Category: Lean Thinking

Snowmaking and muda??

Muda is the Japanese term for waste.  There are eight forms of muda:

  • Motion—unnecessary movement of people
  • Waiting—people waiting for people, information, products, equipment, etc.
  • Movement—unnecessary movement of “things”
  • Correction—incomplete or incorrect information
  • Over Processing—doing more than necessary to produce a product/service
  • Overproduction—doing/making more than needed
  • Inventory—excess supplies, paperwork, information or equipment
  • Knowledge—not utilizing an individual’s full capacity (knowledge, skills, aptitude, and/or creativity)

Nick Sirdenis, General Manager at Mont Ripley Ski Hill, recently shared a short story of his day-to-day experience with muda – in the form of overproduction.   Mont Ripley uses snow guns to produce snow, supplementing when Mother nature doesn’t come through.  “A good 18 inched of base (snow) will last through any thaw” Nick stated.  However, he continued with “when the snow guns are blasting and the ground is covered it is hard to tell whether there is one inch of coverage or four feet.”  The Ski Hill staff then use drills to make a measurement of the snow coverage. 

Daily snow production changes with the weather, so Nick and his staff are always watching the forecast and measuring snow to make sure portions on the hill do not get too much (overproduction).   To date this season, Nick estimates the guns have allowed them to be open for an additional 40-45 days. 

Check out the Ski Hill on Facebook

(Photo of a snow gun at Mont Ripley)

Hoshin Kanri – Strategy Deployment

Hoshin Kanri or in English, Strategy Deployment, can be better understood as its translation is broken down…

  • Ho – Direction
  • Shin – Compass
  • Kan – Control
  • Ri – Reason or logic

Hoshin Kanri is a practice of steering an organization and supporting it’s continuous improvement efforts.  Hoshin Kanri involves setting strategic goals, a vision, and tactics to achieve the goals and vision at all levels in an organization.  It also encompasses a reflection on current performance.  Think of it like this – Michigan Tech sets overall vision targets (the Strategic Plan).  At each level moving downward, people participate in the strategy deployment process by aligning their units and activities to meet the overall strategic goals.  Hosin Kanri is a means for keeping actions, activities and improvements at all levels, in line with the University’s strategic goals.

Strategy Deployment A3s are a Lean tool; A3 referring to an 11” x 17” piece of paper.   A3 is a storytelling approach that helps organize the thinking and development of the University’s Strategy Deployment. At Michigan Tech, the department of Auxiliary Services has started using Strategy Deployment A3s to align their activities and tactics.  Check it out below.  

Hansei “Reflection”

In Japanese culture, Hansei, is a personal and continual exercise of identifying problems in oneself and creating plans to ensure they do not reoccur.  Heavily practiced at Toyota, even if a project is successful, a hansei-kai (reflection meeting) still occurs  to review what went wrong.  Employees are reminded that “no problem is a problem,” and that they haven’t objectivly evaluated their work to find areas for improvement.  You might think this this would be difficult to endure – constant critiquing of work, searching for problems, negative feedback.  However, in Japan, this is embedded in their kaizen (continuous improvement) culture. 

Hansei typically has three elements:

  • Individual recognition of a problem – a gap between expectations and achievement
  • Individual responsibility for the problem and deep regret
  • The individual commits and makes a plan to improve

What are your thoughts about this concept?  Have you or do you practice Hansei?  What would it take to begin this practice within your work?

In my quest for more information for this blog post, I found a lot of information all summarizing this very concept.  In my search however, I was lucky to stumble upon a story about a personal experience with Hansei – after reading this post, it clicked.  Read it here.   At Toyota, hansei-kai are conducted at project milestones and at project completions, but this article reminds that it is also very well a part of their culture.


By: Megan Johnson, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

In order to solve problems and make improvements, we need to encourage ourselves and people who are involved in a process to question it.

“This is my process, and it doesn’t work as well as I think it should.  Why?“

By asking “Why?” you can identify problems and their root cause allowing you to work towards making the right improvement.  One simple method for solving problems is just that—asking “Why?”  Again and again and again until you get to that root cause.  To learn more about the 5 Whys technique, click here.

A Personal Experience with the Four Step Problem Solving Process

By Allie Olano, Student Process Improvement coordinator

When I entered my first Kaizen event I was very overwhelmed.  I was a Student Manager at the time and our Kaizen was focusing on the efficiency and flow of student workers during our busy times in the Residential Dining Halls.  The facilitator walked us through the four step problem solving process, which was something I had never heard before. 

