Category: Lean Thinking

A Blooming Relationship: Lean and MTU

It’s been nine years since China hosted the summer Olympics, nine years since the United States elected Barack Obama as the 44th President, nine years since the stock market crashed, and it’s been nine years since Michigan Technological University began it’s lean journey.

In 2008, University President Glen Mroz introduced Michigan Tech to Lean. In relative terms, nine years really isn’t that long, however, not a second was WASTED since the opening of our office, the Office of Continuous Improvement. After nine years, 236+ Kaizens (Improvement Events), 70+ Facilitators, 10 PICs, 2 Directors of Process Improvement, two classes, and one student organization, it is safe to say that our relationship with MTU’s campus is now BLOOMING.

We recently hosted our 2017 facilitator graduation ceremony and introduced 16 new facilitators to our pool! Congratulations to the new facilitators who are: Joan Becker, Debra Charlesworth PhD, Paul Charlesworth PhD, Johnny Diaz, Christina Fabian, Megan Goke, Timothy Griffin, Lori Hardyniec, Kristi Hauswirth, Brian Hutzler, Austin Kunkel, Lauren Movlai, Katherine Purchase, Joseph Snow, Madeline Mercado-Voelker, and Maryann Wilcox. These 16 people come from 13 different departments campus wide, and one has now left the university and is continuing their Lean journey in the community. These facilitators are another chapter of growth for this university and the mission is simple, to IMPROVE. It’s been said time and time again that probably the greatest aspect of Lean is the people and the culture. The culture is one of open-mindedness, collaboration, humility and respect. However, without the people, the culture would fail. We are proud to welcome this group of 16 to our culture.

A picture from the Facilitator Graduation Ceremony as Lori Hardyniec gives her speech.

Our growth on campus has not only impacted the faculty and staff, it has also been growing within our student population as well. On the same day of graduation our office hosted it’s first ever Student Information Session. At this session our PICs taught students a little about what lean and continuous improvement is, along with an activity on personal kanbans.  A few days after we hosted our information session, our student organization, Leaders in Continuous Improvement, received the award for the Most Improved Student Organization for the 2016-2017 academic year (how fitting).

LCI leaders Martine Loevaas, Tom Strome, and Rachel Chard with the Most Improved Award.

These three events all happened within the last week, highlighting the success lean is having at the university.

With our culture expanding and the amount of people involved rising, I know our university will soon be flourishing with Lean, and our students will be leaving here with skills that they not only learned in lecture and lab, but also from the environment that they are being surrounded by. This environment will provide everyone immersed in it with skills that companies, coworkers and employers are looking for such as team collaboration, problem solving, and again RESPECT for everyone. Lean and Continuous Improvement has proven over and over again that it is a way of life, a way of change, and a way of growth that anybody can take and adapt into their lives, and it has proven this to all that have hopped on board with our journey.

It’s been nine years since Michigan Technological University began it’s lean journey, and it is our DREAM that the blooming culture we have will flourish, and in nine years we’ll be able to look back on this time in our journey and have no words but “wow,” and no emotion but delight.

Root Cause Analysis- Saving the fish

A few weeks ago, I learned the importance of Root Cause Analysis and the difference a few LEAN tools can make. Unfortunately I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

My room is filled with fish. Between my roommates and I, we take care of  four Betta fish, two feeder fish, and a goldfish. I can admit that it is a lot of work. One night  I noticed a problem with one of our Bettas, Haru. Haru had gone from his usual energetic self, to sitting on the bottom of the tank and I hadn’t a clue as to why.  Immediately I jumped into action, trying everything I could to make the little guy feel better.  I tried everything, heating his tank, cleaning his water, even an extra snack for the night.  The next morning, Haru seemed worse.  Within two days, we had lost Haru to whatever had made him sick.  I tried everything to save the little guy, except applying my LEAN thinking.
After loosing Haru, I decided to learn from my mistakes.  My biggest mistake of treating Haru was that I hadn’t preformed any form of Root Cause Analysis.   The problem with ignoring Root Cause Analysis is that I only treated the symptoms, and I never treated the source of the symptoms. The trick to lean is that you have to find the problem in order to fix the problem.

