Category Archives: Guest Post

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


Lean IT at Michigan Tech

This post was originally published in Michigan Tech’s IT News and Announcements blog. 

Lean principles are generally well established and have been applied to manufacturing for quite some time. The idea is simple: identify and eliminate areas of waste that lead to poor service for customers. Within Michigan Tech IT, we’ve begun to apply those principles to our work. Though the changes are small, they’ve made a large impact in how we do daily business, and they’re sparking a cultural change within our organization.

Group-ups

The Services Team is using daily Group-up meetings to increase awareness among staff and solve problems. “Our morning huddle brings everyone together for 15 minutes to discuss what is most important, most time-sensitive, and most technically problematic,” says David Kent, IT Services Director. One of the main objectives of the meetings is to help each other solve problems or help with time-sensitive commitments. “Threats to projects and deadlines are identified quickly, and often resolved on the spot, because the entire team is present,” says Kent.

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The morning huddle fosters a more efficient and open, collaborative attitude within the team. “Since we’ve started having the group-ups, our ticket count has decreased significantly, and we’re continuing to set record lows on a regular basis.  Everything that is important to our group is on the whiteboard for all to see, and each member is able to make updates as needed.  We definitely accomplish more with less because we focus on what is on the board.”

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Project Board (Cadence Board)

For the past month, the Enterprise Application Services group has been using a Cadence Board for their Web Focus Project. The low-tech and flexible visualization tool gives visibility to the current workflow and progress and informs the team of each other’s work progress. The board displays planned work, unplanned work, high level milestones, a parking lot (for future items) and a rolling two-week work plan. The team meets three times a week for status updates and discussion.

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“The board helps us keep the project moving and more easily keep track of its different elements,” says Emmett Golde, EAS Director. “It’s increased communication between team members, and because it’s so visual, you can immediately see who’s doing what and where they’re at in a particular process. Tasks are shown in small enough pieces so that we can see where the workload is distributed. It shows us if a particular team member is overloaded.”

Process Mapping for a Kaizen Event

When Ashley Sudderth, Chief Information Compliance Officer, met with the Office of Continuous Improvement on March 23, it was to discuss IT’s Procurement and Deployment process for new machines. “It was an area that generated a lot of help desk tickets and was one we knew needed improvement,” said Ashley. “We met with the Office and completed a process map of the P&D process. They helped us examine the process for where we could benefit from a Kaizen event… and we chose the service desk workflow for task management.”

Through the mapping process other small changes were identified that had a big impact in addition to the Kaizen event. “It’s been very helpful to have outside input from actual customers who also understand the Lean Process,” said Angie Hebert, Sr. Help Desk Consultant, a member of the process mapping team. “One of the things customers were unsure of was what software would be included on their machines at delivery. We took that feedback and set up a web page that gives them a full list of what software they will receive as a standard installation. It was just one of the things that we might not have considered had we not gone through this process.”

One of the deliverables: a new computer checklist which now accompanies each new deployment.
One of the deliverables produced as a result of process mapping: a computer checklist which now accompanies each new deployment.

Though the team is still in the process mapping stage, they’ve already seen major benefits. “Our team members have an increased knowledge of the parts and pieces in the deployment process from procurement to the actual builds,” says Hebert. “We’ve seen more care and diligence in work, resulting in faster, better builds in deployment.”

Josh Olson, Chief Technology Officer, is embracing the shift to Lean IT. “As an organization, we want to be open to change in our processes and methods and commit to continuous and ongoing improvement,” he says. “Since we’ve started incorporating Lean thinking into our daily work, we’ve seen measurable improvement. The culture is changing. We’re changing. Lean IT is improving the way we provide services to our customers.”


A Brief History of Michigan Tech’s University Policy Office: How Lean Methodologies Helped Pave the Way

This post was originally published in the Business Operations Blog. It was written by Ann Kitalong-Will, the executive director of business operations here at Michigan Tech.

leanSometimes continuous improvement results can take some time to materialize. But it’s important to remember to focus on the goals you’re trying to accomplish, and to trust that lean process improvement methods can and do result in reaching the tangible goals that we have in our work.

In 2012, as part of a grant Michigan Tech received through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, we were able to bring consultants to campus to help us continue on our lean journey as a University. Our grant application had proposed an innovative approach to enhancing relations between management and union-represented staff via a rigorous series of Lean training sessions. Lean as a management method is particulary well-suited to accomplishing such a goal, because it is an approach that focuses on the value of each employee, at all levels and within all units. We believed that our proposal would contribute to improving communication and relations between employees at all levels across campus.

