it applied to their own experience, their own journey with Lean. This experiment taught me the importance of gaining buy-in from others, of ensuring all voices have been heard, and the importance of having an open mind to hear what others have to say.

I made a word cloud from the responses – I encourage you to not only glance it, but try to dissect it yourself. Try to imagine the world that these voices have come from; what could have possibly lead up to that single word? Challenge yourself to see why YES, these words do apply.

Early in my time with the Office my boss, Ruth Archer, challenged me to develop an elevator pitch for Lean and Continuous Improvement. She said it would help me share with others what Lean and CI was in a nutshell. Honestly, I’ve tried to accomplish this task, but as I continued to learn more about CI, the task of creating an elevator pitch became more daunting. Now that I’m in this phase of transition, I’ve decided to contribute my word to the word cloud – my elevator pitch for what Lean is to me, and what it’s becoming.

What is my single word?

My word is gateway.

Lean is a gateway into opportunities that you will likely never get elsewhere.

It is the gateway to introductions of people you may never meet anywhere else in the world.

It’s a gateway into ‘why’

  • Why do we do it this way?
  • Why did I feel or respond to that thing that way?
  • Why can’t we do this thing instead?

It’s a gateway into ‘how’

  • How did we get here?
  • How do we move forward?
  • How should this be instead?

Lean is a gateway into ‘where’

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go next?
  • Where do we want to end up?

Lastly, Lean to me is a gateway into tomorrow. Lean supports us with what we need for success by allowing us to improve today so we can be a little better, a little more perfect, a little more ready to take on tomorrow.

When I took this job back in the spring of 2016, it was just a job. I was a broke college student who wanted to work on campus. As I began training my confusion was through the roof – I couldn’t believe this whole world of Lean could exist without me ever knowing it. As I completed training and began taking on projects, I began to learn more about myself. I learned that seeing waste and implementing countermeasures was second nature to me. I learned that I love to help people and restore things so that they can be the best that they can be. Lean and this job has provided me with the autonomy that I needed to be able to find myself and prove to myself the potential that I have as an individual. Lean will come with me wherever I go, its become so much more than just a job.

I’m thankful everyday for the experiences I’ve had with the Office of Continuous Improvement and its employees; I can’t wait to share these experiences with the rest of the world.

To all of the Michigan Tech faculty and staff that I’ve had the privilege to work with and get to know, thank you for a great three years!

Thank you to all of the volunteer facilitators on campus, you may not always know or feel it, but the selfless amount of energy, time and knowledge that you give up and offer to those you may not even know amazes me daily, and has made me strive to be better myself for the benefit of others. Thank you.

Why Didn’t You Just Say So?

During the winter months, not only am I employed in the Office of Continuous Improvement here at Michigan Tech, but I’m also employed at our university ski hill, Mont Ripley. At Mont Ripley I’m a certified professional ski instructor and instruct two advanced PE classes throughout the week. Last week I was working on helping my students to learn how to pole plant and the importance behind it. This is a lesson I’ve taught many times to many students with highly variable demographics. Normally I would start this lesson by relating to down hill skiing to other sports, I would segway into asking if anyone has heard of a pole plant, then I would explain how to go about pole planting and why it is we pole plant, then I’d do a demonstration and move the group into an activity to practice for themselves. For this particular lesson I followed my regular lesson plan progression, except I unintentionally left out the piece about why pole planting is important.

This single, simple slip-up made such a dramatic difference in the flow of this lesson compared to all of the others in the past, while also making my job incredibly hard to succeed with on this particular day. We were 50 minutes into our 90 minute lesson when I was scratching my head in confusion, “was it because this group was international? Have I lost my touch? Where did my deployment fail?” I honestly couldn’t figure out what was missing. Until one of my students asked me, “What is the point of this lesson? Why are we learning this?” Ah! Why hadn’t I said that in the first place?! I finally figured out what I was missing. The funniest part about this whole lesson was that as I was going through the flow of my lesson in my head, I did “mention” the importance of pole planting, but I never verbally communicated it. I may have demonstrated its uses and applications implicitly but I never broke it down and communicated it explicitly – so the value of the first 50 minutes of my lesson was lost. Luckily I had 40 minutes left and I was able to apologize and answer the questions I meant to display earlier.

One of my favorite things about down hill skiing is the chair lift rides. After every run, you are granted a minimum of three minutes to reflect – whether that be on your lesson plan, your skiing, your day, even your life. Last week I reflected heavily on leaving out that one piece of information, I reflected to try and identify other pieces of inherent knowledge that I possess but may not have communicated because it was so inherent to me. I also reflected on where I’ve experienced this sort of thing before.

