Category: Lean Thinking

Biting the Bullet

As an American, discussing our country with foreign spectators (or outside eyes as we like to call them in the continuous improvement world) can raise a lot of questionable perceptions about our culture. While preparing to go abroad, I remember talking with international students who genuinely thought before arriving on American soil that everyone in the United States drove pick-up trucks, ate an absurd amount of McDonald’s, and most importantly: had firearms on hand at all times. I would always politely correct them that we in no way eat that much fast food, but the rest happens to be true… at least in my family. Growing up in an area where the 2nd Amendment is carried with the pride of a militia, this gun-slinging view of our nation supports the American ideals of strength, reliability, and deadliness. The country is a powder keg right now- fully loaded, ready to blow at any moment. The people are like ammunition; bullets- “quick, steady, and unforgiving.” We are all hunkered down ready to defend what we think is right, preparing for what seems to be an uphill battle fought in the name of great change. That is the thing about us- we are adaptable and above all we are resilient in the face of grand controversy.

No one knows what is going to happen, but we as a united nation are planning for anything. Things are shifting at this point in history and thus we must adapt our tools and habits accordingly. More and more people are reverting to traditional methods of data storage and organizational standards. For example there has been a shift from the impersonal and untrustworthy computer to modern concepts of planners and journals for people to log their thoughts and plan their days. Bullet journaling was recently developed in Chicago by a graphic designer as a means to compile all of the thoughts and worries of one person into a comprehensive and ever-evolving to-do list/planner/diary/motivator/bucket list. Using the structure of an index and page numbers, bullet journals allow for someone to put their entire world into a tangible collection with easy access. It takes a bit to get started, but once you do it has said to be life-changing. These are the kinds of things that the modern Americans must turn to in order to adapt privacy to the ever public lives we live in this day and age.

There is no doubt that we will pull through this together and find new ways to move ahead as a nation. We will improve and adapt by utilizing new tools and approaches to how we do things. If you would like to adapt as well and want to read more about bullet journaling, you can find more information here:


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5S Tool box

After High school finishes and graduation is over, we as young adults begin our journey of life. Becoming self-sufficient may be one of the hardest tasks that we have to overcome. Paying bills on time, working long hours, homework, and scheduling appointments are just a few things that are added to our “To-Do” list as we stray from our homestead.

Becoming self-sufficient is not a one day, one week, or one month matter. It takes time and effort every single day, and is not easily achieved. Doing a little bit every day is a basis of lean, as well as becoming self-sufficient. Using tools that lean and continuous improvement offers is a pathway to a more stable and organized life. For instance, the other day I recognized that it was time to change the brake pads on my vehicle. Through the past year, I have built up a large tool box with hundreds of tools to fix/maintain my vehicles. Having this many tools makes can be overwhelming and difficult to maintain if not organized properly. Sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain is exactly what 5S stands for, and that is just what I did with my set. Just simply cleaning up my tool box is the first step, but one of the most crucial steps in the process is the last, which is to sustain. This last concept is crucial for the success of lean and outcome of the project. By simply implementing the 5S tool and directing my efforts towards my tools prior to my brake project, I was able to spend less time looking for tools and more time being able to effectively work on my vehicle.

This may be a small scale example of becoming self-sufficient in my life, but to add lean tools into our everyday lives can drastically change them for the better. Recognizing and understanding where improvement is needed is the first step, and to act on it is the next. Always remember what Mark Twain once said, “continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Continuous improvement may not be a short cut to success, but when used properly, can get you moving in the direction towards achieving your goals.

Rooted in Health

Flu season is upon us! (Unfortunately). Now is the time to stock up on vitamin C & D before winter hits. Wash your hands, disinfect your surfaces, and be sure to drink plenty of fluids — but I don’t need to tell you this, it is information you’re told year after year since you were in elementary school. We are constantly surrounded  by others, and during this cold season, it is less than ideal and can have a profound impact on your level of productivity. Today, I  reminded my coworkers in the Office of Continuous Improvement of these vital autumn tips towards health during our daily huddle. However, I don’t believe caring for your health should be a seasonal objective and should stop here.