I was a co-PI on this grant and participated as a “student” in most of the training sessions. One of the exercises we were asked to do was to facilitate a kaizen(“improvement”) event to solve a challenging process issue in our work. Having recently taken on policy administration at the University, I had become aware of many areas within the policy development process that seemed to cause confusion for customers (policy developers) and for the campus community in general.

We assembled a small group of individuals that included me, and 3 or 4 additional people who served as facilitators, subject matter experts, and customers. From this single kaizen event, we were able to identify some key improvements that needed to happen:

  1. We needed a dedicated staff member who was primarily responsible for overseeing policy at the University.
  2. We needed to critically review the current policy development process, and identify ways we could eliminate wasteful or unnecessary steps.
  3. We needed a new website, that included tools for policy developers as well as some “educational” pieces about what policy is (and isn’t).
  4. We needed to continually educate the university community on the policy development process, and provide some outreach and support to policy developers along the way.

Most of these goals hinged on the need to hire that staff member. I am now pleased to say that in 2014, after a lot of thought and planning, we were able to hire a University Policy Coordinator, Lori Weir, who has jumped right in to making these kaizen-originated goals a reality. She is also constantly looking for ways to continuously improve how we manage policies at Michigan Tech, and I’m looking forward to working with her to realize our vision of what a Policy Office should be.

I encourage you to visit our new policy website, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, suggestions, or would like help getting started on a new policy.


Lean Thinking in an Office

A warm welcome to our new guest blogger, Jim Desrochers. Jim is the Associate Director for Employer Relations in Michigan Tech’s Career Services. He is also training to become a campus Lean Facilitator.

In a manufacturing setting, waste is measured in terms of factory efficiency and scored by the accounting measurement system as part of the financial reporting process. In an office setting, these measurements are harder to define but they “show up” in wasted effort, frustration, frayed nerves, and people staying late to help make the event a success.

Our Career Services group is known for coordinating our bi-annual Career Fairs. Managing logistics for hundreds of companies, nearly a thousand recruiters, and several thousand students leaves very little room for error.  Most importantly, the future careers of our students are on the line. With the economy improving and the excellent reputation of Michigan Tech students, the size and expectations for Career Services events have continued to grow.

Career Services Huddle Board

As our department’s first step in our lean journey, we decided to start a morning huddle.  Initially, the primary focus of the meeting was our event-planning calendar. This grid is a look ahead for the next few weeks to ensure everyone in the department knows what is coming next. To make this happen, we repurposed a dry erase board and moved it to a central area. A few dry-erase markers later, we had the beginnings of a communication structure!

In an office where everyone is extremely busy, we had reservations about everyone sacrificing 10 minutes of their day. We also were concerned that we would not know what to talk about! These concerns turned out to be unfounded! After a month of using this new process, the information on the dry erase board has changed. Some things we initially placed on the board aren’t used anymore and we simply erased them. New items are added as we develop new educational programming. Using only markers and bad penmanship, the board continues to be dynamic. We are starting to use rulers and magnets to make the look neater – but we don’t want to lose the flexibility of just getting the information communicated.

Our implementation of Lean Initiatives in our offices continues as time allows. As we continue to add process improvements, these items will find their way back to the central huddle board. It will be interesting to see what the board looks like a year from now!

 


Developing Students, Improving Universities

This post was originally published at The Lean Post. Our own Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Assistant Vice President for Administration, is the author. 

Today, lean thinking in higher education is uncommon. As a rule, institutions that teach lean continuous improvement in their academic curricula or that have centers or institutes to educate the public struggle themselves to be practitioners in their own administrative processes. There’s the challenge of teaching lean thinking and the challenge of practicing it ourselves in the administrative processes of a university system.

In 2008, when Michigan Technological University’s own lean journey began, President Glenn Mroz introduced the principles of lean thinking to his administration and asked that a transformation begin at the university. Mroz knew what Balzer pointed out in Lean Higher Education (2010), which is that institutional processes link to the overall success of universities and directly benefit all constituents, particularly students. Our intent was to begin this journey by first using lean thinking in our everyday operations and also begin exposing students to lean principles through participation in improvement events. This directly aligned with our directive to “prepare students to create the future.” It also aligned with our strategic intent of distinctive and rigorous, action-based, experiential learning, responding to the needs and challenges of the 21st century.

At Michigan Tech, we’ve found many compelling reasons to seek out a continuous improvement methodology we can use as a foundation upon which students could build academic and career success and that would also be effective in improving our own administrative processes.