We started going through all the steps and I was able to participate and give my perspective on things.  We were able to brainstorm and formulate countermeasures that would later be implemented to help solve our problem.

After the Kaizen was over, it really got me thinking about my job and how I could apply this process to day-to-day tasks that often have problems.  I took the task of our substitution-card process and through the problem solving process was able to come to the conclusion that the root cause was actually overscheduling due to the process I was using.  My student workers were signing up for more hours than what they wanted, and I was scheduling them based on those hours not knowing it was too much.  In turn this lead to more sub cards being posted and the sub cards not being filled.  To solve the problem I rescheduled my workers to where it was more manageable with their class schedule and I also hired a couple more students that just filled sub cards.

I found that going through the process is very beneficial because you are able to reveal the true cause of your problem and you are able to find a solution to solve the problem.  I encourage you to contact a facilitator if you a have problem and would like to work through it using the problem solving process.

Green in Lean

By Megan Johnson, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

Lean is a method of continuous improvement that strives for perfection by eliminating waste and creating more value for the customer.  Therefore, it is only logical that Lean thinking can go hand-in-hand with “green” thinking!

There are many different examples of how Lean principles and tools could be used to reduce waste in an environmentally-friendly way.

A few ways that Lean thinking could be used to reduce waste and benefit the environment at the same time include:

  • Reducing the amount of paperwork required in a process so that the papers used are only value-added and no unnecessary or duplicated work is occurring,
  • Removing non-value added steps in a process so that less energy needs to be used to create the final product,
  • Using by-products or leftovers of a process to make another useful product, and
  • Using minimal packaging for a product.

Do you have a process that you could make more “green” using Lean methodology?

Daily Team Meetings

Daily team meetings are short 5-10 minute meetings that happen each day for a work unit, area or department.  They are quick, to the point meetings, used to bring forth challenges, roadblocks and safety concerns in semi-real time.  At meetings and immediate response of coordinated effort can be made to tackle such challenges and problems. 

Common Characteristics of Daily team Meetings

  • Standing meetings (keeps topics quick and to the point)
  • All members participate, some methods include: round robin, last to arrive speaks first, pass a token around
  • Occurs at the same spot each day, usually at the gemba (where the work is done)
  • Agenda: what happened yesterday (problems?), todays hot topics, areas for improvement
  • Begin and end on time – even if someone is late

This is a picture from this morning’s Wads Bakery daily team meeting.  There were no problems for the day, the hot topic was a new type of sugar cookie graphic that was being used to display the Rozsa logo for cookies that will be sold at the Rozsa Center’s performance of Momix: Botanica this weekend.

Going to the Gemba

Guest Post by Megan Johnson, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

“Gemba” is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.”  When you hear of someone who is “going to the Gemba” or doing a “Gemba walk,” they are going to the actual place where the work is being done, where value is being created or added.  To really understand a process it is critical that person go to the gemba to observe what is actually happening. 

When visiting the gemba, you should ask open ended questions to hear about the process from those who are closest to the work.   

Going to the gemba should be a daily task for leaders.  When leaders go to the gemba, it provides them with an opportunity to observe a process first-hand, build relationships with those they supervise, to listen, help work through roadblocks encountered, and to help problem solve—as well as encouraging others to problem solve.

Gemba Walks, Jim Womack’s newest book is a collection of compiled letters and essays about this topic.  View more about the book HERE.


Last week I had the pleasure of facilitating a brainstorming session for the administrative staff and their supervisors for an entire department.  The goal of the session was to provide an environment for the administrative staff to share their work and job experiences so that improvements could be identified and collaborations could be sought.  To set the tone for the day, I began by introducing the Japanese term Yokoten.  It was a new term for me.  Isn’t it a fun word to say?!!  Here is what it means:

Yoko = horizontal, lateral, sideways

Tenkai = develop, deploy, advance

Yokoten = horizontal deployment

Shared learning, based on experience or observation, across an organization.

Yokoten is:

–   Knowledge and best practice sharing

–   Horizontal, peer-to-peer dissemination of information

–   Spreading wisdom to areas who have similar processes

–   Communication – sharing ideas, thoughts

–   Going and see

–   An understanding of WHY something is a best practice

–   Copy pluskaizen