Being a student employee for the Office of Continuous Improvement has allowed me to act as outside eyes on a lot of kaizens. Each time I’m in a kaizen I find myself listening to the current state of the process and intentionally visualizing the steps, trying to catch areas of vagueness, this is my trigger to ask a question, “Is there something more happening here that’s second nature to you?” I have trained myself to ask questions of team members to challenge their implicit knowledge into communicating it explicitly. I like to think I’m good with this skill, but last week reinforced a few ideas on this topic of inherent knowledge:

  1. Communication is hard, but just like skiing, there’s always room for improvement
  2. When we leave things out, even one thing, we can hit a wall that we can’t progress beyond unless we communicate the things we didn’t say.
  3. Inherent knowledge that isn’t communicated plants a seed for assumptions, this allows five people to leave a conversation with five different understandings of what the conversation was.
  4. Communication must be open and mutual, I knew I was missing something in my lesson last week but I wasn’t able to correct it until my student brought to my attention what I left out.

The Lie: I Don’t Have Time

This semester I’m taking a variety of classes outside of my major, particularly in the humanities department. As I’ve gone through each semester prior to this one I’ve always had a reason for why I was too busy for my humanities courses, and why future me would have more time than the current me. Well, here I am in my final semester, about to graduate and taking four humanity classes. Each day I laugh a little when reflecting on the fact that I thought that future me (now present me) would love it if all of those time consuming classes were in a single semester. Let me tell you I’m not loving it. So what happened? I fell into the lie that we all tell ourselves, I don’t have time. What we’re really saying is I don’t have time right now, but I will later. Then later becomes even later and later until we’re in a position that we can’t progress from any further unless later becomes now. This strategy usually, ends up hurting the future us more than implementing bits and pieces at a time would in the NOW.  Believe me, I WISH I had taken my humanities in a more dispersed fashion, because now I really don’t have time, but I also don’t have an option. I did it to myself.

In my time working with the Office of Continuous Improvement, I’ve had the privilege of coordinating many kaizen events and working with a vast amount of people across the Michigan Tech community, and nearly all of them are enthusiastic when we set out to find areas of improvement and implement change. Less frequently, however, I encounter some individuals or departments who are not so enthusiastic, in fact they often are resistant to the idea of a kaizen because they know it leads to improvements. The most common excuse I hear from those resisting the idea of improvement is, “I wish we could, but I just don’t have time.” Some people will add (as if to let me down gently), “but maybe I will later.”

There’s many comic strips and people in the world who have talked about this topic, and many have shared thought provoking insights, like the ones pictured below.

Instead of reiterating what those before me have done already let’s look at the I don’t have time lie in a different way, what do you do when someone give you this excuse?

One of the classes that I’m taking this semester is Organizational Behavior and in my short time this semester I’m already seeing how invaluable the information is that I’m getting. One particular lesson that has been standing out to me was our lesson on Resistance (Goltz 2019). First, where is resistance rooted? It is rooted in five key areas:

  • Fear of uncertainty
  • Habits, group norms such as the pressure not to change
  • When it upsets the power dynamics
  • Individual predisposition to change
  • Not enough work systems have changed

Let’s highlight the last two areas, Individual Predisposition to change and Not enough work systems have changed.

In regards to Individual Predisposition, there are five types of “Adopters.”

  1. The Innovator who readily tries new ideas
  2. The Early Adopter who adopts innovation readily but watches the innovators experiment first – cautious
  3. The Early Majority who are known as the distant watchers, they will adopt after careful observation and thought
  4. The Late Majority who are skeptical but are subject to broad peer pressure. These people are good to have on any team as they slow the thinking down to ensure changes aren’t being made just to make change.
  5. The Resister who rejects most innovations regardless of success stories

There are eight work systems, but five must be altered for a change to be successful as it ensures the environment is able to support the changes. The eight work systems are:

  1. Information Distribution – Communication Strategies
  2. Organization/Department – Culture and Structure
  3. Workplace Design – Physical Environment
  4. Task Redesign – e.g., Prioritize Tasks consistent with change
  5. Decision Allocation – e.g., Budgeting and other Resources
  6. People – Use their knowledge and different personalities (e.g., Selection, Training)
  7. Measurement – Pilot Test doing the new behavior
  8. Rewards – For the new behavior

An Organization or a group can’t just say, “We’re going to make changes,” they first must make the necessary shifts to support and enable the changes. It’s important to always consider whether the environment allows for the change before implementation occurs, if not make adjustments. You can do this by building your improvement team up with individuals from each of the adopter types to ensure that you’re getting validating all different perspectives and concerns. Change takes time because its new territory to navigate, implement or sometimes even learn, but change is necessary for anybody to keep moving forward towards perfection.


