All posts by wmdavis

Toilet Paper and Waste

Our University recently switched to a new compact toilet paper from Georgia Pacific.  Being a Lean practitioner, I have thought about this toilet paper change every trip to the bathroom since.  I think of each instance of waste that was eliminated from the simple change in design of the toilet paper roll.

On the right you have your standard toilet paper roll…..and on the left is the new type of toilet paper we are using:

I have compiled some of my best thoughts on the major waste reductions from this new toilet paper roll design, though I cannot be certain that all are recognized by the stakeholders:

  • Inventory reduction – less space required for storage of inventory, more inventory per square foot.
  • Over Processing (doing more than necessary to produce a product or service) – As a customer I never used the cardboard roll and this new toilet paper design appears to be working just fine without it.  Thus, it was unnecessary.
  • Motion/Movement – I assume there is less changing of toilet paper as there is more “TP” per roll.  There will also be more rolls shipped per delivery truck!

Tour of Nationwide Insurance IT Department

I recently had the opportunity to tour the Nationwide Insurance IT department in Columbus, OH.  Their empowered culture and commitment to continuous improvement stood out the moment the tour began.  We walked into a large open room and could see all of their employees surrounded by floor to ceiling whiteboards.  The IT department is broken into “pods” of work stations so that natural work teams can form to work together.  There are no assigned work spaces, cubicles, or corner offices.
There was a high level of employee interaction and communication.  The company even pumps in white noise so that as working teams form, they do not disturb others.  And their were Nerf guns and Gongs – they had quite a bit of fun too.
It was very interesting to me that this IT department had so many visual metrics and project statuses displayed on whiteboards, not within their computer system.  As they progressed on their “Lean Journey” it was stated that they began to see the value in putting more and more information on whiteboards.  It was an engagement piece for their staff to huddle around and talk problems through.  They found tickets (work requests) were completed sooner when they were visually displayed on a whiteboard and are addressed at their daily huddle.  Problem tickets that might have taken weeks were down to days due to the increased visibility and group communication.
Ticket Response Metrics:
Ticket Response Metrics
Tickets with visuals of those working on resolution:

Effective Meetings

How many meetings do you go to each week?  What percentage of your typical day is tied up in meetings?  Are these meetings adding value to your work and to your customers?  Lean practice is about eliminating waste, non-value adding activities.  Since knowledge based work and service driven processes seem to require more meetings than a manufacturing environment it is important to identify the value of a meeting as a lot of waste can be hidden within them.  Here are some tips to help you hold a effective and valuable meeting:

  • Identify the purpose of the meeting and why it needs to be held.
  • Identify what objectives or decisions need to be met in the meeting.
  • Create a schedule that includes the meeting purpose, objectives and decisions to share with those invited.   This does not have to be a formal agenda, it can simply be within an email of invitation request.
  • Determine the length of the meeting based on it’s purpose and objective.  Schedule shorter or longer increments of time, do not feel fixated on the one hour meeting.
  • Stick to the meeting agenda and record follow-up tasks and action items that are a result of discussion.
  • Relay decisions made and assign the follow-up tasks and action items at the end of the meting so that all attendees know what is expected at the meetings close.


Welcome Chris!

Chris Maxson has joined the Office of Process Improvement as an interim manager and will be assisting the office through September.  Chris serves as the Skier Services Manager for Mont Ripley, which is owned and operated by Michigan Tech.  Previous to MTU, Chris worked as a robotic technician on a start-up team for a company with a deeply rooted culture of continuous improvement.

Here Chris will introduce himself and share some thoughts about his new role:

By this time of the year, normally my work at Mont Ripley has drawn to a close and I’m off to some summer adventures before getting back to work in the fall. But this summer I’ve been given an exciting opportunity to work with Michigan Tech’s Office of Continuous improvement as interim manager. I have always enjoyed assisting with improvement projects, so a summer to continue my Lean journey will be great.

I have been getting the question, what is the Office of Continuous Improvement? What do they do?  The first time I got this question, I thought the answer was obvious. I mean, we help us all work better, right? But after the fifth question, I began to wonder: wait, what does the Office of Continuous Improvement really do?

As it turns out, we not only improve processes; we are in the empowerment business. The role of Continuous Improvement is to share knowledge and spirit with the students, faculty, and staff of Michigan Tech, placing them on a path of eliminating extra, unnecessary steps in processes making room for more capacity and value every day for all of us. Michigan Tech’s Office of Continuous Improvement is an investment into its true assets, its people.


Mini Improvement Event for HR Benefit Orientation Packet

A short improvement event (utilizing 5S methodology) occurred today to solicit feedback from recently hired employees on the value adding (and non-value adding) items in the Benefits Orientation Packet.  The packet is designed to provide resources for new staff to make decisions on benefits such as medical, dental and vision insurance, retirement, etc.   The packet has collected information and resources over time and through many benefit changes – which has resulted in a lack of organization, duplicate and redundant information, and non-value added information to the customers.  Check out the Before and After sheet of the improvements the team made in just a few short hours.