                             Value Stream Mapping
                             Fishbone Problem-Solving

Here’s where we’ve focused our energies:

  • Accreditation. The University’s accreditation is dependent upon demonstrating continuous improvement in both academic and administrative areas. We’re working on creating and sharing demonstrable methods for improving administrative processes. Demonstrating and measuring improvements builds our credibility and strengthens the assurance argument necessary for university accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission.
  • Cost of Education. As is the case in many states, Michigan has experienced shrinking state allocations for higher education. To keep the resulting rise in tuition costs as low as possible, employing lean continuous improvement methodologies help contain costs. Cost savings that can be used to offset tuition increases have been generated through a variety of improvement events ranging from reducing days of inventory on hand in our dining services to reducing fuel costs at our golf course by adjusting mowing patterns and frequencies.
  • Quality. Improved administrative processes elevate and strengthen the student experience. This is done by saving time, reducing waste, and avoiding cost while delivering the expected service to students. This helps Michigan Tech retain students.
  • State Initiatives. Since 2010, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has supported service and process optimization and lean practices through the Office of Good Government. As a state institution, at Michigan Tech we’ve aligned with these efforts.
  • Universal application. Lean thinking and practice have daily application in all aspects of the business and academics of the university. Part of our work has been about simply spreading this thinking throughout administrative and academic offices.
  • Pull. Companies recruiting Michigan Tech graduates have told us they are looking for students with exposure to and proficiency in lean continuous improvement. We’ve worked to share this information with students through employing students in our Office of Continuous Improvement, by including students in kaizen events, and by sharing lean knowledge through our Leaders in Continuous Improvement student organization
  • Academic curricula. Most importantly, adopting a continuous improvement methodology integrated with an academic curricula is what makes a difference for students’ overall learning experience. Currently, we have 22 quality-related courses on different aspects of lean and continuous improvement being taught as part of a diverse curricula on our STEM campus.

Successes So Far

Michigan Tech’s lean transformation has its foundations in a network of over 20 trained improvement facilitators from all areas of campus. These volunteers range from hourly employees to executives who work to facilitate improvement events requested by departments. Initially the university engaged outside consultants to provide facilitator training, some of which was funded by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services through a labor/management-focused grant. Currently an Office of Continuous Improvement is staffed by a Manager and a team of student Process Improvement Coordinators that provide training and support the lean efforts on campus.

A student organization called Leaders in Continuous Improvement was formed two years ago and continues to grow in size and interest. Over 650 university employees have been exposed to lean thinking and over $250,000 in savings have been identified through formal improvement events.

Ongoing Challenges

The culture of higher education poses challenges when rolling out a lean transformation. Some are unique to higher ed and others are more universal. Here’s what we’ve experienced:

  • Unwillingness to view students as “customers”
  • Difficulty translating lean’s manufacturing history into knowledge work
  • Discomfort in learning as you’re doing
  • Focus on the visible use of tools instead of the underlying thinking
  • Oversimplifying Lean as the application of just one or two tools (5S and visual displays)
  • Push back on standard work as “dumbing things down” and wringing out creativity and intellectual freedom

What’s Next

We plan to continue designing courses to prepare lean-certified students who are ready to work in industry. This will require the endorsement and participation of academic leadership, as well as continuing to also practice lean improvements in the administrative processes of the university. Our goal is to serve as a co-curricular learning laboratory for students, teaching lean thinking while also assisting in the university’s success.

We’d like to hear from you. Do you think that higher education can provide students with an immersive experience that brings together both the academic curriculum and the co-curricular companion piece of administrative processes and extra-curricular activities? Tell us your thoughts in the comments. We’re particularly interested in hearing success stories that we can learn from!

 


Menlo Innovations’ Business Value of Joy Workshop

Thank you to our returning guest blogger, Kaylee Betzinger, a former student process improvement coordinator here at Michigan Tech and currently an intern at Amway in their Enterprise Excellence Department.

Menlo Innovations Daily Stand UpI recently had the opportunity to go on an industry tour to Menlo Innovations. Menlo Innovations is a custom software development company that utilizes a High-Tech Anthropology approach and incorporates continuous improvement principles in their day-to-day activities to develop and build new and innovative programs for their customers. Richard Sheridan, Menlo’s founder and CEO, is the author of Joy Inc. (How We Built a Workplace People Love). Menlo has won numerous awards, including Inc.’s 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies in American (Inc. Magazine), 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For (Metro Detroit), and the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Flexibility (When Work Works).

