Category Archives: Lean Thinking

A3: Not Just A Paper Size

Although I am a third year student, I still find myself struggling to determine and practice good study habits that fit my learning style. It seems like every semester I try changing many different things in order to find how studying works best for me, but every semester feel as if I still fall short. Whether it’s not achieving the top grade for the class or the feeling that the time I spent studying was not spent using maximum productivity, whatever I was doing never seemed to work. That is, until I was introduced to Lean and Continuous Improvement. I then realized the tools I use at work every day could also be applied to my school and home life. After I started to use the various Lean tools available to me at work I began to see how they could be very valuable to me in my academics. I started to think about what to work on and improve in my school life and the first thing that came to mind was making my studying more effective and efficient. This is when I found that an A3 would be great tool to use to pinpoint the root problem with my studying habits.

Normally when people hear the term A3 they think of the stand size 11″ x 17″ piece of paper. The A3 lean tool refers to this sized piece of paper that is used as a template for a problem solving report. The template is comprised of six different topics or steps to help you analyze the problem and attempt to find a viable solution. These steps include purpose statement, objectives, current state, future state, implementation plan, and outcome/metrics. This template focuses on planning in order to guide you through the problem solving process using the PCDA Method (Plan, Do, Check, Act). A basic template for an A3 can be seen below.

I am currently in the process of creating and revising my A3 for my study habits, but after multiple revisions and zeroing in on the root problem, I can already tell how much using the A3 helped. This is just one example of how I use Lean tools in my everyday life. There are many tools out there, some of which you probably already use without knowing it, that can really assist you in your everyday life. So take advantage of the Lean culture, I know I do!


Sustaining A No Blame Environment

Over and over we revisit the phrase of “Blame the process, not the people,” and how this concept plays such a big role in Continuous Improvement. It’s very  critical in that it allows us to ask the right questions and to make headway as a team to figure out problems and solutions, but sometimes we can get slowly sucked back into old ways. It’s not our fault, we’ve been trained to associate abilities with mistakes, but Lean and Continuous Improvement strives to change this. Here are some tips to help ensure that you are cultivating and sustaining a work space free of blame.

Put the spotlight on the process, not the people– The very first thing to do is to stray away from blame by asking the reason why a person did something a certain way. Stop searching for who did what wrong. Instead, invest time and energy dissecting a process and seeing in what ways it allows for ambiguity and mistakes. You must turn away from the idea that someone did something wrong, but rather look at that the process as wrong and that there’s an opportunity to correct it.

Respect a (person)’s capabilities– In order to have a blame-free environment, you must have respect the person, this includes respecting a persons capabilities. If an outcome is not desired or expected, searching for someone who is “guilty” is not respecting them in their role, nor is it respecting their capabilities to perform in their job. It is jumping to conclusions that they are inefficient or not “up to snuff.” When you look to the process first when there’s an issue, you are letting others know that it is not them and that you trust their capabilities.

Culture responsibility and accountability– When we are in an environment where we feel we do not have to protect ourselves with excuses, it becomes easier to feel more accountable and take responsibility when something does go wrong. Taking responsibility no longer becomes a burden because it no longer is seen as a reflection of one’s performance, which makes people more willing to pointing out areas of trouble, or mistakes that are made.

Engage others and their opinions– The way we shape and ask our questions when confronted with a mistake or issue gives people a feeling of where we place our blame. It’s important to ask questions that have to do with the process. Ask what they felt may have been ambiguous or confusing, or in what way could we have made the information more available or clear?

Remember, experimentation means just that, experimentation!– Sometimes when trying to solve a problem that seems similar to one before it, we get expectations for the results we want to see. Having expectations for our result doesn’t mean we question what someone “did” if the expectation is not met.

A no blame environment takes time, but it is do-able if it is made a priority! Strive to create a workplace culture that doesn’t look at someone as what they did wrong, but rather how a process allowed for that result and how the group can make improvements!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.


The Endgame

Finals week is almost here, many of us are in the lull before the storm when it comes to the world of academics. In the words of Dr. Strange from Avengers: Infinity War, “We’re in the endgame now,” the semester is not over just quite. For some people, these next few weeks of studying may make or break their grade for a class. Here at the Office of Continuous Improvement we hope that you all finish strong. Don’t fret, there are some tools used in Lean culture that can be applied to academics. These are things such as: fishbone diagrams to help find the root cause of a problem, personal kanbans to help keep track of what needs to be done, and 3S for a quick cleanup of your work space (discluding standardization and sustainment for now).


As you can see there are plenty of Lean tools to help you out. If you’re not doing great in a class but can’t figure out why, try making a fishbone diagram or use another tool to get to the root cause of why you may be struggling. Correcting the root cause could give you the boost you need in order to do well these last few weeks and help prevent you from repeating the class or doing the same thing in one of your next classes.