The last few weeks I have been very ill, giving me a lot of time to reflect on where our success is rooted as individuals.  When you’re miserable, it makes you feel as though you will be perpetually miserable. It takes a strong will to power through an illness, especially one that renders you immobile for a few days to a week. It feels as though you will never get better and you start to fall completely off the bandwagon. You lose track of work, you don’t contact friends for a while, you forget about assignments- your only focus is improving your health. What do you do once you’re better, though? This is what I have really been trying to figure out. “I have been sick for so long… what will stop this in its tracks? How can I improve my life so this doesn’t happen again?”

The answer is simple, but for some students and adults, is a difficult one- take care of yourself! You can’t think without eating- so eat. Drink plenty of water. Go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. Develop a work out routine, even just a short one. Every day do something spiritually uplifting. Every day, find something beautiful. Wash your hands. Bathe regularly. Focus on the basics first and you will build a foundation strong enough for any skyscraper. Problems start and are solved at the root, solutions are also found there. Sometimes the most simple of answers can have the most amazing results, so take baby steps! If you take care of yourself, you’ll be able to take care of everything else.


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A little hard-work, a little fun, a lot of lean: Affinity Diagrams

Anybody who is familiar with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is familiar with how bold our seasons are despite how long or short they become. Autumn is no exception, it is the period of time between late September to the end of October before the wind starts to howl and the snow starts to fly. Although our fall season is brief, the leaves still change and boy do they pop, deep reds, bright oranges, smooth yellows, warm shades of brown, and every single type becomes a crunchy lawn decoration for you to groan about and the kids an excited shrill. Take a deep breath. Did you feel that? The chilly air flooding into your lungs as winter takes its first breath. Hold onto that fresh air for a moment, and let it fill you. Remember this scene.

Just like a plethora of leaves in your yard, a broken or defected process will make you groan at the sight and feeling of the chaos surrounding you. Remember that feeling of fresh air replenishing your body? That is the same feeling that you get from lean, but specifically one of it’s daughters, it’s tool the affinity diagram. Let’s stick with the idea of fall in our mind, but specifically the scene of your yard. As I progress through the relation of raking a yard to an affinity diagram, I will also use the process leading up to jumping into the pile of leaves as my example highlighted in the pictures below each step.

Before anything begins your yard is not only covered in a blanket of pretty leaves, but also broken branches, toys left out from the summer, and items that you cannot see. Although the leaves are gorgeous, when you look at your yard you see derangement and are overcome with the urge to rake. The picture below represents all that you can see, the topical view.
This represents the current process: cluttered, busy, stressful, and more often than not, you can understand that there’s a lot contributing to the chaos, yet all you experience is the symptom, stress. The first step, is recognizing the topical view (depicted below).


The urge to rake has grown strong, you go to your storage shed, retrieve a rake and just start raking your entire yard, this way everything is stirred up and where you have a visual of the entire area. This is how the affinity diagram works, you make note of every possible thing that could be intermingled into the process and bring it out into the open, but rather than using a rake, post-it notes are used and plastered onto a flat surface. This allows for everything to be up front and prevents minimal surprises later on. For our example, the items written on the post-its, or the parts of the process are: hauling away, hat, relaxation, you, raking, gloves, jacket, pets, re-raking, toys, jumping, kids, trash, a rake, leaves, garbage bags, long pants, branches, and trash.


Now that the entire yard is raked, it needs to be broken up into piles that are a manageable size to be able to transport elsewhere. This also occurs with the post-its created above, the randomized notes are now condensed into piles of items that are similar to one another and placed under a category that is relevant to them. In our situation, The categories are: tools needed, dressing warm, people/things involved, items being raked, and action involved.


