Category Archives: Lean Experiences

My Time as a PIC

Over the past 3 1/2 years I have had the pleasure of being a Student Process Improvement Coordinator (PIC) in the Office of Continuous Improvement here at Michigan Tech. This position has been the most rewarding experience of my college career and I can’t thank my co-workers, supervisors and peers enough.

I came into this position not knowing anything about lean or continuous improvement and I never dreamt I would become so passionate about it. My journey began with a basic understanding of the tools and concepts; lots of reading, YouTube videos, and observations. I was fortunate enough to attend the FMCS Grant Facilitator Training shortly after I began which allowed me to practice hands-on with other members of the campus community. I eventually felt comfortable and confident enough to co-facilitate improvement events and realized I had found my calling. I was able to understand how utilizing these tools/principles  can transform work environments in ways I never imagined, and how engaging the people who do the work is extremely empowering and truly makes a difference in workplace culture.

Improving is now something that is a part of my life; whether I am helping a team improve a process, improving myself, or helping to create/improve a culture of continuous improvement, I have grown to love every aspect of this work. I will be starting my career as a Business Systems Analyst for Amway’s Global Procurement Technology and Analytics team where I will utilize my knowledge and experience in continuous improvement to create a culture of CI within the Procurement space at Amway. I know that this opportunity has presented itself to me primarily because of this position and the skills I have gained in being a PIC; something I will be eternally grateful for. I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this job and can’t wait to see where Michigan Tech’s lean journey leads.

Parker Board Walk 3


Lean and S.W.E.

I just got back from the national Society of Women Engineer’s (SWE) conference held this year in Nashville, TN. I was pleasantly surprised because there were three different sessions being held on continuous improvement. I was able to attend two of the three and really enjoyed them.

The first session I went to was titled “Shark Tank! A Creative Approach to Drive Continuous Improvement” and was given by Jennifer Walsh, an Engineering Program Group Manager from Medtronic. In the talk, Ms. Walsh presented some creative approaches to continuous improvement that I thought were great. An example was by using social media to convey ongoing continuous improvement techniques that were being used around her business unit.

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The second session that I was able to go to was titled “The People Side of Lean” held by Kimberly Sayre, PE from the University of Kentucky’s College of Engineering. Ms. Sayre, the Lean Systems Program Manager, talked about Lean as a systematic method for eliminating waste within a process. She explained “Lean was developed at Toyota (internally called the Toyota Production System), and the People Side of Lean is a critical piece of sustainable Lean transformation. Organizations first implement the tools, improve efficiencies and eliminate waste, but then reach a plateau until they are able to gain full employee buy-in.” Ms. Sayre went on to explain this “natural struggle point” in getting improvement throughout the whole system. This talk helped me navigate through this phase of my Lean journey, and she even included a hands-on exercise about communication skills. I especially loved how she was from an academic setting and saw how this could relate to Michigan Tech’s campus.

The last session that talked about Lean was held by Claribel Mateo, the HR Director at Turner Construction Company. Her talk, entitled “Using Technology to Build Better Buildings through Efficiency and Visualization,” talked about how Turner implements BIM (Building Information Modeling) and Lean Construction principles and practices on projects from early design to construction, to enable the project team to drastically reduce field requests for information and change orders while enhancing quality and compressing construction schedules.

Overall I had a great time at the conference and look forward to implementing what I learned back here in Houghton, as well as in my life after graduation.

 

 

 



Leaders in Continuous Improvement Visits Pettibone

The Leaders in Continuous Improvement (LCI) student organization had the opportunity to visit Pettibone, LLC on Tuesday, October 13th. Pettibone, located in Baraga,MI, manufactures various “big” machines that aid in the construction of railroads, residential homes, and forestry projects.

