Category: Lean Thinking


One of the commonly used prioritization tools used in Lean practice is ICE (which stands for Impact, Ease, and Control). This helps to list out and prioritize any possible countermeasures based what impact they will have, the control you have over the countermeasure, and the ease of implementation.

Here in the process improvement office, we have created an ICE rap, using the song Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice as a guide. The lyrics can be read here.

Countermeasure Impact Control Ease Total

Lead Time

Lead time is the elapsed time to make one item or provide a service; it includes the time from the initial step to the last step. Understanding what makes up your lead time and what percentage of it is actually adding value to your customers is important.   Eliminating steps or activities that add to lead time but add no value to the customers is where improvements can be made.

During a recent kaizen event at the Student Development Complex ticket office, identifying lead time was one of the first steps the team took.  The team set out to collect the current lead time for a ticket seller to make one quick sale.  They also collected the process steps that went into processing the sale.

In the 15-20 minutes before a hockey game or event, quick lead times are ideal to move hundreds of customers through the line.  The kaizen team set out to make improvements to the quick sale process and to update training materials so that new student ticket sellers can catch on quickly.

The Importance of Data Collection

By Megan Johnson, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

Data collection is an important element when making improvements because without it there is lack of “evidence” that a problem exists. Why are you improving? Is it really a problem?  Many times “problems” are exaggerated by feelings and frustration.  Often times the frustration is related to symptoms of what the root problem is.

If there is a concern about a process, data-collection can be used to paint a picture of the “current state” and provide insight into current issues and hone in on where improvements should focus.  A recent kaizen event for navigating the Memorial Union Building (MUB) is a good example of the importance of having that baseline data.  It seemed that a lot of guests in the building would stop in various offices to ask for directions to different meeting rooms.  Interruptions can be frustrating for employees, but was navigating the MUB a problem for guests?

Data collection began to identify the frequency a guest would stop and ask a MUB staff member for directions to their meeting room. Also, where did the guest enter the building and what room were they looking for?  After the data confirmed that there was an issue, a kaizen event took place on November 28 to analyze the data to identify improvements.  A team identified countermeasures to reduce/eliminate the navigation problem and is currently implementing them.  They will continue to collect data to gauge the success of the changes.

Click here to learn more about Metrics and Data Collection.

Navigating the MUB Kaizen Event Team at Work

FMCS Lean Training Comes to an End

By Kaylee Betzinger, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

Lean Training funded by a grant from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) has been going on for the past several months. November 5th and 6th marked the last FMCS Lean Training sessions here on campus with our consultants, Mike Taubitz and Larry Osentoski.  Two cohorts of employees completed Lean training:

  • Lean Facilitators – trained to facilitate Kaizen Events for any campus department or area interested in making improvements.
  • Lean Implementation Leaders – trained in Lean concepts aimed at building a Lean practice into the day-to-day work for an area or department.
Lean Training Group Picture with Consultants

During the last training sessions each trainee participated in a Kaizen Event. The Lean Implementation Leaders chose a problem within their department for teams to work through and the Lean Facilitator teamed up to practice their Kaizen Event facilitation skills.

Team creating a Process Map during Kaizen Event
Team Reporting on the Changes Made

Each trainee had their own personal experience with the training. There were many laughs among the group and a lot of great memories. Some of the trainees share some of their experiences:

  • Rachel Wussow: “When learning Lean tools and thinking Lean, I am challenging and improving myself as a professional. My customer is an 18 year old college student. So, I have to teach the Lean lessons to a different generation of thinkers. Lean is more than improvement it is sustaining and acting. The world is full of change and Lean is a tool of adjustment.”
  • Cat Burns: “My first experience was very positive. I enjoyed working with people that I may not normally interact with. It felt great to officially start my involvement with Michigan Tech’s Lean Journey. I was lucky to have two great (and original) Facilitators work with me on my first Kaizen.”

Thank you to all our trainees, our consultants, and Manager of Process Improvement, Wendy Davis for making these training sessions so enjoyable and valuable!

What is DMAIC?

By Megan Johnson, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

This summer while I was at Caterpillar, I had the opportunity to train and test for my Six Sigma Green Belt.  In the Six Sigma improvement methodology, there are belts that, similar to karate, indicate a level of expertise or experience.  Yellow Belts have basic training; Green Belts learn more about Six Sigma tools and participate in CPI (Continuous Product/Process Improvement) or NPI (New Product/Process Introduction) projects.  Black Belts and Master Black Belts have more advanced Six Sigma training and devote 100% of their time to improvement through Six Sigma.  My Green Belt training was in the DMAIC methodology.

DMAIC means:

Define: Define the problem, the Voice of the Customer (VOC), and goals.

Measure: Measure, collect data.

Analyze: Analyze the data and seek the root cause of the problem.

Improve: Improve the process or product—identifying the countermeasure(s).

Control: Control the future state—create a visual workplace, monitor the product/process, etc.

Having had a Lean background prior to my 6 Sigma Green Belt training, I felt that the DMAIC methodology correlated well to the Four Step Problem Solving Process that is used in Lean Kaizen Events.