I decided to use a Fishbone Diagram to try and determine the cause of Haru’s Sickness.  To start the Fishbone Diagram, my roommate and I brainstormed everything we could think of that might have caused Haru’s sickness.  Modifying the Diagram slightly for our fish tanks, we separated these problems into categories.  We decided to group them by, problems with materials, problems in his environment, problems with the way people interact with the fish, and procedures in place for the fish routine and maintenance. Once we had our diagram set out, we started asking why. For each problem we listed, we first determined if the problem existed in our tank systems.  Then We used the 5 whys to find the cause of each problem.  After all of our analysis, we determined that Haru’s sickness was caused by poor water quality.  The water quality was a result of over feeding, or contamination of the tanks.  The overfeeding was a result of a lack of feeding schedule.  The fish were being double fed because we didn’t know that the other room mate had already fed them.  The contamination was caused by miscommunication to guests. we never made it quite clear who, or what could touch each fish’s tank. Once we knew the root cause, we were able to fix the problem. By posting a feeding schedule and rules for the tanks we have been able keep all of our other fish happy and healthy.
In the world of problem solving, root cause analysis is easy to forget. It can become a habit to treat the symptoms without ever discovering the real problem. As with our Haru,  treating the symptoms can have disastrous consequences. As I continue learning and using LEAN, I will have to remember, You have to find the problem to fix the problem.

Asking why
The pink notes helped us to visualize the answers to some of our Whys.
Finding the possible problems
The blue notes were all of the possible causes of Betta sickness.

LCI – Recapping the Year

2016-2017 has been an improvement year for the student organization, Leaders in Continuous Improvement (LCI). In the past year, we have doubled our membership, rebuilt the organization from scratch, and found new and fun ways to run our general meetings. The organization has become very organized, and both the e-board and general members have been given many fresh opportunities.

In the fall of 2016, we started with a very successful K-day, and the E-board worked to spread the knowledge of continuous improvement to students attending the event. We drew students in by offers of candy and stadium cups before they gave our Lego 5S game a shot. It was very favorable with the students and a large portion of them showed up to our first general meeting of the year to begin their continuous improvement journey.


The semester continued with fun general meetings where we focused on activities connected to various topics such as 5S, fishbone diagrams, process mapping, etc. Our members enjoyed the activities and had a good learning experience during the meetings. A question we asked ourselves before going into the fall semester was “When companies come to us with recommendations, how do we know what member is the best one?” The e-board worked together for a couple of weeks and came up with a level system. Every member walking through the doors to our meeting is level 1, and when they want to move up, they have to attend general meetings, Gemba walks, guest speakers, etc. to earn points. Our highest level is 3, and that is our members with the most knowledge and participation in our organization. As an E-board, we want to have members at all levels, but we do encourage members to move up as well. For example, one benefit you get if you move up to level 2 is a career fair flag to put under your nametag. This was a huge hit during Career Fair in both the fall and the spring and many of our members got interviews because of this. The organization will always want to improve so we will see what is in store next semester.


In both the spring and the fall we had Gemba walks and industry trips for our members to attend and to see lean in practice in the industry. In the fall we went to the Michigan Tech Library, BOSS snowplow in Iron Mountain, and Pettibone in Baraga. In the spring, we went to The Muffler Shop, Quincy Woodwrights, and our bigger industry trip, Parker Hannifin. These industry trips were beneficial to our members as they get to see how various companies embrace lean and continuous improvement, as well as the added benefits of practicing lean.


Next year, the E-board is planning great things for LCI and one of our goals is to get more students excited about Lean and continuous improvement. Have a great summer, Huskies!

The Intersection of Lean and Success

Through the process of becoming engulfed in lean culture, there is a lot to be thankful for. For myself, becoming more organized has helped me better focus on school and achieve success in my everyday life. Others who embrace a lean lifestyle may be happy with how they have more time to spend with loved ones through the improvement of processes within their lives.