A hot topic lately at Amway has been Visual Management. Several different departments at Amway Headquarters have expressed interest in Visual Management, so we (Enterprise Excellence) thought, what better way to teach Visual Management than to go to a world renowned company that is known for their culture and visual workspace (AKA, go to the Menlo Innovation Gemba). Menlo welcomes companies to come in and take one of the many tours or workshops available and learn more about what it means to have Joy in the workplace. We were able to take the Menlo Innovations Business Value of Joy Workshop, which is a private workshop geared toward a topic of our choosing (Visual Management) and is given by one of the partners.

James Goebel, Menlo’s Chief Architect and a Partner was our workshop facilitator. Before our tour even began we were able to participate in their companywide daily standup meeting. Their daily stand up (see Figure 1) takes place every morning at 10:00 am. Everyone gets up from what they are doing, forms a large circle, and explains what they will be working oMenlo Figure 2 Open Workspacen for the day and if they are in need of any assistance from other team members. I was astounded that everyone was able to participate (60+ employees) and keep it under 10 minutes. What a great way to kick-off our workshop!

After the stand-up, James began talking about the Menlo culture and the
different behaviors they’ve incorporated, such as an open and collaborative workspace (no walls, cubicles, or designated stations/desks, see Figure 2), estimation without fear, and making mistakes faster. Making mistakes faster is (what I believe) a key in any continuous improvement culture, so I inquired further and James explained that you have to create an environment where problems are obvious. When the problems are obvious and visual, you can fix them and generate results much quicker. A perfect example of this is in their Weekly Project Tracking Board (see Figure 3). For each day of the week they’ve laid out exactly what each project pair will be working on, on what they call a story card. The story cards are a simple, Menlo Figure 3 Project Trackerhand written description of what is needed for this piece of the project, an estimation of how long this will take, and a status in the form of a colored dot. They have 5 different colors with a different meaning for each (as seen in the upper right hand corner of each story card). The colors and meanings are as follows: yellow—currently in process, orange—done in the eyes of the team and waiting for QA approval, red—needs additional attention, question/need assistance, or waiting for a response from the client, green—completed, and blue—cancelled. This project tracker is an extremely simple and effective way to track projects. Anyone in the building can walk over to the board and see the progress on any given project.

Anywhere you look in the building you can see how Menlo has integrated visual management and visual cues. You can feel the Joy in the air when you walk in, and that is something to be cherished and striven for. I would recommend taking a Menlo tour to anyone interested in learning more about a continuous improvement culture and what it looks like to have Joy in the workplace (plus you get a copy of Rich Sheridan’s Joy Inc.).

 

 


Lean Principles and Tools in Industry: Part 2

Thank you to our returning guest blogger Mary Fogelsinger-Huss for another excellent article on how Lean is used in industry. Mary is 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.

Many Lean devotees are very familiar with the idea of 5S and the benefits an orderly work space provides.  Not only does the 5S tool make the work better, it provides a much less stressful working environment.  To take that thought to another level, the work process itself needs to be studied. A very powerful tool in identifying waste in a process is the Process Map. There are many types of maps that can provide insight into the workings of a process. One of the maps used frequently in a Lean activity is the Spaghetti Diagram. It’s called this because if it’s done correctly, your drawing will look like a plate of tangled up spaghetti! This tool helps you understand the route the product, or operator, takes through the process. The idea is to trace the route over a period of time, to actually see the movement. The map is typically done with paper and pencil, and follows the movement through the physical space, so they’re usually quite messy!  They are also very revealing.  This example is in a test lab:

spaghetti diagram

The different lines represent the number of trips a person took in performing a test.  The background is the layout of the lab, with the test equipment noted by numbers (or dots in this poor image). This shows that the operator performing the test walks back and forth quite a bit between the different pieces of equipment.  Depending on your goal, this could be good or bad…good for exercise, bad for productivity!

The project team recognized the “waste of motion” in the process, using the spaghetti diagram, and was able to move equipment around to minimize the trips from one bench to the other throughout this test. This change allowed the test to be completed in less time, improving customer relations (production buildings want to know results FAST!) and increasing testers’ productivity.  A simple tool, providing impressive results.

 

 


Let’s Ditch the Report Out

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Robert Hiltunen, Director of Auxiliary Services at Michigan Technological University.

What did you say? Ditch the report out? Are you crazy?

Reporting Out 3A normal feature of organizations that use lean methodology is the expectation that projects regularly “report out.” A report-out event allows the organization to recognize and celebrate the achievements of the various project teams and their members. Perhaps more importantly, others are able to learn from what the project teams have accomplished. In this way, we continuously improve our systems, share and build on knowledge, and reduce duplication or “re‐inventing the wheel.”

