Category: Lean Thinking

Who Doesn’t Love Spaghetti?

Who doesn’t love spaghetti? It’s one of the most iconic pastas out there! Spaghetti is easy to make and tasty to eat, what could be better? Here at the Office of Continuous Improvement, not only do we like our spaghetti in pasta from, but even more so in diagram form: a Spaghetti Diagram!

Ever do something every day and suddenly realize it takes you way longer than you expected to, or that it took longer than it should? I came to this realization the other day while packing my backpack up to leave for school. I recognized it was taking me 10 minutes to put some binders, pencils, and other common school supplies into my bag, when really it should only take about 5 minutes. I thought what better way to map out my process then a Spaghetti Diagram!

A Spaghetti Diagram is a map that used lines to show the different paths you are taking when you are completing a process. At first glance a Spaghetti Diagram sounds strange and chaotic, but it is actually a very helpful Lean tool. You first map the normal process that you do every day, then you look at the paths that over cross or are unneeded and change them or take them out. This results in a streamlined process. Below you will see my first spaghetti diagram of the steps I take to get my backpack ready on a normal day.

  1. Open backpack
  2. Grab supplies such as pens, pencils, and notepads
  3. Put these supplies into backpack
  4. Grab books and binders from book shelf
  5. Put these supplies into backpack
  6. Grab water bottle and lunch from fridge
  7. Put those into backpack
  8. Grab coat and shoes from closet and put them on
  9. Grab backpack from hook
  10. Leave for school

After looking at the diagram and the steps I take every morning, I could see that by carrying my backpack around throughout the process and not returning to it every time I retrieved something to put in it I would save multiple steps. Below is the updated diagram and steps.

  1. Grab backpack
  2. Grab supplies such as pens, pencils, and notepads and put them in backpack
  3. Grab books and binders from book shelf and put them in backpack
  4. Grab water bottle and lunch from fridge and put them in backpack
  5. Grab coat and shoes from closet and put them on
  6. Leave for school

As you can see the steps in the process reduced from 10 to 6, and all I needed was a little help from the Spaghetti Diagram to see the root cause of my problem. By mapping out my steps and the process, all the extra work became visible. This lean tool and many more can be very helpful in situations not only at work but also at home! And who doesn’t love spaghetti?

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Lean Studying

Winter carnival is over and it’s hard to believe that we are already starting week 5 of the semester. And you know what that means… it’s Midterm season. Now, as devastating as that may sound, it’s going to be okay. You’ve got Lean on your side. If you use Lean principles in the correct ways, they can help you become fully prepared for your exams. Lean principles such as Kanbans, Affinity Diagrams, and 5S can help make your studying experience go as smoothly as possible.

The Personal Kanban has been written about many times on this blog, but that’s only because it truly is useful. Personal Kanbans are meant to be used to keep your schedule in tact no matter what you may throw at it. With a Kanban, you can keep track of what you need to do, what you’re currently working on, and what you still need to start. At the office of Continuous Improvement you’ll be able to find Kanbans in almost every corner, as each one of our Process Improvement Coordinators has their Kanban prominently displayed at their workstation. As far as studying, personal Kanbans can be used to keep track of what you need to do to study, so you don’t get caught up in something else and lose track of what you have or have not done yet.

Affinity Diagrams can be used to help you organize your thoughts. Start with an open space such as a table, desk, or wall. Then you take a pad of sticky notes and write down everything you can think of for the subject you are studying. Then you can start sorting them into categories and develop connections between different aspects of those categories. This can help you develop internal connections and help you better relate ideas.

5S is a Lean organizational technique that consists of, surprise, five steps. These steps are: Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. 5s-ing your work space can help make it cleaner and more organized. It has been shown that having a cleaner work space makes it a less stressful environment and having less stress will allow you to focus on studying. Lean is much more than just a set of tools, to many, it is a lifestyle.

Image result for 5s

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Visual Management and Finding What Works

A personal project of mine that I have been working on is to implement Visual Management around my home. Too often I was finding myself with priority things needing to be done all at once. I would have loads (at least two) of laundry to do at time, chores piled up, all along with homework and readings to be done for class. The thing is, I was trying to do most of these things at the last minute, and it all needed to be done NOW.

I decided I wanted to change my situation, and in a Lean way. I mean, I implemented Lean and tried different experiments often at work, why should it be any different at home?