Although each instance of discovering lean is different for everyone, it’s always interesting to hear the aha moments of people who have realized the positive effects of what lean and continuous improvement has done for their lives. Starting my first semester at Michigan Tech, I found myself becoming overwhelmed in school, work, clubs, family, etc. The list could go on, and for many other people I have come to know, they have felt similar experiences. To be able to come out of this downward spiral of never ending tasks can be difficult and sometimes feel impossible. For myself, the day that I started at Michigan Tech was also the day I started to transition into a lean lifestyle. By the end of the first week, I had already made my first personal Kanban, which is explained as a visual management tool to keep track and manage the tasks that needed to be completed. After getting a firm grasp on this tool, I started to then adapt other lean tools into my life such as affinity diagrams and also the 5S organizational tool. By the time I was able to get a grasp of these tools, I was already seeing improvements with the increased time for other activities, as well as a sense of calmness knowing that I am staying on track to successfully complete my first semester as Michigan Tech.

Seeing as though we are nearing the end of the school year, I have taken a couple minutes to reflect on my time at Michigan Tech and also in the Office of Continuous Improvement. I have come leaps and bounds in my organizational skills, which has ultimately alleviated unneeded stress in my life. Without this buildup of stress, I am able to focus my efforts towards what is most important in my life. As I said earlier, everyone has a different aha moment when embracing a lean lifestyle. Being able to celebrate my successes in school and work was the moment that I realized that lean was for me, and that I had truly found a path to move forward on.

What is Lean?

I’ve officially reached my one year anniversary of being a PIC here in the Office of Continuous Improvement. The amount of knowledge, experiences, and people that I’ve met in the past 12 months have far surpassed any expectations that I had when I was on-boarding. One question that I frequently get asked is, “what do you do for your job,” and I blandly answer, “I work with Lean and Continuous Improvement.” Now, I say blandly because my intention is to strike curiosity and to create a dialogue between us- the response to my vague answer is almost always scrunched up eyebrows and, “Lean?”

A year ago, I also had no idea what Lean was, I started my job as a PIC happy to have employment year round. I often tell people that when I started, I was also asking what Lean was and I thought it was referring to physically leaning over. It wasn’t until around my third month that I began forming an elevator pitch. Now, I have a little more solidarity to my response… Lean is like a house, with many rooms. Each room offers something a little different, but together it makes walls, floors, a roof, a home to grow in. Lean is whatever you make it to be, and this is allowed because of the foundation it is built on-top of. Lean consists of a culture that promotes tapping into a different depth of your brain so that you can use this knowledge to help bridge the gap between current and future state through root cause analysis. Lean is about solving problems to be able to understand why the root cause is functioning (or not) the way it is. Lean is about being open minded to change, differences, others, and to growth. Lean is about eliminating waste, in-order to increase efficiency, productivity, and safety for all processes and people involved. Lean is about creating standards for doing things, but also being flexible for each individuals need. Lean is a lifestyle, filled with many aspects, and advantages. I’d like to remind you, that this is lean in my eyes as of today, it will change again a little in a month, and even more in another year. It’s also important to note that due to the flexibility of lean it is going to be different for everyone.

I’ve found that Lean cannot be easily defined or phrased without feeling like the parameters defining it are too constricting. Lean is able to provide a broad application of life changing habits if you remain open-minded.



Welcome Anita Paquin!

The Office of Continuous Improvement has added a member to the team. Anita Paquin is the newest Student Process Improvement Coordinator. Anita’s willingness to learn should make her a great addition to the office. In the short amount of time she has been here, Anita has shown her passion for learning.

Here Anita will introduce herself,

My name is Anita, becoming a student process coordinator was a bit unexpected, but a much appreciated opportunity.

I was born in Atlanta Georgia and spent the first half of my childhood exploring the country with my parents before settling in lower Michigan around age 10.  After settling in Muskegon Michigan I found my passion for learning. I attended high school at Orchard View, where I was offered the opportunity to join a program called Early College Muskegon County (ECMC). ECMC offered me a head start in my college career, allowing me to earn a full associates degree in General Sciences and Art before graduating high-school. After graduating in 2016, I decided to gain some independence and moved here to Michigan tech.

I am always busy, and I enjoy having my hands moving whenever possible. Besides my position here in the Office of Continuous Improvement, I am also a full time student, a part time Walmart Cashier, and a hobbyist wildlife photographer (In the summer I can usually be found chasing chipmunks).