After some deep reflection about a blog I read by Dave LaHote entitled “Say Goodbye to the Report Out,” I came to realize that there are different types of report outs. With this headline I am talking about the report out that is elicited from people closest to the work during my gemba walks, when I ask “How is it going?” For those who know me, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is “How’s it going?,” “How’re you doing?,” or “What’s happening?” Of course, not using open, probing questions causes the employee to naturally report out what is going on. Then I will ask how I can help, and the response is “I’m fine; no need for help.” This type of report out causes a transition of problems from the employee to me, and I then offer suggestions that might help solve the problem.

Instead, I should be asking about a specific observation which would lead to follow up questions that would increase my understanding and help coach the employee to solving their own issue. So I must learn to ditch my report-out eliciting questions and take a deeper dive into the real issues at hand.

Easier said than done, so if you see me asking an employee at the gemba “How’s it going?” please remind me that this is not the time or place for a report out.


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.

 


Reinventing ICE?

We are pleased to present this  guest blog post by Megan Ross, Business Analyst in Auxiliary Services and campus Lean Facilitator.

As a Business Analyst I have many “projects” that come across my desk, my work.  Some of these so-called projects are really just things that I need to do and be done with while others require a lot of time, effort and need some further prioritization.  I have been tracking “What’s Happening” in a Smartsheet, which I have been using as a kind of overall personal kanban.  I can see what things I have on my plate, what department it is for, when the work started and some notes about where it is currently at.  My boss and I also began using Trello for kanbans on bigger projects that show all of the little tasks, due dates, etc.  This still didn’t help to prioritize all those things on my plate in the Smartsheet.  What work should I be spending my time on?

The next phase in the evolution of my personal kanban was to add in a status column on Smartsheet.  Great!  Now I can see if I am actively working on it, it is just an idea, someone outside is working on it, it’s not started yet, or I’m waiting for a reply.  I also put in a column with a follow up date and set up a reminder based on that date.  This eliminates the need for me to constantly review everything on the sheet.  I just need to wait for the reminders on the Waiting for Reply or Outside Work Happening statuses.  But I still have all of the Active work and Not Yet Started Work.  What do I work on now?

Smartsheet

I started playing around with assigning a type to each piece of work.  My first thoughts were categories ranging from “Just Do It” items which would be simple tasks that I could just work on to “projects” which were some vague amount bigger in scope and outside involvement.  I took all of the current things on my list, put them on sticky notes and tried to put them into these categories, but it just didn’t work.  The categories were not quite right and some items didn’t fit in any or fit in more than one.  Then it hit me…there were two criteria that I was gauging each item on, but I was trying to combine them into one!  This started a brainstorm session with my boss.  We spent about an hour hashing things out and then fitting those sticky notes into my new matrix.

The first criteria is how much involvement, effort, or work the item is for me personally.  Is it just day-to-day tasks that I need to work on, a request I need to make on someone’s behalf, doing a little bit of investigative work, collaborating with others, or an in-depth analysis of something?  The second criteria is how much outside engagement is needed for this item from none to basic to advanced.  Now I have a matrix!

IMG_20140825_072752829

Some of the sections still have a lot of sticky notes in them, so I still needed a way to refine them.  I realized that each one comes with some kind of priority or impact level assigned either by the requesting department or myself.  This could be a multiplier added into the mix.  That was when it hit me.  I just recreated the ICE prioritization tool in my own words!  (For those of you without a Michigan Tech login to view the Quick Point, ICE is a lean tool normally used to prioritize countermeasures.  You rate the countermeasure on the Impact it will have, the Control you have over it, and the Ease of implementation, multiply the numbers together and get a ranking.  You can also check out the ICE Rap that one of our former student employees made about a year ago.)  For my matrix, my level of involvement or effort relates to the ease – how easy is it for me to get done, control is the level of outside entity engagement and the impact is that priority multiplier.  I am now moving forward with refining my prioritization and learning what the numbers actually mean.

Sometimes you have to work through it on your own and in your own language to really understand something.  The other lesson I learned is that the tools and methods we learn that we call Lean or Six Sigma or any other title you give it can be applied in many different ways.  Just because you learn about ICE as a tool for prioritizing countermeasures doesn’t mean that is where its application ends.  I certainly wasn’t thinking of how to prioritize my work as a “Lean” project!  It is about the way of thinking and applying that learning in all kinds of other ways that really has value.