Category Archives: Lean Thinking

K Day

I hope you all are excited for K Day as much as I am! It is such an amazing event and over 250 student organizations will be there to show you what they are all about. From fishing to accounting clubs, you will be bound to find something that works for you. I am personally excited to visit the cooking club and try out some pasties with them. It is going to be such an exciting day and so many new students will get to find places they feel happy to join.

 

One amazing thing about K day is the amount of planning and organization that goes into it on all levels. Without the Lean principles, K day would be impossible! Some principles they employ are spaghetti flow charts, a 5S, and the collection of metrics every year. According to Business Analyst Learnings, “A spaghetti diagram is a visual representation of the actual path taken by people as they move through a process within a department to complete their jobs.”. As seen in the picture above there is a ton of people around but there is also some obvious flow of the crowds. Through the use of a spaghetti diagram, the organizers of K day have the skills to direct the flow of people so that there is less chaos. Much like the spaghetti diagram, 5S and metrics helps them keep themselves organized. They can help expand upon previous years successes with the metrics and improve upon their set up and break down systems with the 5S. Lean tools are a necessary part of the success of K day.

If you would like more information on some of the lean tools listed above or what we do here in the Office of Continuous Improvement, then please feel free to drop by in wads 136W or or email us at improvement@mtu.edu. I hope you have an amazing K day and weekend!


Confusion

Working here at an office, sometimes scheduling events can be challenging. Trying to find a meeting time that works for five to ten people that all work in separate departments is hard enough. Even worse is when someone needs to get a task done before the meeting can be scheduled, or the issues that arise when someone chooses not to respond until that person gets a two-minute task done only to eventually forget about both responding and completing said task. These issues, especially the last one, are problems often caused by simply not starting simple tasks.

PDCA Cycle
https://www.mindtools.com/media/Diagrams/PDCA2017.jpg

Scheduling might be one example, but in the workplace or in personal life there are many instances when small tasks not being done lead to serious issues down the road. Incompletion of small tasks can be something that Lean and continuous improvement can solve, as Lean helps to solve the root cause of these problems. Perhaps the primary reason that a task will not be finished is the fear of reprimand, and/or failure. These fears are at the root of many problems at the workplace. However, it can be solved by one of the most important principles of Lean: sustaining a blame-free environment. Sustaining a blame-free environment is an essential practice that can prevent small problems from spiraling out of control. In a blame-free environment, one can do their work without fear of being criticized for small mistakes.

While keeping a blame-free environment is a good way to solve simple issues, proper planning can prevent small problems from arising in the first place. Again, the principles of Lean are useful to fix many issues. The cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) is at the core of all continuous improvement. This allows for experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t work. Often when going through the cycle, the small issues that seemed to constantly plague the workplace before disappear.

Overall, the piling up of small issues is a serious problem in the workplace. The idea of a blame-free environment and the PDCA cycle can turn these headaches into something that is simple to dispatch.


School Year Goals

It’s almost O-Week, can you believe it? With a new school year starting, it’s probably safe to say everyone is setting new goals for themselves. Maybe if you’re a student, you want to study more, get better grades, or be more social this school year. If you’re faculty or staff, you might want to better your teaching strategies or increase your productivity at work. While these might sound like simple goals, many people set these same goals every semester and are never able to achieve them. This lack of success can be due to many different attributes but, more often than not, it boils down to not actually knowing the root cause of your issue.

Every start of the year the student employees in the Office of Continuous Improvement set a goal for themselves. The goal can be personal, professional, or academic, it just has to be something they want to accomplish that school year. After they have set their achievable goals, then it is time to create an A3. The A3 helps the students understand the root cause of why they are not currently achieving their goal and how to get there. It also aids in improving your goal so that it is a S.M.A.R.T. goal, which makes it more likely for you to obtain.

This last year I decided my goal would be to improve my study habits. When first looking at this goal it seems very vague, this is where the A3 came in. It allowed me to assess why my current study habits were not working and what study habits would work for me. I also used tools like a fish-bone diagram and the 5 why’s. Laying out the issues around my study habits helped me find the root cause of my poor study habits and how to improve them.