Finally, after a lot of hard work and frustration, the sounds of excited screams fill the air and leafs are quickly re-raked and hauled away to decompose elsewhere, and your process is laid out and organized in a manner that is clear and free of any surprises. Everything is out in the open and ready to be used to achieve your final product whether that be completing a current state map, planning an event, or figuring out where many people line up (or don’t) in a given situation.


Welcome, Stephen Butina!

New to the team here in the Office of Continuous Improvement is Stephen. He will be joining our other student PICs: Aspen, Martine, and Rylie, and will also be expanding his horizon one Lean concept at a time. Stephen jumped right into things about two weeks ago, and we are already being shown promising things from his work ethic and kind nature. We are excited to teach yet another student, better yet, another person about the ways of Lean. Stephen is now going to give you an introduction to who he is.

Hello Everyone!

My name is Stephen Butina and I have recently been given the opportunity in becoming a Student Process Improvement Coordinator here in the Office of Continuous Improvement.

I was born and raised in Upper Michigan and graduated from Jeffers High School with the class of 2014. I spent my first two years of college studying business administration at Gogebic Community College. After finishing my associate’s degree, I transferred to Michigan Tech where I am now currently working towards my bachelor’s degree in business management. Having grown up in a small community, it has proven to be wonderful to be able to stay close to my family and friends, while also expanding my knowledge at such a remarkable institution.

Being able to become flexible and knowledgeable through different working/learning experiences has truly expanded my knowledge and understanding of what goes into running a business. In my first two weeks on the job, I have merely scraped the surface of what Lean and Continuous Improvement represents and stands for, and I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity to not only learn about the Lean culture, but to also work with our team here in the Office of Continuous Improvement.


We are just as excited to have the opportunity to work with Stephen and to watch his growth through Lean and of yourself.



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Lean Olympics Take on the SWIM LANES

With the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics among us and being proud Americans, you probably can’t even go to the grocery store without something or someone blaring “USA! USA! USA!” amid chanting crowds. Can you blame us? We’re up to 83 medals in two weeks, and Hello! Katie Ledecky! Breaking a world record while winning a gold medal by *cough* ONLY 11.38 seconds! That’s pretty cool and yes, GO USA! However, moving passed the idea of the stripes and stars, I’m more interested in the arena Katie took her gold in, and that was in a swimming pool-the kind with swim lanes.

Swim lanes are a tool that is depicted through a diagram. How this tool works is to show the flow of a process or the crossing of many areas of a process and doing so visually. To aid in understanding the steps, an example represented by the progression of the tool will be shown below with a description of each step. This example shows a student who needs to get into a class that has already reached it’s maximum capacity and can’t register for it so they request an exception.

How a swim lane is kicked off is through identifying who touches the process. This “who” can be an individual, a group, a department, an object, or basically anything that physically touches the process. For our example, the who’s include the student, academic advisor of the student, and the professor of the class being registered.


Once the “who’s” are identified, the what’s need to be added. These “what’s” are the current processes that each “who” goes through and how each others processes relate to one another. This is also where you identify where each “who’s” process starts. The process for our example starts with the student and moves to the professor then to the advisor and back to the student.


The third step is where the “what” is examined and analyzed for where there is waste within the process or steps and that don’t add value. For our diagram, there is a waste of time between the time the student makes the request and actually hears back that they can register. This is a waste because it is waiting time. There is also waste for the student: once they are able to register they have to do it very quickly so that another student doesn’t register when they see an open or an “extra” seat. There’s also waste for the professor: they need to do re-work of their classroom to be able to accommodate an additional student.