My current situation was that things just weren’t getting done, even though I was “using” tools such as Google Calendar and setting aside specific times to do things. I tried other uses of Visual Management such as putting together a large kanban board, making a huge (yet complicated) whiteboard calendar, detailing my Google Calendar Further, etc. However, none of these stuck. The kanban? I never took the time to use. The whiteboard calendar? It was over-complicated and took a lot of  time to update. Detailing my Google Calendar? That didn’t help because I didn’t look at it beyond classwork once I was home. Overall, it just seemed like I wasn’t using anything and nothing was sticking. I liked the work of putting together a board that looked nice and was filled with all my tasks, but then it became daunting, and then I didn’t use it at all.

I began to see a trend of over-processing and no sustainment. The over-processing happens when I make a tool that is supposed to be helpful, so complicated that it no longer is. My whiteboard took more time to update than it did to look at anything, making it neither efficient nor helpful. I didn’t stick to taking five minutes out of my day to add a sticky note or two to my kanban, so I didn’t sustain it and tasks were forgotten. Recognizing these things didn’t make me feel bad (it happens!) but it did fuel my resolve to keep trying to find something that does work for me. Sometimes we find that our Visual Management has morphed into something that is more work than help, and that’s okay. PDCA and try a new experiment in another way.

So that’s what I have been doing, starting fresh with a new, simple kanban board. Funny thing is, I’ve done the same thing at work! I’ve also been experimenting with different types of Visual Management: putting a line across the hamper to trigger when a full load is, being messy with reminder notes, and making separate calendars for things such as homework and readings. Visual Management may look different between two people, so experiment with finding what works for you.

Do you use Visual Management in a different way? Are there certain tools or exercises that you use to help you? We’d love to hear more from you, feel free to share in the comments below!

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The Lie: I Don’t Have Time

This semester I’m taking a variety of classes outside of my major, particularly in the humanities department. As I’ve gone through each semester prior to this one I’ve always had a reason for why I was too busy for my humanities courses, and why future me would have more time than the current me. Well, here I am in my final semester, about to graduate and taking four humanity classes. Each day I laugh a little when reflecting on the fact that I thought that future me (now present me) would love it if all of those time consuming classes were in a single semester. Let me tell you I’m not loving it. So what happened? I fell into the lie that we all tell ourselves, I don’t have time. What we’re really saying is I don’t have time right now, but I will later. Then later becomes even later and later until we’re in a position that we can’t progress from any further unless later becomes now. This strategy usually, ends up hurting the future us more than implementing bits and pieces at a time would in the NOW.  Believe me, I WISH I had taken my humanities in a more dispersed fashion, because now I really don’t have time, but I also don’t have an option. I did it to myself.

In my time working with the Office of Continuous Improvement, I’ve had the privilege of coordinating many kaizen events and working with a vast amount of people across the Michigan Tech community, and nearly all of them are enthusiastic when we set out to find areas of improvement and implement change. Less frequently, however, I encounter some individuals or departments who are not so enthusiastic, in fact they often are resistant to the idea of a kaizen because they know it leads to improvements. The most common excuse I hear from those resisting the idea of improvement is, “I wish we could, but I just don’t have time.” Some people will add (as if to let me down gently), “but maybe I will later.”

There’s many comic strips and people in the world who have talked about this topic, and many have shared thought provoking insights, like the ones pictured below.

Instead of reiterating what those before me have done already let’s look at the I don’t have time lie in a different way, what do you do when someone give you this excuse?

One of the classes that I’m taking this semester is Organizational Behavior and in my short time this semester I’m already seeing how invaluable the information is that I’m getting. One particular lesson that has been standing out to me was our lesson on Resistance (Goltz 2019). First, where is resistance rooted? It is rooted in five key areas:

  • Fear of uncertainty
  • Habits, group norms such as the pressure not to change
  • When it upsets the power dynamics
  • Individual predisposition to change
  • Not enough work systems have changed

Let’s highlight the last two areas, Individual Predisposition to change and Not enough work systems have changed.

In regards to Individual Predisposition, there are five types of “Adopters.”

  1. The Innovator who readily tries new ideas
  2. The Early Adopter who adopts innovation readily but watches the innovators experiment first – cautious
  3. The Early Majority who are known as the distant watchers, they will adopt after careful observation and thought
  4. The Late Majority who are skeptical but are subject to broad peer pressure. These people are good to have on any team as they slow the thinking down to ensure changes aren’t being made just to make change.
  5. The Resister who rejects most innovations regardless of success stories

There are eight work systems, but five must be altered for a change to be successful as it ensures the environment is able to support the changes. The eight work systems are:

  1. Information Distribution – Communication Strategies
  2. Organization/Department – Culture and Structure
  3. Workplace Design – Physical Environment
  4. Task Redesign – e.g., Prioritize Tasks consistent with change
  5. Decision Allocation – e.g., Budgeting and other Resources
  6. People – Use their knowledge and different personalities (e.g., Selection, Training)
  7. Measurement – Pilot Test doing the new behavior
  8. Rewards – For the new behavior

An Organization or a group can’t just say, “We’re going to make changes,” they first must make the necessary shifts to support and enable the changes. It’s important to always consider whether the environment allows for the change before implementation occurs, if not make adjustments. You can do this by building your improvement team up with individuals from each of the adopter types to ensure that you’re getting validating all different perspectives and concerns. Change takes time because its new territory to navigate, implement or sometimes even learn, but change is necessary for anybody to keep moving forward towards perfection.