I am very excited to learn what differences LEAN training can make in all aspects of my life. I have not been in the office very long yet, but I can already see that my position as a student process improvement coordinator is going to prove a valuable piece to my future.


We look forward to seeing what Anita’s passion for learning can add to the office and what lean culture can add to her life.

Anita 1Anita 2

New Year, New me: S.M.A.R.T. Goal

The holidays are all about family, home cooked meals that are to die for, gifts, celebration, and joy. But what happens once January first hits? The fitness centers reach capacity with people outside begging to be let in, produce is scarce but your beloved lucky charms have an inventory, and the cliche statement: “New Year, New me!” until about January 14th.

Now, let’s rewire this a bit, I’m not bashing the latter statement, or the sudden interest in exercise and healthy dieting. Rather, I encourage it. What I am bashing is that it stops mid-way through January. Now, some people actually do succeed and that’s awesome, yet almost everyone sets a goal for themselves, but why do only a handful stick with it? Is it more drive? More incentive? Less busy? I don’t know this answer, but I do know a way to ensure you are one of the ones that achieve whatever it is you want. How do you do this? It’s easy, S.M.A.R.T. goals. What this stands for is that the goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.

According to Statistics Brain 2016, the top four New year’s resolutions are: Lose weight, Getting Organized, Spend Less and Save more, Enjoy life to the fullest. Well, getting organized is what we’re all about so we’ll do something different. Enjoying life to the fullest isn’t really specific or measurable. Spend less and Save more is good, but we might as well go with #1 lose weight. This will be a hypothetical example.

Is this goal specific: What, How, and why will this be accomplished?
The goal is to lose weight, more specifically 45 pounds and to achieve a body fat percentage that is 20% body fat! How it will be accomplished is by exercising 5/7 days. The Why is because my doctor told me I was overweight and I’m not happy in my own skin, so I want to change that.

Is this goal measurable: How will it be measured? What shows progress towards this goal?
This goal will be measured by percent body fat and weight loss by the use of a scale and body mass index. Progress will be shown once the percent body fat decreases to within the healthy range, and about 3-5 lbs at least is lost each month. It can also be measured by how happy I feel in my skin.

Is this goal attainable: Is the time frame good? Is there a need for knowledge, skills and abilities to achieve? Are there resources needed?
The time frame is good. There is a need for knowledge, skills and abilities on how to structure work outs, how to diet properly and healthily. The resources that will be needed are an exercise facility, perhaps a personal trainer, and maybe even a nutritionist.

Is this goal realistic: What’s the result of the goal? What’s the reason, purpose or benefit?
The result of the goal will hopefully be successful weight loss of about 45 pounds. The reason is so that I am no longer overweight, the purpose is for a healthier lifestyle, and the benefit is that this may allow me to be around a lot longer.

Is this goal timely? What’s the time frame? What’s the completion date?
The time frame of this goal is 12 months and the completion date is December 1st.

Goal setting is fantastic, but there’s nothing more rewarding than achieving a goal that you set for yourself. Life gets busy, in the way, and often our goals to better our selves gets bumped to the bottom of the priority list. However, if you originally set your goals through the use of SMART goals, then it will be easier to stick to your goal to the end.

The Name of Lean Practices

I was attending parent-teacher conferences at my daughter’s high school when I spotted some terrific visual management in the art teacher’s room. The teacher has to have supplies ready for new groups of students all day, without much time between classes to look for things. She’s developed a status-at-a-glance system that makes it easy for students to put things where they belong and easy for her to know if everything has been put away. Because I know about visual management, I could offer some simple improvement suggestions. Take a look at the picture below. What would you tell her?


Lean didn’t create visual management; Lean just provides a name for it. Naming becomes important because when you name it, you can define it, identify examples of it, repeat it, find best practices for it, and share it with others. I often see this when I teach people about Lean. They’re already using a lot of Lean ideas, and now they can fill in some gaps, place it inside a larger framework, have a common language for discussion, and follow a pathway to learning more.

What Lean tools were you using before you learned about Lean?


The Sixth “S”

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Pete Baril, Health and Safety Manager at Michigan Technological University

Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain. We know it like the back of our hand. The 5S process is an excellent Lean tool for decluttering, organizing, and improving efficiency, but it can also be part of the foundation for another very important S, Safety.