A personal Kanban can also be very useful in helping you keep track of what needs to be done and how much you have already done. Personal Kanbans also help with the separation and prioritization of tasks to complete on a daily basis so due dates don’t sneak up on you and you can see what days will be busy with assignments, allowing you to manage them accordingly. Keeping a personal Kanban can help with the balancing of classes, homework, studying, as well as work and while keeping it all in one place.

It has been suggested that people study better when they are in a clean space. When I am studying my desk usually looks like a mini tornado just passed over my desk. If that sounds familiar, then it may not be a bad idea to do a quick 3S of your work station during a break in your studying. For many people cleaning may even help relieve stress and clear the mind, making it easier to get back into the swing of things after your break is up. Plus, then you get to start up again at a clean work space.

Finals season can be very stressful, especially dividing up study time accordingly and making sure you finish strong in your classes. It may seem as though your life is out of your control, having something in place to either keep a hold of your life or take it back can help take some stress off of your shoulders. These are just some of the Lean tools that may be useful to you during these last few weeks of the semester. If you would like to learn more about these or other Lean tools, feel free to reach out to our office for more resources via email at improvement@mtu.edu.


Spotting Waste

When most people hear the word waste we think of trash or garbage, however, waste can be a lot more than that especially when used in terms of lean. In lean terms waste is defined as any activity that uses resources but doesn’t create value for the customer and in the lean world, we’re all about eliminating waste. There are actually eight different types of waste which can be grouped into three different categories known as muda (just waste), mura (waste due to unevenness or variation), and muri (waste or stress on the system due to overburdening or unreasonableness). The eight different types of waste include:

Motion: This form of waste is whenever there is unnecessary movement of people. Some of the forms this can be seen in are traveling to equipment that is shared with other tasks or looking around for information that could or should be readily available for you. Some common causes of this form of waste are work space layout, ergonomic issues or searching for misplaced items.

Waiting: This form of waste is caused when people are stuck waiting for other people, information, products, or equipment which disrupts the process. This waste can look like idle time, customers waiting in long lines, and stopped equipment. It can be caused by the need for an approval or unbalanced workloads.

Knowledge: This form of waste is when an individual’s knowledge or skills is not being used to its full potential. This can be seen in a large amount of approvals or reviews, or the neglect of ideas. The common causes of this waste are lack of trust in the workforce and lack of communications between departments.

Movement: This form of waste is caused by the unneeded movement of things. This can look like hand carrying equipment and rearranging elements. Some common causes of this waste are too much inventory and a poor layout for the process.

Correction: This form or waste is when incorrect or incomplete information has to be corrected or finished when it should have been right to begin with. This can be seen when there are defects, missing information, or dissatisfied customers. Some common causes of this are poor training or communication, lack of in depth instruction, or no standard.

Over-processing: This form of waste is when more is done than what is necessary to produce a product or service. This can be seen in inspections or reviews, redundancies, or approvals. The common causes of this form of waste are an outdated process or a lack of trust or communication.

Overproduction: This form of waste is when more is done or made than what was needed. This can look like queues of work or and abundance of inventory. Some common causes of this are an environmental push or a lack of focus on the value stream.

Inventory: This waste is the surplus of supplies, information, or equipment. It can be seen as stockpiles of materials, supplies or papers. This form of waste occurs when people make or store items “just-in-case” or when there is an unreliable purchasing process.

No matter what the form of waste is, it is always important to know what it is and how to spot it. Lean is driven on the removal of waste in any form to better a process or project so, if you don’t know how to spot it you won’t be able to fix it. Waste is all around us. Look around you now, what waste do you notice just in the room you are in?


Changing Resistance

Change within the work place is supposed to be vital and natural, as the saying goes “change is the only constant.” So if change is supposed to be a natural part of our jobs and business, and it’s meant to be beneficial, why does resistance come with it?

There are many valid reasons why employees may be resistant to change, and the biggest factor has to do with one’s past experiences and the definition that “change” takes on for them. If changes were implemented without good communication, resulted in added stress or hassle, consisted of a lack of trust in higher management, or resulted in downsizing- then employees may associate change with negativity due to what they experienced.

Overall, change is associated with instability, and we tend to be weary of what has the potential to affect our jobs and what we are used to. In Lean and Continuous Improvement one very important aspect of implementing successful and sustaining change is the support and understanding of those involved. Lean and Continuous Improvement integrates respect for people, communication, and purpose into its process of change in order to help the transition from “comfortable” to “unknown.”