Using an A3 to map out your goal and the issues associated with what you are currently doing is a great way to come up with solutions. If you are interested in trying out an A3 with your school year goal, you can find an A3 template and quick point on the Continuous Improvement website. It’s definitely an effective way to kick off your journey to your goal!

https://www.shmula.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Lean-Manufacturing-A3-Report-Haiti.jpg

One

The continuous cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) is a mantra often repeated here at the Office of Continuous Improvement. It can be thought of as the origin of all the other tools and ideas that we use for improvement. As our Director of Continuous Improvement, Ruth Archer likes to point: if tomorrow we forgot all the tools and process aside from PDCA we would eventually create each one over again. PDCA is a cycle because once the planning and the doing have been done, one checks the process, and then acts on their observations, with the goal of reaching the target state.

Part of the process of PDCA is recognizing that one cannot get from step 1 to step 100 instantaneously, but rather through taking several small steps. This allows one to check each part of the process individually, as each step can be thought of as an experiment. As an experiment, a positive result is not guaranteed. Thus, by checking each step one can find errors in the process one by one, rather than as a whole. After each cycle, a standard is set in place to prevent the quality of the process from slipping.

Overall, PCDA is an effective customizable tool that can be used for any process, whether it be in the workplace or home life.


Study tips for track B

Do you feel ready to be tested in your classes? Track 2 midterms are currently taking place this week, and it is time to shape up. The Office of Continuous Improvement is working hard to be the most productive we can be and we are ready to help you too with some simple tips!

 

What is the easiest way to improve your study methods? Well, the answer is to cut out all distractions and useless projects. Start with your electronics. When going over your work you should put them out of your sight. This is because by looking at the electronics you are more likely going to shift your focus while studying. According to Texas Undergraduate Studies, “Students who kept their phones on the desk performed the worst on the tests followed by those who kept their phones in a pocket or backpack. The highest performers were the students who left their phones in a separate room”. Take this advice to heart and try to leave it in your dorm or one of the lockers the library provides while studying. See how much you can improve your scores.

Image result for phone put away

Our next lean tip is to eliminate waste. You can do this by bringing everything you need and nothing you don’t. For example, when studying for a math class, you should bring a calculator, notes, your book, and blank paper. You do not need to bring your phone, a fun book to read or your computer. It will just make you distracted and take time away from the work that needs to be done. Even your computer with your notes can be a bad idea because there are fun games, social media and a whole host of other things that are on there that can distract you. Try printing out our notes ahead of time and leave the computer behind. I know when I am studying I often want to check my email and messages. When I leave my electronics behind, I can put all my focus on my studies.

 

Make sure to have breaks. Studying nonstop for 8 hours is no good for anyone. It exhausts you and makes you much less productive. Try throwing breaks into your studying. According to Elizabeth Hoyt, “Studies show that breaks in your study routine can positively affect your attention abilities. Taking breaks from studying every ninety minutes or so can improve both focus and attention”. So take a break every once in a while. Step outside the library and take a short walk around campus, get a snack, or stretch your muscles. It is good for you to rest every once in a while.

Image result for woman going for a walk

If you have any more questions or want to know more about maximizing your efforts in your studies, please feel free to drop by the office in 135 West Wadsworth hall. We look forward to seeing you and hope you have a good midterm week!


Chaotic to Clean

As we reflect on the state of our lives and homes a lot of the time the word that comes to mind is chaotic, well at least for me it does. Then we begin to reflect on why our lives seem so chaotic, and that’s no hard question to answer. Most of us are balancing tight schedules whether it be work, school, a family, or activities we are involved in, it tends to seem like downtime is never a thing.  So how do we keep organized during these chaotic times so we aren’t spending our free time searching for items and reorganizing places we can never seem to keep organized? Well, a good way is to 5S your spaces. Now, you can’t dive in headfirst and do it to every room in your house all at once, but you can start with one area and go from there. Let’s say you start with your closet.

So first you will need a little background on exactly what 5S is. 5S is an organizational tool where you sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. Each one of these “S’s” has a distinct definition:

Sort – Sort items in the area to figure out what is not needed and eliminate it. In your closet, this would be separating your clothes, shoes and other items to figure out what you wear, what you don’t wear, and what doesn’t belong in the closet. Then get rid of the things not used or not in the right spot.