Image from :

Metrics Boards

Blog post written by: Kaylee Betzinger, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

Metrics boards are used to showcase an area’s leading performance indicators and valued or strategic goals.  Over the past few weeks, staff in each residence hall kitchen have been working together to standardize metric board layout and eliminate the “waste” associated with the current state of their boards (or lack of boards). 

The 5S methodology was utilized to see this project out.  Sorting through the metrics that were currently being displayed, creating an order, shining (purchasing new boards where needed), and a weekly rotation schedule to insure all the metrics get updated each week (sustain).  

There are now metrics boards, as well as safety boards, in each of the halls.  Metric boards track food waste in dollars and pounds, inventory on hand, and other key performance indicators.  The safety boards track days without incident and display lockdown and evacuation procedures, weekly operating reports, and monthly kitchen safety inspection sheets. With the new metrics boards in place, there is less confusion amongst staff and key performance indicators are reinforced.  It is also recommended that Daily Team Meetings take place at the metrics board.  

Take a look at some of the before and after pictures from this project:   

Before – General Information Board


Before - Misc. information everywhere!



After – Metrics Board



After - Safety Board

Respect for People

One of the two pillars of the Lean house is Jidoka, and that is the focus of this post.  Jidoka is one of the core principles of Lean and within the Toyota Production System it focused on the relationship between “man and machine.”   Jidoka is used to empower employees (man) to stop a process whenever a problem is detected.  When practiced at Toyota, this actually meant employees would stop the assembly line (machine) if there was a quality problem with the product.  They might have pulled a lever or pressed a button to do so.  When stopped, employees would gather to address and respond to the problem immediately before the line could begin again. 

Jidoka is typically described as a “respect for people,” as it is used to encourage staff to report and respond to problems.  When addressing a problem it improves communication among the process stakeholders, with an outcome of decreasing errors and defects.  The urgency and emphasis it puts on responding to problems gradually shifts the culture of an organization.  It shifts the focus from passing on errorsto immediately responding to them without assigning blame.  Without the fear of blame and focusing on the problem, trust builds and employees are even further empowered.   

To be more inclusive to our University environment, I I like to think of Jidoka as a relationship between “man and process.”  Not all process and parts of processes include phisical product or machines.  I encourage you to think about what errors you encounter each day within your processes and think about how you could incorporate a stop and respond approach to ensure the same problem did not occur again.

Personal Kanban Board

Kanban is a Japanese term that means “signboard.”  It is a tool used in Lean practice to communicate upstream when inventory (product or information) is needed downstream (in the next step of the process).  Kanban is used to support just-in-time processes. 

Using the idea of a kanban, I played around with the idea of a kanban board for my personal inventory – my time.  Where will I devote my time  today, tomorrow?  In other words, what is pulling my time?  I used the PDCA Cycle as the outline for my personal kanban, as you will see in the image below.  It was a super simple project.  The “Do” is my projects today.  “Plan” is what is upcoming.  Tasks in my “Check” and “Adjust” columns will need attention down the road and will most likely flow through the PDCA cycle again.  I used stickies so they can be moved easily.  You will also notice the green star sticky – that is a hot topic I need to address!  I imagine there will be more visual controls like the green star incorporated as I continue to use this tool. 

Simple Quote About Trouble

“No one has more trouble, than a person who claims to have no trouble”

 – Taiichi Ohno

The way I reflect on this quote is by thinking of the phrase  “the pursuit of perfection,”  one of the key principles of Lean thinking.  How can we approach our pursuit without becoming comfortable with our ‘trouble’ –  errors, unhappy customers, re-work, delays, inconsistencies, bottlenecks, poor communication, unhappy employees, waiting?    Many times throughout my Lean journey I have heard people speak of trouble/problems as ‘gold nuggets’ – finding them is great!   Lean thinkers use trouble as a base for improvements and continuous strides towards perfection.  Go find your trouble and claim it!

Leadership Standardized Work Part 1

Those in leadership roles may argue that the work they do is not “routine,” that their day-to-day work can not be made standard.  However, in Lean practice, all work can be highly specified and standardized.  Leadership Standardized Work (LSW) is a developed practice leaders use to create specific content, sequence, timing, and outcomes for the work they do.  In simplistic terms, it is a checklist for daily, weekly, monthly, annual leadership activities.  I am beginning my personal journey to develop LSW for my work.  I am very new to this practice and I will be learning along the way.  Here is what I am doing this week, Week 1:

  • I am currently tracking what I do each day, down to 15 minute increments.  Today is day 3.  This will give me an idea of how I currently use my time.
  • I am also keeping a list of deliverables that I need to do each day, week, month, quarterly and annually.  For me, this includes things such as the quarterly Lean Overview presentations for employees, Board of Control reports, monthly Facilitator Meeting, leading Staff Council Meetings, daily group-ups…I will stop there, you get the idea.    
  •  Job reflection: What is the purpose of my job?  What can I continue doing, begin doing, or do more of (to do my job well).  Where is the “waste” in my work?

My plans for the next step: I will use my findings to begin drafting my LSW checklist.   Check back in a few weeks for an update!