Through the use of swim lanes you are made to focus on the basic steps to figure out what is actually happening in a process, and once that is done, you are able to then dive into the process and figure out where the defected or problematic areas are and can then get to the root cause. This aids you in being able to see the big picture. Often times we have a process that is “broken” and we become frustrated and redo the entire process just to find that it didn’t reduce the frustration. However, through the use of swim lanes you are able to see the whole process and establish what part(s) of the process is/are broken and can devote your time and energy into making improvements to that specific area without redoing the whole thing. So just like Katie Ledecky, if we take one [free-style] stroke at a time, we can come out in record time.

When The Going Gets Rough

We’re human. We can strive for perfection, like Lean dictates, but we’ll never be inherently perfect. As someone who has always been weighed on heavily by her potential, I have always been anxious to be perfect. I have to get good grades, I have to make my parents proud, I have to outshine the rest of my peers. With school starting up again in just a mere 17–I repeat, 17–days, the stress to be perfect is much more real than it has been all summer. After coming back from the Michigan Lean Consortium’s annual conference (which was awesome by the way) in Traverse City, MI, my life was quickly turned upside-down. This week has been a tough one, and I feel that I’ve been terrible in the sense of being a continuous improvement practitioner. I have found myself behind on my work, my bedroom a disaster, all my laundry dirty, and impending tuition payments on my doorstep–I’ll admit it, I kind of freaked out and bogged myself down…

But then I remembered something–Lean is a journey. I am still human. These things happen and setbacks are to be expected. I remembered how hard Lean was when I first started back in December; I couldn’t even really wrap my head around it back then. The culture confused me and the tools seemed to be described in a different language (unfortunately none of the ones I know). I was told it would be difficult and that there will be days where I would want to throw away all of my post-its and flashcards with random Japanese words on them… But here I am.  I have grown and learned more than I could have ever hoped to in this position in just a few months. I have networked, become more professional, and become part of the best team of practitioners a young lady could ever ask for. Lean is not about where you will get to, it’s about taking that next step that matters. You can’t expect to succeed without failing a few times and that has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn–and continue to learn. Even though this week has been tough, and I am a bit disappointed in myself, I know now what I need to do to be better and will do so! Here’s to fixing what we broke, starting fresh, moving forward. We aren’t perfect, but we can certainly strive for it one baby step at a time.



Taking a LEAN of absence

Have you ever noticed how going on vacation is simple and coming back to reality is a challenge? There’s no weening into relaxation, you kick your shoes off and leap into a comfortable position, and that’s how you remain for your entire vacation. Yet, when it comes time to go back to your routine it takes some progressing.

This is a concept we are all familiar with, regardless of the length of our “vacation.” I am especially familiar since I just got back into the office last week from being a counselor at a girl scout camp. It was a wonderful week to simply be engulfed by songs, kids, and adventures, but it also took my mind away from being a lean practitioner for seven days. At first I tried to catch close calls, but with 100+ people I gave up pretty quickly and my lean mind was put in the shadows. Once Monday rolled in and I had to dive back into my usual routine, I found myself absolutely dumbfounded and bewildered. This was overwhelming and stressful because I felt as though I had lost my touch. Stepping away from a lean mindset didn’t only affect my work, it affected my everyday life beyond the office as well. This happened because I have been working on implementing lean into everything that I do and when my “core” was removed everything else felt as though it crumbled around me, which made me feel vulnerable, exposed, and distressed. Although I felt as though I lost my touch, I still had lean lurking in the shadows of my hibernating mind and I figured what better experiment then to see if lean really does work as well as it’s argued and to see how important sustainment is to the idea of continuous improvement. This became my first practice with lean since arriving home and I can say, yet again, I am in awe of the power of lean. Before I recognized that this could be an experiment, my apartment was a disaster and flipped upside down, my car became a “enter if you dare” zone, my notes from my classes were disorganized and irrelevant to the material, and my concentration at work was befuddled, all happening in a matter of three days. Now (only a week later), my apartment is no longer chaotic but rather rearranged AND labeled, my notes have been rewritten and deciphered, and my work is on task and on time.