We’ve all been there, either at home or at work, fumbling around in a cluttered mess trying to get something done. We trip, grab the wrong tool, or spill something; a virtual gauntlet of hazards placed before us simply due to a poorly maintained workspace. Poor housekeeping not only detracts from efficiency and progress, it’s also a safety problem.

Housekeeping is central to a safe and well-run workspace. In a previous life I was a health inspector, charged with evaluating restaurants on food safety and sanitation. I could tell within five minutes of entering a facility whether or not it was going to be a good day or a bad day, simply based on the organization and housekeeping of the operation. Currently, my professional focus is on safety, and when I evaluate a workspace the results are no different; poor organization and housekeeping almost always equal safety violations and unsafe work practices.

Keeping up with safety requirements can be daunting, and when operating in a poorly kept space, the problem is compounded. Give yourself a chance by practicing the 5S process throughout your workspace. Improved housekeeping can do wonders for your efficiency, not to mention your stress levels. An organized space promotes safety by providing clear workspaces free of trip hazards and poorly stored items. Good housekeeping also prevents us from having to use the wrong tool for the job, as the right one is no longer “lost.” In addition to the many other safety benefits of an organized space, good housekeeping practices demonstrate a level of control over the process that brings with it efficiency, pride, and an improved outlook on the task at hand. All this from something as basic as housekeeping.

In closing, please keep in mind, as you strive to become lean, also strive to improve safety. Your co-workers, clients, and family will appreciate it.

Winner Winner Turkey Dinner: Decision Matrix

With Thanksgiving right around the corner our mouths are beginning to salivate in preparation for all of the delicious food that radiates euphoria mirroring that of our ancestor’s kitchens on a daily basis. Family recipes are being pulled off the top shelf and dusted off, the biggest turkey is being carved and stuffed, and snores can be heard after a food coma sets in.

In my family, our first serving of food encompasses a portion of everything: turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, corn, rolls, a salad, and my grandma’s famous apple and pumpkin pies. However, the first helping is usually just shy of filling our bellies to the brim and then we are faced with the option of seconds. We can’t handle a second helping of more than one item and it becomes an internal battle to decide what our final selection is going to be before we hit the floor for a nap.

Do not fret, thanks to lean and continuous improvement we have a tool that can help you decide which sample will ryle your taste buds and place a relaxed smile on your face. This tool is called a decision matrix, and although I will be demonstrating it through the image I painted for you above, it can be translated into any part of your work environment, schooling, or life to help you make a decision best suited for you.

To begin the decision matrix you must first make a table and define your criteria and options available. The criteria is what you want your option to possess and the options are the choices that your are deciding between. These will be added to column and row headings (shown in a picture below). For our purposes there are four areas of criteria to be met and four options. The criteria are: Makes my mouth water, fills my belly for more than an hour, tastes great, not too sweet. The options are: mashed potatoes, turkey, pumpkin pie, and green bean casserole.

decision matrix

The second step is to determine how important is each of the criteria items. This is done on a scale of zero to five with five being the most important. Note: Values can be used more than once.

decision matrix 2

Third, go down each row and rank each option for how well they fit each criteria individually. This is done once again on a scale of zero to five, where five is that it fits that criteria perfectly. Again each value can be used more than one time. Personally, I prefer to rank these on a scale of 0-6 so that there isn’t any room to be right in the middle, but this isn’t the standard.

decision matrix 3

Now, you take the assigned values in each box and multiply it by the value assigned to that particular criteria. Once you get this number you add it to the bottom of that particular box. This is where the value assigned is written first then multiplied by the criteria value (the second number).

decision matrix 4

The last step with numbers is that you move across each row and add up the numbers that you just calculated to give you a total for that row. Once you have the totals you then compare the rows between one another, and the row with the greatest total is usually the option you can decide upon, in our case… winner winner turkey dinner!

decision matrix 5

Now that you have your decisions sorted and methodically picked you can get your final nibbles for the night, curl up on the couch, and drift into a snooze to the sound of a football game, but most importantly you can rest easy knowing you made the right choice for you.