Throughout that past 10 years, Pettibone has implemented lean principles in many different areas of their business. It is extremely prevalent throughout their shop floor. The moment we walked through the doors we could see visual cues and signals; from the floor under our feet to the red “Fire” flags hanging all over the walls. The floor is marked with three different colors: yellow, green, and blue. Blue indicates a meeting space (where they have their daily huddles), Green is a walkway for employees and visitors, and Yellow representswhere the work is being done (or where the machines are being built). You can easily see the different colors in the photo below. Pettibone has a great space dedicated for their daily huddles where they discuss all of the production related items. The boards are easily readable to anyone and are colored coded (red=bad, green=good) so at a glance anyone can see how things are going.

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These are just a few examples of how Pettibone utilizes lean principles in their every day work.

Overall the trip was a great experience for all the members of Leaders in Continuous Improvement. I would recommend a trip to Pettibone to anyone who is interested in learning more about Lean and Continuous Improvement.

Group Photo

 

 


Rare Super Blood Moon and Continuous Improvement

Earth’s moon along with the Sun’s gravitational pull are what cause tides on our earth [1]. In the past, coastal cities used the tides as a way to tell the time of day. This past week the “Super Blood Moon” was out, and for all those who gazed up at the sky with me in the Houghton area, I’m sure you can agree with me that it was a majestic sight to see. The awe I felt was only heightened with the knowledge that the phenomenon last occurred in 1982 and is not expected to occur again until 2033 [2]. As I reflected on how amazing it was watching the super blood moon, and seeing the moon change from its normal white color to an amazing orange hue over the course of a few hours, I couldn’t help but think about how time, the moon, and this rare occurrence all relate back to continuous improvement.

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Super Blood Moon [NASA]

One can get used to how things are going, and when something out of the ordinary takes place it can set the whole system into shock. For example, an increase in job responsibilities as an employee, or for students, a disruption in their schedule like fall career fair. These times do not need to cause anxiety and worry. Such events don’t happen on a daily basis, and it is good to take time and recognize them as they are and then trust that the systems set in place will work as intended. If the rare shock to the system does take place leading to an upset in the way the system behaved before, it could be an indication that the previous system was not as effective as it could be. This is a great time to implement Lean tools, and if needed a whole Kaizen event! Taking time to gather key people and utilize an appropriate Lean tool to get back in the rhythm of things can really be helpful. That’s what Continuous Improvement is all about!

Relating back to the blood moon example, Beijing was unable to see the blood moon because “a choking blanket of air pollution covered Beijing” [3]. This caused anger among residents and was a time that the pollution problem was brought to national attention once again. This shows how sometimes extraordinary events can actually be a call to action, a way to set the wheels in motion to make a positive change.

As career fair is now over, and the super blood moon has passed, I look forward to making sure my systems can handle such fluctuations in time demands, and I reevaluate their past true effectiveness.

If you want to know more about continuous improvement feel free to reach out to the Office of Continuous Improvement either by phone, 906-487-3180, or email improvement-l@mtu.edu

References:

[1] Oceanservice.noaa.gov, ‘Why does the ocean have waves?’, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/wavesinocean.html. [Accessed: 30- Aug- 2015].

[2] P. Video, ‘Progress Cargo Ship Racing Towards ISS After Nighttime Launch | Video’, Space.com, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.space.com/30718-progress-cargo-ship-racing-towards-iss-after-nighttime-launch-video.html. [Accessed: 30-Aug-2015].

[3] USA TODAY, ‘China’s smog smothers ‘blood’ moon’, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/10/08/china-smog-blood-moon/16903549/. [Accessed: 30- Aug -2015].

 


Lunch and Learn at the Lean Enterprise Institute

This summer I had the great fortune of being a mechanical engineering intern at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory. While in Cambridge, John O’Donnall, Executive Director of the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), was kind enough to reach out to me and invite me to visit the office. Mr. O’Donnall and I had the chance to meet on campus last year when he was the keynote speaker at the 2015 facilitator graduation.