 

Respect for people is one of the pillars of Lean, and respecting the people you work with includes listening and respecting concerns they may have with changes to a process. Understanding these concerns allows you to support them, validate them and let them know the ways that change is going to impact, them in a good way.

Communication is always key, especially for when experimenting with improvements. Communication allows for everyone to be on the same page about how the change is being implemented, as well as what their own role will be in the changed process. This establishes control for one’s own role and helps to mitigate any worry about what change means for their position, keeping one empowered.

Purpose is what drives continuous improvement as we try to give a result with utmost value. Establishing the purpose behind a change and “Why” it is valuable to those involved, helps to drive the wheels of improvement. Believing, understanding and being unified behind a purpose allows everyone to understand and conduct change in a way that supports one’s purpose as well as an organizations.

The likelihood that every person you work with will be comfortable when confronted with change and new implementations are not very high seeing as there may always be a degree of resistance. However, when implementing change in a Lean and Continuous way, you try to find the reasons for resistance within your group and then address those concerns. Maybe then, the next time change comes about, you’ll be met with a little more excitement and less resistance.

 

 

 

 

 


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.

 


Making Your Phone Productive Again

Smartphones, we have come a long way since the early days of the smartphone. The first ones had trackballs and physical keyboards, some of which slid out from under the screen. Back then they were all about productivity. Finally you could have your cell phone, calendar, email, and a basic internet browser all on one device instead of your Star Trek inspired flip phone and a palm pilot. They were the Perfect productivity tools. Then, in 2008, everything changed with the introduction of the iPhone. Since then smartphones have evolved into slabs of glass and metal used by nearly everyone mainly for games and social media. We as a society have lost the meaning of having a smartphone. Today many phones are many times more powerful than the computer that brought people to the moon and we use it to crush digital candy.

                                                   

250MB Hard drive form 1970’s                                                                           256GB Micro SD Card 2018

Thankfully, there are companies that are looking to put productivity back into the smartphone. These companies are doing this by releasing apps that will track how much time you spend on your phone or help you complete tasks. Among these productivity apps many of them are implementing forms of Lean thinking such as the Trello app that acts as a Personal Kanban. Many of these apps are free and you should definitely check them out. Another useful feature about many of these apps is that a lot of them sync up with your google calendar and have their own website you can bookmark on your computer.
Apps that help boost your productivity can also include those that reduce the time that may be wasted on your phone so you can focus on getting tasks done and not being distracted. One of these is called Forest, it costs a few dollars but what it does can be worth it. Forest simulates a small plot of land on your screen and your goal is to grow a forest, the catch is your forest only grows when the app is open. So, in order to grow your forest you have to open the app and leave your phone alone without opening anything else. The best part is, based on how large your forest is, the company behind the app will plant a certain number of real trees. You could also simply turn your phone off and put it away.
These kinds of apps can be very useful for those trying to live a Lean focused life in the age of pocket capable computers and time wasting crazes. These machines that were made to make our lives more productive have turned into social media and gaming devices that fit into our pockets. So, if you are looking to be more productive and use these wonderful inventions for what they were intended for, look into productivity apps, many of them have aspects of Lean and continuous improvement mixed in.


Personal Kanban

People often find themselves getting caught up in a pile of tasks they need to complete. These tasks exist in their personal lives, work projects, or school assignments. When people get wrapped up in the amount of tasks they are faced with, they tend to not know where to begin. They become uncertain on how to organize and prioritize these tasks. This can lead to missing events or deadlines and feeling very overwhelmed. However, lean tools can be the perfect fix to this overwhelming feeling; one in particular is the Personal Kanban.

A Personal Kanban is a tool used to help visualize, prioritize, and complete tasks. It also aids in managing work by volume and highest value so an individual can see what order tasks should be completed in. This lean tool also works with the individual to help them be successful because it’s directly tailored to the needs of that person. Some main benefits of using this tool are it organizes allotted time, provides a foundation for improvement efforts in work flow, and supports communication and coordination with a supervisor.  There are many different ways to set up a Personal Kanban. This and the fact that it can be used anywhere and it tracks items that are of personal value to the individual. These are what make it personal.

Around the Office of Continuous Improvement many Personal Kanbans can be seen, since all of the employees here use them. They all include tasks and projects we need to complete around the office and when we need to complete them; however, no two look exactly alike. Some of us choose to use an online format, while others go with a simple white board and sticky notes, and others have detailed layouts, but in every case these Kanbans help us all organize our tasks in a way that will help us complete them efficiently and effectively. Also our Personal Kanbans are constantly changing because we are continually trying to figure out the best layout and platform that works for us as individuals. One way to measure how well a Personal Kanban set-up fits you, is to examine if you are actually using it. Because after all, if you’re not using the tool, obviously something is not working right.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed by tasks, expectations, and commitments use the examples below to form your own Personal Kanban and get those tasks organized!