S. Goltz PhD. 2019. MGT3000, Organizational Behavior. Michigan Technological University.

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A3: Not Just A Paper Size

Although I am a third year student, I still find myself struggling to determine and practice good study habits that fit my learning style. It seems like every semester I try changing many different things in order to find how studying works best for me, but every semester feel as if I still fall short. Whether it’s not achieving the top grade for the class or the feeling that the time I spent studying was not spent using maximum productivity, whatever I was doing never seemed to work. That is, until I was introduced to Lean and Continuous Improvement. I then realized the tools I use at work every day could also be applied to my school and home life. After I started to use the various Lean tools available to me at work I began to see how they could be very valuable to me in my academics. I started to think about what to work on and improve in my school life and the first thing that came to mind was making my studying more effective and efficient. This is when I found that an A3 would be great tool to use to pinpoint the root problem with my studying habits.

Normally when people hear the term A3 they think of the stand size 11″ x 17″ piece of paper. The A3 lean tool refers to this sized piece of paper that is used as a template for a problem solving report. The template is comprised of six different topics or steps to help you analyze the problem and attempt to find a viable solution. These steps include purpose statement, objectives, current state, future state, implementation plan, and outcome/metrics. This template focuses on planning in order to guide you through the problem solving process using the PCDA Method (Plan, Do, Check, Act). A basic template for an A3 can be seen below.

I am currently in the process of creating and revising my A3 for my study habits, but after multiple revisions and zeroing in on the root problem, I can already tell how much using the A3 helped. This is just one example of how I use Lean tools in my everyday life. There are many tools out there, some of which you probably already use without knowing it, that can really assist you in your everyday life. So take advantage of the Lean culture, I know I do!

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Sustaining A No Blame Environment

Over and over we revisit the phrase of “Blame the process, not the people,” and how this concept plays such a big role in Continuous Improvement. It’s very  critical in that it allows us to ask the right questions and to make headway as a team to figure out problems and solutions, but sometimes we can get slowly sucked back into old ways. It’s not our fault, we’ve been trained to associate abilities with mistakes, but Lean and Continuous Improvement strives to change this. Here are some tips to help ensure that you are cultivating and sustaining a work space free of blame.

Put the spotlight on the process, not the people– The very first thing to do is to stray away from blame by asking the reason why a person did something a certain way. Stop searching for who did what wrong. Instead, invest time and energy dissecting a process and seeing in what ways it allows for ambiguity and mistakes. You must turn away from the idea that someone did something wrong, but rather look at that the process as wrong and that there’s an opportunity to correct it.

Respect a (person)’s capabilities– In order to have a blame-free environment, you must have respect the person, this includes respecting a persons capabilities. If an outcome is not desired or expected, searching for someone who is “guilty” is not respecting them in their role, nor is it respecting their capabilities to perform in their job. It is jumping to conclusions that they are inefficient or not “up to snuff.” When you look to the process first when there’s an issue, you are letting others know that it is not them and that you trust their capabilities.

Culture responsibility and accountability– When we are in an environment where we feel we do not have to protect ourselves with excuses, it becomes easier to feel more accountable and take responsibility when something does go wrong. Taking responsibility no longer becomes a burden because it no longer is seen as a reflection of one’s performance, which makes people more willing to pointing out areas of trouble, or mistakes that are made.

Engage others and their opinions– The way we shape and ask our questions when confronted with a mistake or issue gives people a feeling of where we place our blame. It’s important to ask questions that have to do with the process. Ask what they felt may have been ambiguous or confusing, or in what way could we have made the information more available or clear?

Remember, experimentation means just that, experimentation!– Sometimes when trying to solve a problem that seems similar to one before it, we get expectations for the results we want to see. Having expectations for our result doesn’t mean we question what someone “did” if the expectation is not met.

A no blame environment takes time, but it is do-able if it is made a priority! Strive to create a workplace culture that doesn’t look at someone as what they did wrong, but rather how a process allowed for that result and how the group can make improvements!