 

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Lean Enterprise Institute located in Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

While there it just so happened that they were also having a guest speaker come in and talk about Lean in the civil engineering world and how much waste happens at construction sites because the main currency is the amount of time it takes to complete a project. Although I had to leave before the whole event was over I found her talk to be very interesting. It really opened my eyes to the need to integrate Lean practices into the civil engineering world the way mechanical engineering has integrated it into manufacturing. Below is a picture of the talk from an outside view.

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Presentation on integrating Lean principles into civil engineering projects

 

I also got to meet with James P. Womack the founder of the LEI, as well as some of the M.B.A. summer interns who were in the office. Every summer the office hired a few M.B.A. students from the area to work with them and learn in an immersive experience about Lean principles. John O’Donnell and I mused about the possibility of bringing in Michigan Tech M.B.A. students on as summer interns and I think that it could be a mutually beneficial experience for both parties. 

 

 

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Selfie with Mr. John O’Donnell

 

Before leaving John showed me around the office and I was pleasantly surprised with how much our own Office of Continuous Improvement here at Michigan Tech resembled the  Lean Enterprise Institute. A picture of their office can be seen below.

 

 

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Snapshot of the open floor plan office at Lean Enterprise Institute

 

I had a great experience there meeting up with Mr. O’Donnell, Mr. Womack, and meet some of their M.B.A. summer interns.  

 


Rozsa Rentals Improvement Event Part 1

Last week, The Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts held a kaizen event to improve their rental processes. The current process is inconsistent and very confusing for all parties involved including the client, rental staff, administration, production staff, Ticketing Services, and Catering. In order to see what the current state of the process is, the team decided to map out the process by way of a swim lanes process map. Before the team began creating the process map, Bob Hiltunen-Director of Auxiliary Services, provided some great process mapping guidelines that really helped the team. They are:

  1. There is no right or wrong way to map
  2. You don’t learn how to process map, you process map to learn
  3. Process map what is, not what you would like it to be

With these guidelines in mind the team was able to create a process map that included each department/area that the process touches and all of the process steps from start to finish (see image below).

Swim Lanes Map

 

With the initial map created the team was then able to move forward in creating an “ideal state” process map. The ideal state captures the process in a perfect world with all the necessary resources available. The team was able to look back at the current state map to compare steps and people involved with the ideal state map. The team will continue to work on their ideal state in the next few weeks and then form a plan to move from current to the ideal. Check back to see the final results in a future post.


Leaders in Continuous Improvement visits Parker Hannifin

Leaders in Continuous Improvement (LCI) recently had the opportunity to go on an industry tour to Parker Hannifin’s Manitowoc Wisconsin facility. With the help of a Michigan Tech Alum who is now a Value Stream Team Leader at this plant, the students in LCI were able to see first hand what a Certified Lean Model Plant (Parker’s Manitowoc facility became Lean Certified in April 2013) looks and feels like.

Parker Board Walk 3

From the moment you walk through the doors you can see how truly “Lean” this plant is. From the visual signs and lights, to the tape outlines all across the plant floors, to their daily huddle area they call their “board walk,” Lean is definitely a theme at this plant.

The tour began with everyone becoming equipped with the proper safety equipment. Each individual was given a bright orange safety vest, protective eye goggles, and a head set with a walkie-talkie so we could hear our guide properly once on the plant floor. It was exciting to see how valuable a safe working environment was for the Parker Hannifin team.

Once everyone was suited up, we were able to attend their daily board walk. Within the huddle space there are nine different white boards that represent a different team or topic. There is a representative for each board that gives an update to the team. What I found so great about this style of daily huddle is that they did some actual problem solving on the spot. One team was having an issue so they started asking questions and brainstorming different improvements. In addition to the white boards themselves, Parker utilizes visual cues in the form of plastic solo cups. On top of the boards are stacks of red and green solo cups. If there is a problem or issue the team will place a red cup on a peg, indicating a problem. If the team has no issues they will place a green cup on the peg. This was just the beginning of the visual cues throughout the facility.