S. Goltz PhD. 2019. MGT3000, Organizational Behavior. Michigan Technological University.

The Power of a Good Facilitator

Lean and Continuous Improvement has come a long way since its debut in the Manufacturing world, today its grown exponentially across disciplines and has manifested itself into some “unusual” environments such as Higher Education and Healthcare. Often, a company’s lean journey begins by hiring a consultant from a firm of some sort to come in and teach the principles, the tools, and the applications of lean. These consultants are the facilitators that introduce, train, and coach a company for a short period of time until they eventually leave and its in the hands of the company to make use of the knowledge they just gained. A consultant that needs a little more practice may leave the company confused, moderately ready to keep going or frustrated. A good consultant will leave the company hooked, engaged and eager to sustain a lean environment. The power of a good consultant, a good facilitator, can make a difference in the outcome. This remains true when facilitating a kaizen event internally, the skill of the facilitator can have an impact on the outcome and the long term sustainment of the improvements.

Here at Michigan Technological University, we are very fortunate to have over 40 volunteer facilitators on our campus, all from a wide range of departments. These facilitators are faculty and staff that have voluntarily dedicated thousands of hours cumulatively, outside of their own work schedules, to help the Michigan Tech campus grow towards becoming the best that it can be. They have been trained extensively, and have made themselves available to: coach lean projects on campus, share their skills,  host workshops, facilitate kaizen events on campus, and remain available to the people they’re helping for as long as they are needed. Being able o work with them during my time here at Michigan Tech has made me very fortunate as well since I have been able to learn a lot from them.

Our office, the Office of Continuous Improvement, hosts an annual facilitator training for 18 individuals to complete face-to-face over the course of six months. Once completed they begin their facilitating duties on campus. Something I’ve come to learn is that these individuals, yes they now wear the hat of “facilitator,” but they are still normal human beings, and normal human beings get nervous. We all bring our own baggage with us, our own insecurities, struggles, and “what-if’s,” rational or not, this is reality. Considering these nerves, I began to ask myself, so what makes a good facilitator?

A Good Facilitator is Someone who:

  • Goes into the meeting with no preconceived notions of what will happen
  • Goes in with the mentality of a coach, rather than a mechanic
  • Keeps the conversation focused on the defined scope of the event, but still captures other ideas to validate them
  • Follows-up with their team
  • Ensures that all voices are heard equally by empowering each individual accordingly
  • Enforces a blame-free, mutual respect environment
  • Remains professional and unbiased
  • Manages the group dynamic
  • Is knowledgeable in conflict management strategies
  • Doesn’t make assumptions
  • Asks open-ended questions
  • Engages the entire group in the conversation

This list is no where near complete, nor is it to say that one person holds all of these aspects, nor does one person lack them all, but this is the general consensus that I’ve found in three years of working with facilitators and seeing the end result of many events. Working with people you don’t know can be intimidating, but none of the things I listed above are things you need to be naturally gifted in, you just have to try.

What does PDCA look like for you?

The Deming cycle (Plan, Do, Check and Act or PDCA) is essential for monitoring the effectiveness of a process, the standards for a process and the sustainment. This is called a cycle because even after you implement improvements (Plan and Do) within a particular process, eventually you have to look at the process again (check) to see what’s the next steps to improve the process further (Act). This continues on until you reach your target condition, which may change. It’s a deliberate way to reflect on where you’re at versus where you’d like to be as well as recognizing what’s getting in the way.

Recently I’ve been going through some training on how to be a coach for others in a way that is meaningful and true to myself. This requires a lot of reflection on my behalf so that I can understand:

What does being a meaningful coach mean to me?

What does that look like?

What direction am I trying to go?

Throughout my time reflecting in the last two months, I have been seeking these answers and focusing on identifying my current leadership state and my ideal leadership state. Sometimes it’s been a confidence boost, showing me that I’m a hard worker and reliable, sometimes it’s been a little convicting and has made me step back a little in, “whoa, we need to fix that.” At times, digesting my reflections has been a big pill to swallow. However, through my knowledge of PDCA I’ve come to recognize that just like a deficient process, my weaknesses don’t have to define my leadership capabilities (my process), and they don’t have to stay weaknesses.