Set in Order – Organize items that remain after sorting. Arrange items neatly and make sure there is “a place for everything and everything in its place”. In your closet, that means putting all your clothes in easy to find spots and designating an area for each type of clothing.

Shine – Clean the area that you have previously organized. In your closet, that means dusting, vacuuming, and completing any other cleanup you can think of.

Standardize – Set regular cleaning and maintenance to be done. For your closet, this could mean every time you put your clothes away make sure everything is in its spot and the closet is clean.

Sustain – Make this process a habit and conduct audits to make sure the process is working. For your closet, this could mean every month you go through and asses if everything is in place and if not rethink the process.

Following these steps and performing a 5S on your closet could save you a lot of time in the morning and maybe allow you to get that extra 5 minutes of sleep. The closet is also just the beginning. This tool can help you with any other area or process at home, work, school, or any other place. So, next time your feeling overwhelmed, try using this tool to organize the area causing you stress.

https://comoorganizarlacasa.com/en/ideas-to-organize-your-closet-before-and-after/ideas-to-organize-your-closet-before-and-after-5/

Holier Than Thou

I am sure we have all been there, someone else makes a mistake, either at work, at class, or at home. If that individual comes back after failing an exam, we may think to ourselves, “What a fool, who would think World War I started in the 19th century? Not I”. If that individual messes up at work, we may think to ourselves, “What a simpleton, who would leave a bubble in the carpet? Not I”. If someone swears in the basement of a church, we may think to ourselves, “What a sinner, who could say something like that, most assuredly not I”. This mindset has many problems, least of which is the obvious hypocrisy seeing as I doubt any of us could honestly consider ourselves to be free from mistakes. The chief concern, in the workplace, at any rate, is the inefficiency that this mindset causes. An inefficiency that the blame-free environment of Lean can solve.

Image result for blame thrower
http://www.inspiredlivingmedical.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/not-my-fault-.png

Why is a blame-free environment the most efficient way, one may ask? The reason is that it allows the limelight to be placed on the process rather than the individual. For example, in the instance of a student failing an exam, it would be unlikely that the mistake lied in the amount of effort that was put forth on the exam. Rather, the mistake likely lied in the entire process that that individual followed. Likewise if one makes a serious mistake at the workplace, the error likely falls in the process, not in the present decision.

There are many components that go into sustaining a blame-free workplace. One of the most important is respecting people and their abilities. When a mistake is made respect should still stand, rather than accusations of delinquency. In addition, fostering a workplace where excuses are not mandatory is important. In a blame-free environment, one can admit their wrongdoings without fear of accusations and repercussions. Perhaps the most important part of sustaining a blame-free environment is communication with others. Lack of communication can lead to assumptions of blame (I personally start jumping to conclusions when I am not communicated with).

Overall, getting off of our holier-than-thou soapboxes, and using Lean to foster an environment that is free of blame, is essential for any workplace.


First Week of Track B.

As we start the first week of track B, the Office of Continuous Improvement would like to welcome back all the students for summer classes. It has been a very busy summer, and we are happy to report that track A ended successfully. Now that track B is starting, we want to remind everyone that we are available to help you start off this term on the right foot. The best way to start off these classes successfully is to set up a smart study plan. There are many strategies and tools out there that will help you with your organization. These tools have the potential to speed up and improve your work.  The Office of Continuous Improvement would like to be a tool in your tool box and assist you in accomplishing your summer goals.

The Office of Continuous Improvement has many tools and methods you can implement in your work. The office has a library of books that can help you maximize your work efforts while minimizing the time wasted. We also have tools like the personal Kanban, and other visual tools which will help you organize what you have to get done. A personal Kanban is an organizational tool that helps you track what you need to do, are doing, and have done. You can refine this system further by color coding the notes. I personally use pink for most important, purple for the least, and blue for the rest. To bring it a step further you can add due dates to your notes to keep it better organised. This is just one of the many tools that the Office of Continuous Improvement uses on a daily basis. 