 

PIC Sophie's Personal Kanban
PIC Sophie’s Personal Kanban

 

Office Assistant Alexandra's Personal Kanban
Office Assistant Alexandra’s Personal Kanban

 

PIC Dominique's Personal Kanban
PIC Dominique’s Personal Kanban

Welcome, Rick!

Welcome Rick Berkey: Faculty Fellow in the Office of Continuous Improvement

 

This year, Rick Berkey joins us on a special assignment through Michigan Tech’s Faculty Fellows Program. In this role, Rick will be focusing his efforts on broadening and strengthening continuous improvement in the academic units.

 

Good morning everyone! I’ve been fortunate to get to know many of you across campus in my role as Professor of Practice and Director of the Enterprise Program in the Pavlis Honors College. Some of you also know me through my involvement as a Lean Implementation Leader, where I have facilitated several Kaizen events going back to 2010 when Michigan Tech began investing in a more formal Lean and Continuous Improvement (CI) initiative. I have been at Michigan Tech since 2006, when I transitioned to academia following a successful industry career that spanned 12 years, three companies, and numerous roles in engineering, product development, program management, operations, quality, and continuous improvement.

Five years into my career, I was selected to participate in Honeywell’s Six Sigma Black Belt program, an intense 160-hour training program involving the use of CI methods and tools to improve business performance and success. My certification project was the development and launch of a new product line (still in production today – the FRAM Xtended Guard oil filter). Looking back, my Black Belt experience was career and life-changing for me — the tools and methods “clicked” and just made good sense, and more importantly the corporate culture embraced continuous improvement as a key enabler for achieving its strategic goals and objectives. This experience opened up many doors for me professionally, and in fact my corporate Six Sigma training and Green Belt mentoring activities played a large role in my decision to pursue a career in higher education. Like many of my peers, I find great reward and satisfaction in my interactions with Michigan Tech students — whether it be in my two Six Sigma courses, helping to ignite that same “spark” I felt in my early career; in my advising role to the Supermileage Systems Enterprise; or in the periodic interactions I have with the hundreds of students enrolled in our signature Enterprise Program. Our students are our future, and from what I can see it’s look pretty bright!

 

This year, I “raised my hand” to get more involved in Michigan Tech’s continuous improvement efforts through a part-time faculty fellow appointment. One of the goals I have is to lead by example to show how it can be applied more strategically and successfully in our core academic value streams: teaching, research, and service. Admittedly the language of continuous improvement can be confusing, the tools can be misapplied, and skeptics can and do question its relevance to their work. However, I think CI is quite simple and it really boils down to some key elements that should resonate with employees in any organization:

  1. Continuous improvement is a culture…it’s a mindset that strives for perfection and recognizes that you’re never fully there. It rewards calculated risks and embraces change.
  2. Quality starts and ends with the customer…it’s about knowing your customers, and striving to deliver the quality and value they (and their customers) expect from your products, processes, and/or services. After all, there is always competition and choice in the marketplace.
  3. Customer value is created through processes or value streams…these can be transactional/service as well as manufacturing/product-oriented. Organizations define the processes they use to create and deliver value, meaning they also have the ability to change these processes in order to improve performance.
  4. Waste is anything that doesn’t directly create value for the customer…most processes have significant amounts of waste, and learning to identify and minimize waste in its many forms is a core strategy of a successful CI program.
  5. Continuous improvement is really about building and freeing organizational capacity, not cutting costs and people. Capacity gives organizations agility and options, whether it be investing in new growth, reallocating existing resources to higher value activities, and/or sustaining competitiveness during downturns and market contractions.
  6. Respect for people is the foundation of any successful CI initiative…fundamentally this means empowering employees, harnessing their knowledge, actively involving them in improvements, and avoiding blame (focus on the process, not the person). It also means developing empathy for your customers and their experiences with your products, processes, and services. Finally, it’s also about celebrating the successes achieved together through continuous improvement.

 

I have experienced first-hand how continuous improvement can fuel the growth and success of an organization, enabling it to not only adapt, evolve, and stay relevant, but also to lead in dynamic market conditions. This is what motivates me to take on my faculty fellows assignment this year. The timing couldn’t be better — as we embark on the University’s Tech Forward initiative, I firmly believe our continuous improvement culture and tool-set can and will help us achieve the goals we’ve outlined for our institution’s future. Fortunately we have a good start already, and I’m excited to play a more active role and look forward to working with more of my colleagues. I will be reaching out to many of you soon as I begin working on the initial opportunities we’ve identified. Likewise, I welcome your input and thoughts on areas where you see CI being used to improve the success of our great University.  –Rick