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The Power of a Good Facilitator

Lean and Continuous Improvement has come a long way since its debut in the Manufacturing world, today its grown exponentially across disciplines and has manifested itself into some “unusual” environments such as Higher Education and Healthcare. Often, a company’s lean journey begins by hiring a consultant from a firm of some sort to come in and teach the principles, the tools, and the applications of lean. These consultants are the facilitators that introduce, train, and coach a company for a short period of time until they eventually leave and its in the hands of the company to make use of the knowledge they just gained. A consultant that needs a little more practice may leave the company confused, moderately ready to keep going or frustrated. A good consultant will leave the company hooked, engaged and eager to sustain a lean environment. The power of a good consultant, a good facilitator, can make a difference in the outcome. This remains true when facilitating a kaizen event internally, the skill of the facilitator can have an impact on the outcome and the long term sustainment of the improvements.

Here at Michigan Technological University, we are very fortunate to have over 40 volunteer facilitators on our campus, all from a wide range of departments. These facilitators are faculty and staff that have voluntarily dedicated thousands of hours cumulatively, outside of their own work schedules, to help the Michigan Tech campus grow towards becoming the best that it can be. They have been trained extensively, and have made themselves available to: coach lean projects on campus, share their skills,  host workshops, facilitate kaizen events on campus, and remain available to the people they’re helping for as long as they are needed. Being able o work with them during my time here at Michigan Tech has made me very fortunate as well since I have been able to learn a lot from them.

Our office, the Office of Continuous Improvement, hosts an annual facilitator training for 18 individuals to complete face-to-face over the course of six months. Once completed they begin their facilitating duties on campus. Something I’ve come to learn is that these individuals, yes they now wear the hat of “facilitator,” but they are still normal human beings, and normal human beings get nervous. We all bring our own baggage with us, our own insecurities, struggles, and “what-if’s,” rational or not, this is reality. Considering these nerves, I began to ask myself, so what makes a good facilitator?

A Good Facilitator is Someone who:

  • Goes into the meeting with no preconceived notions of what will happen
  • Goes in with the mentality of a coach, rather than a mechanic
  • Keeps the conversation focused on the defined scope of the event, but still captures other ideas to validate them
  • Follows-up with their team
  • Ensures that all voices are heard equally by empowering each individual accordingly
  • Enforces a blame-free, mutual respect environment
  • Remains professional and unbiased
  • Manages the group dynamic
  • Is knowledgeable in conflict management strategies
  • Doesn’t make assumptions
  • Asks open-ended questions
  • Engages the entire group in the conversation

This list is no where near complete, nor is it to say that one person holds all of these aspects, nor does one person lack them all, but this is the general consensus that I’ve found in three years of working with facilitators and seeing the end result of many events. Working with people you don’t know can be intimidating, but none of the things I listed above are things you need to be naturally gifted in, you just have to try.

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The Endgame

Finals week is almost here, many of us are in the lull before the storm when it comes to the world of academics. In the words of Dr. Strange from Avengers: Infinity War, “We’re in the endgame now,” the semester is not over just quite. For some people, these next few weeks of studying may make or break their grade for a class. Here at the Office of Continuous Improvement we hope that you all finish strong. Don’t fret, there are some tools used in Lean culture that can be applied to academics. These are things such as: fishbone diagrams to help find the root cause of a problem, personal kanbans to help keep track of what needs to be done, and 3S for a quick cleanup of your work space (discluding standardization and sustainment for now).

As you can see there are plenty of Lean tools to help you out. If you’re not doing great in a class but can’t figure out why, try making a fishbone diagram or use another tool to get to the root cause of why you may be struggling. Correcting the root cause could give you the boost you need in order to do well these last few weeks and help prevent you from repeating the class or doing the same thing in one of your next classes.

A personal Kanban can also be very useful in helping you keep track of what needs to be done and how much you have already done. Personal Kanbans also help with the separation and prioritization of tasks to complete on a daily basis so due dates don’t sneak up on you and you can see what days will be busy with assignments, allowing you to manage them accordingly. Keeping a personal Kanban can help with the balancing of classes, homework, studying, as well as work and while keeping it all in one place.

It has been suggested that people study better when they are in a clean space. When I am studying my desk usually looks like a mini tornado just passed over my desk. If that sounds familiar, then it may not be a bad idea to do a quick 3S of your work station during a break in your studying. For many people cleaning may even help relieve stress and clear the mind, making it easier to get back into the swing of things after your break is up. Plus, then you get to start up again at a clean work space.