The PDCA cycle recognizes that you can’t get from point A to point Z in one large step, but rather through: incremental steps (point A to B to C… Z), experiments, and reflections to see if the experiments worked or didn’t. If they did, go work on an experiment for the next step. If they didn’t, try a different experiment. The PDCA cycle was designed to move through the deficits, but it wasn’t designed to ignore the strengths. PDCA uses the strengths of a process to explore innovative experiments that are customized to the parameters of the process. This is how I’ve been using PDCA to help me check to see where I currently am as a leader, as well as to design experiments through the nature of my strengths to transform my weaker areas as a leader and ensuring the cycles are meaningful to me individually.

Long story short, the PDCA cycle can be used anywhere, even for yourself personally and not just for a process at work. It’s a tool used for reflection, eliminating blame, and accepting that humans aren’t perfect but that we can still strive for something greater by holding ourselves to a higher standard that is meaningful and deliberate.

Welcome Sophie!

Joining our PIC team this year is our newest addition Sophie Pawloski. Sophie is a third year, Mechanical engineering student here at Tech. She is very excited to learn more about the lean culture and implement lean into her own life while helping promote it around campus. Now Sophie will tell you a little bit about herself!


My name is Sophie Pawloski. I was born and raised in a small town in downstate Michigan called Durand. This is my third year here at Tech working towards my Mechanical Engineering degree and it been some of the best years to date! You can probably find me at most Tech sporting events cheering them on with the dance team. In my free-time I also enjoy snowboarding, hiking, and just exploring the Keweenaw.

I was introduced to lean the summer after my freshman year at my first internship working at Magna. They were very involved in lean manufacturing and focused heavily on it at their facility. During my few months there I was able to participate in Kaizens, 5S during change over, and implement many lean ideas, which they called lean thinkers, into the assembly processes there. After this I was able to see the impact lean had on not only the company as a whole, but individual workers as well. In lean everyone’s opinion is valued which can really boost the morale of a company! After this experience lean had me hooked.

Since I’ve started the training process in the Office of Continuous Improvement I’ve learned so many new lean tool that I’m beginning to implement into my everyday life, like how I organize my planner or putting up a whiteboard in my room. I’m so excited to continue this journey and see not only how lean affects Michigan Tech but also how I can implement it into my own life!

Thank you!


The Gembas Role in Data Collection

Data collection can be a tricky thing, especially in a Higher Education setting. We tend to have to get creative in identifying what data would be helpful in representing improvement, as well as how we can collect the data using the resources we already have. This need for creative thinking skills tends to make brainstorming a collection plan seem ambiguous and maybe even insignificant at times.

We can easily generate a process map for the current state and future state and then count how many steps were eliminated, but what if five steps were removed, and one was created? It would appear (numerically) as if four steps were removed. Which is true, but how can we account for the process change in the new step? How can we measure that the new process adds more value than the old process? How do we represent the waste of five steps versus one new step? This is where our creative thinking ends and we decide that removing four steps is “good enough.”

In a video I recently watched, Mike Wroblewski, a senior consultant from the Kaizen Institute, shared a little bit about all the things we should consider before we create a data collection plan. The part that really stuck with me was his emphasis on going to the Gemba, the place where work is done, and asking questions. Wroblewski’s video showed me, that you can’t fully grasp the current state until you immerse yourself in the environment of the user, even if it is only observation. Once you’ve gone to the Gemba, it becomes more clear what the steps in the process are. From here you can identify metrics that represent the frequency of an event, such as the number of corrections to file, or that represent importance. For example, how critical is it that this step be in the process at all.


By now you’re probably thinking, “this is all great, but why do we even care about metrics?” Results. When you think of a research project, you want to know the results. When you missed the ending of a baseball game, you want to know the results. When you hear of someone applying for a new job, you want to hear the results. We as humans are hard wired around, “what happened next?” Lean and Continuous Improvement is no exception to this. When an improvement event is initiated, we soon begin talking about data collection before and after a kaizen so that we have results to showcase the work that was done. Metrics can be the difference between a department hypothetically getting $500 towards improvement efforts or $50,000. Metrics and results drive more people to put in the energy to improve their work from good to great.

This outlook and approach towards data collection is one that our lean practitioners here on campus have been trying to implement more and more, as well creating a more systematic approach towards getting numbers easily, accurately, and that will also provide meaningful data.