From the start of my lean journey about five months ago, I could tell right away how powerful lean was, and I’ve shared this many times through previous blog posts. However, I hadn’t had enough time for my practices to fall apart and for me to appreciate lean for all that it is, nor did I really understand the importance of sustaining the changes or sustaining a mind to continuously make changes. I came into the Office of Continuous Improvement with no previous knowledge or comprehension of lean; I remember asking Nate what “kaizen” meant and him shaking his head. However, now lean is like the friends I made when I started college–one of the most important things in my life that has only been a part of it for a short period of time, but has made the largest impact thus far. Just like my new friends, I plan to continue to kindle my relationship with lean so that it will never burn out on me entirely.

Lean and Religion

In Zen Buddhism they have this concept known as “shoshin” or the “beginners mind”. The beginner’s mind is one of endless possibilities and connections to be made. It is the biases we learn over time that limit our ability to think outside the box.

I am currently in the beginning of my Lean journey and I want to always keep it that way. From here, I see an infinite set of paths to be followed that will lead me to success and the continuous improvement of both my professional and personal self. When striving to be successful, there are a lot of mental roadblocks that can get in your way. Fear and worry are natural occurrences, but it is what you do with these feelings that really matters. If you go forth with excitement, using these feelings as motivators instead of detriments, you will find yourself doing things you never expected to do (climbing that mountain, boarding that plane, nailing that proposal!).   The brain is something that can always be rewired, so if you spend your time going forth positively, new connections will be created and you will spend less of your time anxious about things that cause you more harm by overthinking about them than the actual task itself.

Growing up I was taught to live my life by the Wiccan principle known as “The Power of 3”. This is the concept that whatever thoughts/energies/ideas/actions you put into the world will come back to you threefold over time. Think outside of the box! If you put creativity out there, you will find yourself feeling more creative in the future. Put understanding out there and you will find yourself being understood (even if it needs a little explanation). If you find yourself always moving forward, you will find yourself leagues ahead of the competition.  Lean is a journey, as is life. If you’re always curious, always live in a shoshin-like state, new things will be discovered every day.


Justice for All


Above is a quote that I stumbled upon recently. When I saw it, I became aware of a change within myself. I couldn’t look at this simple statement from Tom Ford without feeling as though “lean” was leaping from each word.

With the recent holiday weekend at a close–a celebration of the United State’s independence from Great Britain–I found myself reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The part that I’d like to highlight is the closing line, “with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty meaning that we are not to be enslaved by another nor are we to enslave another. Justice for all, meaning that each individual person is given an equal opportunity to succeed. I’m aware that the Pledge of Allegiance wasn’t written about or for lean, but I do know that it was written under the umbrella of structured common sense which happens to be a part of lean. These concepts along with the concept of striving for perfection have created (what I feel) to be an appropriate depiction of the lean culture.

Before taking on this job as a process improvement coordinator I would’ve classified myself into many variations of personalities, however, obsessive would not have been in the mix. I think that the reasoning may be due to a negative connotation regularly associated with the idea of being obsessed or “perfect.” I was no exception to this stigma until I began working here in the office of continuous improvement. I will say that I now would classify myself as having an “obsessive personality” simply because lean, continuous improvement, and the utilization of waste elimination has taught me that striving for perfection is not condescending, but rather commendable.

Without coincidence, I’ve found that all of the factors for this change are rooted from lean, whether it be from the abundance of tools, the endless room for growth, the “personalities” within lean itself, or simply the growth of a culture. These have all had an active role in how I view the world now compared to how I viewed it months prior. It’s irrelevant as to how I’d describe my personality traits, however, as I briefly mentioned before, lean also has a personality. To me this personality shines through in it’s encouragement of devotion, improvement, and above all it’s accountability regarding respect. These three areas are the specific root causes of why and how I have transitioned from the negative norm to thinking outside of the box to get whatever the day’s job is done in the most precise and efficient manner.