Once we began walking through the facility we really began to see just how deeply rooted Lean is in the Parker Hannifin culture. Each team at Parker Hannifin uses a team communication board. This board contains the different metrics the team tracks, daily audit sheets, a 5S checklist, the different job description sheets needed for all the different tasks, and a space for various communications. In addition to the communication boards, many teams use a kanban board that allows the team members to see exactly what materials/tools they will need for the current job and the job “on deck.”

All in all, the industry trip was beyond what we expected. It was a great opportunity for the students to learn more about continuous improvement tools and concepts and see what a lean culture truly is. A special thanks to Megan Mattila, who helped to coordinate everything and was our fantastic tour guide.


Lessons Learned About Kaizen

As part of our training program to become a Lean Facilitator, the trainees participated in a kaizen facilitated by one of our experienced facilitators. For their kaizen, the trainees chose to focus on the enforcement of policies for employee parking violations. During their report out, they passed on some “lessons learned” that are a good reminder for all of us.

Kaizen Lessons Learned:

  • If a tool isn’t working for you, move on to another one. (They just weren’t getting any traction using a Fishbone diagram.)
  • Just because a decision making tool indicates the “best” choice, doesn’t mean you have to go with it. (The ICE tool (Impact, Control, and Ease) showed that a wheel boot was the best choice, but the group decided against it.) It’s the people who decide.
  • The kaizen participants assumed they know who was doing what during the process they were investigating, but they were wrong. (There was a miscommunication regarding the employee invoicing system.)
  • You’ll understand the tools a lot better if you try to use them. Also, you don’t have to be perfect at using a tool to try it.
  • You don’t have to remember every tool. It’s enough that you can remember there is a tool and look it up.

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Thank you to the now-graduated Lean Facilitators Mary Babcock, Pattie Luokkanen, Angie Kohlemainen, and Todd Van Valkenburg for their insights!


Integrating Lean into Student Organizations on MTU’s Campus

One of the initiatives that the office of continuous improvement has for fiscal year 2015 is to incorporate more Kaizen events into student organizations. As president of Michigan Tech’s American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) student chapter I was having frustration regarding the current state of our process of supporting the annual Student Design Competition (SDC). In this process a group of students builds a robot to go through an obstacle course. Trouble lied in communication and failure to compete in the competition even after thousands of dollars was vested in the activity. It then struck me that I could integrate my two activities, my work at the Office of Continuous Improvement and also ASME to be mutually beneficial.

To help launch the Lean mindset in the student organization I invited Ruth Archer, Manager of Process Improvement,  to introduce at a very basic level some tool they could integrate into their daily life. This helped show the members common industry practices of Lean, and continuous improvement. Ruth also spoke to them about how Michigan Tech works to make sure that there are continuous improvement efforts being done on current processes through the office of continuous improvement. This gave the students new insights into how the university was working at improving their experience as students of Michigan Tech.

A few days after this presentation the pre- meeting for the ASME  SDC team Kaizen event. I was put on as the team leader with Laura Henry and Jim DeRochers acting as co- facilitators and Kaylee Betzinger acting as the student process improvement coordinator. The current state was outlined and can be seen in the image below. Items included the lack of definite rolls and lack of time.

Current state photo

 

A week later the actual Kaizen event was held with the team members of the design team, the executive treasurer of ASME, as well as all support persons  facilitating the Kaizen present.

Some images of the current state were taken from the Kaizen event and can be seen below.

Start of p-map

 

 

The competition took place on April 10th and I look forward to seeing how integrating Lean practices helps the team in years to come as the most use from this event will come in this years preparation for the competition. One of the major outcomes is that Kaizen communication has been streamlined between the team and the executive board and an increased amount of documentation though Google Drive.

If your student organization is having trouble with a current process contact the Office of Continuous Improvement at: 906-487-3180, e-mail improvement@mtu.edu or request a Process Improvement Event here

 


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.