 

If you want to learn more about personal Kabans or other organization tools for your work please feel free to stop by. We have books available in the lean library that can help you on your Lean journey. If you want some basic organization tips, the book “How To Organize Your Office” will be a great tool. This book brings up Kabans, as well as other visual tools available to use. Another book that can be a great help on how to get started being organized could be “How to De-Junk Your Life: Keys to Taking Control, Getting Organized and Getting It All Done”. These books among many others we have can help you get situated into a productive routine that can save you time. I have personally implemented parts of both of these books in my life to improve my productivity. We are located in room 136W, Wadsworth hall and you can also reach us at improvemnt@mtu.edu. 

 


A Lifesaving Tool

With the Fourth of July quickly approaching, I imagine many of you are planning or have already planned a vacation during this holiday. Maybe it’s to your lake house or to visit family or maybe to go camping. Nevertheless, planning a vacation can be a very stressful task and you could run into many issues in the process. So, if we know these issues are going to arise, why don’t we get one step ahead and plan for them? I mean, we have all these Lean tools at our disposal to pinpoint these issues before they arise.

A great Lean tool to use to sort out issues involved in planning a fun family vacation is an affinity diagram. An affinity diagram is a tool used by groups to gather and sort ideas, opinions, and issues when brainstorming. It gives structure and helps initiate action when brainstorming about a topic. In this situation, it will also allow your family to brainstorm ideas with you so everyone’s issues can be accounted for. The first step in creating the affinity diagram is to have your family brainstorm as many issues as possible that could occur when planning a fun family vacation. Then, have them write down each issue on a sticky note and place them all in a central location.  There should be one issue per sticky note and they should be placed at random in the central location. An example of this can be seen in the figure below.

The next step is to sort the ideas that are similar to each other. Put these ideas in a vertical line with one another, so you can distinguish between the different groupings. An example of this step can be seen in the figure below.

The last step is to come up with category names for each grouping so that you can pinpoint the similarities within them. Place the category name above each grouping. This can be seen in the figure below.

As you can see from the figure above, the issues that you could encounter when planning a fun family vacation are now clearly laid out and can be more easily addressed. Now you will be ready for almost any issue that appears during the process. Affinity diagrams can be used in many situations other than this one and are a very good tool to have in your back pocket. So, next time you are planning a vacation, brainstorming good movies options, or trying to figure out what could be wrong with your dishwasher, try using this tool. It could be a lifesaver in your situation!


Jump in the Fire

Recently, I discovered some interesting academic writings. I found my self attracted to one professor in particular. He has several interesting ideas, mainly in topics that go far over my head, that usually have something to do with “Jungian Archetypes”, “Lobsters”, or the like. One of the ideas that I actually could comprehend was his ideas on truth, perhaps best explained via his quote here, “The truth is something that burns, it burns off deadwood, and people don’t like having their deadwood burnt off because they’re 95% deadwood”. As an interesting aside, he even went so far as to hypothesize that perhaps, symbolically, this was the reason that when God spoke to Moses, he did via a burning bush.

Now I think it may be reasonable to assume that the readers that frequent Michigan Tech’s website here, may have the age and experience to make the phrase “95% deadwood” become slightly hyperbolic, but I’m sure the general thought that we all have weaknesses and bad habits that need to be disposed of, is a true idea. These weaknesses that we all harbor can have a negative impact on both our professional and personal lives.  Yet we hide these weaknesses not only to others but also to ourselves. Shahram Heshmat, in his article “The Many Ways We Lie to Ourselves” says, “90 percent of all drivers think they are above average, and 94 percent of professors at a large university were found to believe that they are better than the average professor”. It may seem obvious that 50% of us are below average when it comes to driving, but admitting to one’s self one’s own incompetency is a difficult thing to do.

Often when one speaks of Lean or Continuous Improvement it is in the board context of organization; however, the principles behind Continuous Improvement require growth as an individual. Once an individual recognizes their own flaws then they can begin to “burn off the deadwood”. I doubt that I, in my youthful ignorance, could begin to articulate any processes for self-growth after this, but I do think it is clear that, metaphorically speaking of course, every once in a while we all need to Jump in the Fire.

References

  • Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. The Many Ways We Lie to Ourselves. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201708/the-many-ways-we-lie-ourselves.