Finals season can be very stressful, especially dividing up study time accordingly and making sure you finish strong in your classes. It may seem as though your life is out of your control, having something in place to either keep a hold of your life or take it back can help take some stress off of your shoulders. These are just some of the Lean tools that may be useful to you during these last few weeks of the semester. If you would like to learn more about these or other Lean tools, feel free to reach out to our office for more resources via email at

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Spotting Waste

When most people hear the word waste we think of trash or garbage, however, waste can be a lot more than that especially when used in terms of lean. In lean terms waste is defined as any activity that uses resources but doesn’t create value for the customer and in the lean world, we’re all about eliminating waste. There are actually eight different types of waste which can be grouped into three different categories known as muda (just waste), mura (waste due to unevenness or variation), and muri (waste or stress on the system due to overburdening or unreasonableness). The eight different types of waste include:

Motion: This form of waste is whenever there is unnecessary movement of people. Some of the forms this can be seen in are traveling to equipment that is shared with other tasks or looking around for information that could or should be readily available for you. Some common causes of this form of waste are work space layout, ergonomic issues or searching for misplaced items.

Waiting: This form of waste is caused when people are stuck waiting for other people, information, products, or equipment which disrupts the process. This waste can look like idle time, customers waiting in long lines, and stopped equipment. It can be caused by the need for an approval or unbalanced workloads.

Knowledge: This form of waste is when an individual’s knowledge or skills is not being used to its full potential. This can be seen in a large amount of approvals or reviews, or the neglect of ideas. The common causes of this waste are lack of trust in the workforce and lack of communications between departments.

Movement: This form of waste is caused by the unneeded movement of things. This can look like hand carrying equipment and rearranging elements. Some common causes of this waste are too much inventory and a poor layout for the process.

Correction: This form or waste is when incorrect or incomplete information has to be corrected or finished when it should have been right to begin with. This can be seen when there are defects, missing information, or dissatisfied customers. Some common causes of this are poor training or communication, lack of in depth instruction, or no standard.

Over-processing: This form of waste is when more is done than what is necessary to produce a product or service. This can be seen in inspections or reviews, redundancies, or approvals. The common causes of this form of waste are an outdated process or a lack of trust or communication.

Overproduction: This form of waste is when more is done or made than what was needed. This can look like queues of work or and abundance of inventory. Some common causes of this are an environmental push or a lack of focus on the value stream.

Inventory: This waste is the surplus of supplies, information, or equipment. It can be seen as stockpiles of materials, supplies or papers. This form of waste occurs when people make or store items “just-in-case” or when there is an unreliable purchasing process.

No matter what the form of waste is, it is always important to know what it is and how to spot it. Lean is driven on the removal of waste in any form to better a process or project so, if you don’t know how to spot it you won’t be able to fix it. Waste is all around us. Look around you now, what waste do you notice just in the room you are in?

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Changing Resistance

Change within the work place is supposed to be vital and natural, as the saying goes “change is the only constant.” So if change is supposed to be a natural part of our jobs and business, and it’s meant to be beneficial, why does resistance come with it?

There are many valid reasons why employees may be resistant to change, and the biggest factor has to do with one’s past experiences and the definition that “change” takes on for them. If changes were implemented without good communication, resulted in added stress or hassle, consisted of a lack of trust in higher management, or resulted in downsizing- then employees may associate change with negativity due to what they experienced.

Overall, change is associated with instability, and we tend to be weary of what has the potential to affect our jobs and what we are used to. In Lean and Continuous Improvement one very important aspect of implementing successful and sustaining change is the support and understanding of those involved. Lean and Continuous Improvement integrates respect for people, communication, and purpose into its process of change in order to help the transition from “comfortable” to “unknown.”

Respect for people is one of the pillars of Lean, and respecting the people you work with includes listening and respecting concerns they may have with changes to a process. Understanding these concerns allows you to support them, validate them and let them know the ways that change is going to impact, them in a good way.

Communication is always key, especially for when experimenting with improvements. Communication allows for everyone to be on the same page about how the change is being implemented, as well as what their own role will be in the changed process. This establishes control for one’s own role and helps to mitigate any worry about what change means for their position, keeping one empowered.

Purpose is what drives continuous improvement as we try to give a result with utmost value. Establishing the purpose behind a change and “Why” it is valuable to those involved, helps to drive the wheels of improvement. Believing, understanding and being unified behind a purpose allows everyone to understand and conduct change in a way that supports one’s purpose as well as an organizations.

The likelihood that every person you work with will be comfortable when confronted with change and new implementations are not very high seeing as there may always be a degree of resistance. However, when implementing change in a Lean and Continuous way, you try to find the reasons for resistance within your group and then address those concerns. Maybe then, the next time change comes about, you’ll be met with a little more excitement and less resistance.

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