Making a Good Problem Statement – Tech Fit Process Improvement

Taking the time to understand the current state of a problem can be described as the most critical part for improvement.  Many Lean practitioners will recommend at least 50% of the time invested in making an improvement be in the Plan phase of the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust cycle.  This is where you will study the problem where it occurs (the gemba) and collect baseline metrics, facts, and observations to answer the question “What is currently happening?”  From there a problem statement can be formulated to focus the improvement effort.

A good problem statement should sound something like this: “A is happening, causing X, Y, and Z.”  A is the problem and X, Y, and Z are waste.

A kaizen event is currently implementing countermeasures to respond to the problems within the Tech Fit Benefit Request Process.  Metrics were collected for a few weeks prior to the team getting together.  Vendors and customers (stakeholders) were involved to understand key issues with the process.  As a result, a problem statement was formulated:


Personal Kanban Board Take 2

You might recall a post from almost one year ago when I introduced the concept of personal kanban boards.  I began using this tool that week and I have not gone a day without using my board since!  I find this tool to be very effective for my work (projects, correspondence, coordination of activities, etc.).

If you compare the below picture to the graphic in the 2012 blog post you will see that my personal kanban has evolved quite a bit – a little bit of check and adjust.  I have made many changes over this past year to adapt the board to fit my needs, I think this is a very important step in making your kanban board work for you.

Here is a bit about some of the changes I made to my board:

  • I color coded my work (stickies) by month – giving each month a color allows me to see items that are falling behind.  A month works great for the type of work I do.
  • I changed my headings – the original PDCA heading was more confusing than helpful (personal opinion, I know others who find these headings to work well).   I came up with three headings: my “hopper” are items I will work on at some point, “today” is work items for the day, and my “waiting” column allows me to keep track of items that I sent off but will be waiting for a response on.
  • I also strategically limited my column sizes.  For instance, my “today” column cannot fit more than five stickies.  I would despise working a day with more than five stickies – so this board constraint holds me to that.  Limiting your work in process (WIP) is one rule for personal kanban.  The other rule is to visualize your work.

In the past year, I also found a great website that helped me better understand this concept:  http://www.personalkanban.com/pk/.

If you are interested in starting a personal kanban board for yourself or your work group, please contact me.  We have many examples across campus to give you some ideas.

Wendy's Personal Kanban March 2013
Wendy's Personal Kanban March 2013

UPLMC Presentation and the Affinity Diagram

On March 7, a group of Michigan Tech employees gave a panel presentation at the U.P. Labor Management Council’s annual conference in Harris, MI.  The panel presentation, “Lean Principles: A Strategy for Improved Labor Relations,” was given by:
  • Amanda Cadwell (Administrative Aide, Civil/Environmental Engineering & UAW President)
  • Wendy Davis (Manager of Process Improvement)
  • Bob Hiltunen (Director, Auxiliary Services)
  • Ellen Horsch (Vice President for Administration)
  • Rhonda McClellan (Facilities Helper, AFCSME member)
  • Barb Ruotsala (retired, past UAW President).
Theresa Coleman-Kaiser (Assistant VP for Administration) moderated the panel presentation.
At the beginning of each presentation the panel used a tool called the Affinity Diagram to gather thoughts and opinions from the audience on what they thought about “Lean” in 3 words or less.  While a presentation was given regarding the key concepts of Lean and how Michigan Tech has been utilizing Lean methods and tools, Theresa Coleman-Kaiser was organizing sticky note responses from guests into family groups by their affinity.  This tool allowed us to better understand our audience, gave them a connection to our presentation, and allowed us to have a well moderated and engaging open discussion period.

HR Training Series Features Continuous Improvement Using Lean

Written by: Megan Johnson, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

The HR Supervisor Training series, a series of training for staff supervisors all across campus, will conclude this week with the final presentation of Module 6: Continuous Improvement Using Lean Principles. The purpose and goals of this 6 module training series as a whole were to provide educational opportunities, develop leadership skills, and provide tools for problem solving and communication for all supervisors.

Wendy Davis, Manager of Process Improvement, and Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Assistance Vice President for Administration, presented Module 6. The objectives of Module 6 were for supervisors to:

  • Develop a problem-solving mindset using Lean Thinking,
  • Improve processes and services and strive for perfection, and
  • Improve labor-management relations.

In the session, information on various Lean topics was covered, including: a Lean Overview and Key Concepts, Waste, Lean Mental Models, and Employee Engagement and Culture Building. The interactive training module included a team exercise, discussion and sharing experiences, videos to provide examples or share testimonials, and role playing. At the end of the session, supervisors were encouraged to visit the “gemba” with a purpose, discuss improvement opportunities with their staff, visit a daily team meeting, practice Socratic questioning, reflect on their mental models, and call Wendy with any questions or improvement opportunities!