Category: Lean Thinking

Wedding Bells Are No Exception

So often we get caught up in our projects: we start them, prioritize them, and then devote all of our attention to them one by one until they’re completed. We very rarely have a single project that is on-going for a long period of time; why is this?

I think it’s because we don’t want lingering work, we thrive off of completion. From that we gain satisfaction and pride in our work.

There is, however, a trade-off for this pride. That is, when we continuously move from one project to the next, seeing each to completion before starting the next, most of us quickly become burned out. When we get burned out we lose our energy and our enthusiasm, as well as become negative, frustrated, and unproductive. That satisfaction we were chasing before no longer sustains us.

Back in February, one of my co-worker’s blogged on incremental improvement, and recently she blogged about Preemptive Improvement. In these blogs, she’s shared how our office has been using small improvements to achieve a high future state and strive for perfection, even when a correction isn’t necessary. These methods are some that I’ve been applying in my own personal life heavily in the last year or so.

Last July I got engaged, we set a date 11 months out and so commenced the wedding planning. For all those who’ve been married, you probably know the magnitude of this task. I’ve always been a “planner,” per say, and I tend to enjoy getting to use my creativity, so from the beginning I’ve been pretty excited about the planning process. However, I know a lot of people who’ve gotten married and I’ve learned that the entire process isn’t always fun, or creative. I also know myself and I tend to go and go and go, and focus on one thing until it’s complete before I’ll start the next; meaning, I tend to burn myself out.

Knowing the planning wouldn’t always play on my interests, and knowing that I sometimes overburden myself were good things to be aware of back in July. Because of this, I was able to plan ahead and use my lean thinking skills to combat potential burnouts or becoming a bridezilla (my worst nightmare). I did this by utilizing the skills I’ve learned here in the Office of Continuous Improvement. I can honestly, say with 10 days left until the wedding, that I’ve only had two “burnouts,” one as a result of over-processing, and the other was out of my control to change.

After talking to multiple soon-to-be wives, I’ve learned that I am the one who’s been the least bit stressed about the planning process as a whole and I believe this is from all of the lean I’ve implemented… From organizing my thoughts via a gigantic affinity diagram, laying out the roles and responsibilities of our family members in a swim lane, using a decision matrix to decide on venues and vendors, ICE prioritization of tasks, plentiful checklists, recognizing when I was over processing, and also taking it one step at a time and remembering that the entire wedding doesn’t need to be planned over-night.

I’ve also gathered that on average, the last three weeks before the wedding tend to be the busiest with wrapping up small details. However, because of the prioritization that we conducted early on, and the small deadlines we set, we were able to spend two of those weeks towards something not related to wedding, and only spend the last week wrapping up details.

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This is the original affinity diagram that kicked off the planning (kind of) last August. Things would get added and removed as we moved, but at one point it took up this entire 10 ft wall.

The purpose of today’s blog post is to show you that as long as you learn how to slow down your thinking, anyone can implement and benefit from small improvements striving for perfection.


Preemptive Improvement

Most often, the trigger for PDCA is when you come across a barrier or an issue within a process. The signal to step into action and begin PDCA is once your current state no longer reflects your trajectory to the desired target state. So, what happens when you reach your target state and there is nothing left to improve?

Trick question, there is ALWAYS something to improve! Recently within the Office of Continuous Improvement, we have been going through our own office standards and procedures. This week, during our second monthly office standard meeting we came up with a purpose statement for our meetings. One of the criteria for the purpose statement is that we needed to capture the importance of continuous improvement towards perfection, and not just the kind improvement that occurs after an issue is identified.

Currently, we’re reviewing the standards that we have found issues or road bumps with, in order to correct the issue as soon as possible. However, the monthly office standards meeting is also supposed to be a preemptive measure against road bumps for the future. Now that we’ve started to make improvement in the areas that need immediate attention, we will regularly check in and PDCA all of our processes.

Instead of waiting until something is wrong with a process before working on it, our goal is to continually improve each standard we have implemented. This way, instead of needing a trigger, it’s already part of our on-going process.

It may seem as though this is a waste of time, fixing something when it isn’t broke. However, we believe that taking the time to look over something before an issue arises, not only gives you more control over the situation, but it can also help alleviate any stress that often accompanies issues.

For example, let’s say that you regularly check the fluid levels of your vehicle. If you notice the break fluid is extremely low, you now have a hint that something is wrong and because you take the time to check your vehicle regularly, you very well have just avoided an accident. Would it have been a better use of time if you had just waited until the brakes light came on? Or perhaps if your brakes blew out on the highway?

In terms of safety and well-being, taking a few extra minutes here and there actually saves you time and stress later on, for your future self. That is the same with preemptive improvements. When you look ahead in anticipation of possible issues or areas of stress and take corrective measures beforehand, then you don’t have to deal with the crisis state. Overall, it’s helpful to remember that it’s important to look at what you may improve now, even though there may not be any foreseen issues yet. It’s not about what’s broken, but about whether or not there’s something that we can do to make sure it doesn’t break at all later, and in turn we get another step closer towards perfection in doing so.

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4 more things you (probably) didn’t know about a kaizen event

The word kaizen is quite literally a foreign word to most Americans, it means improvement. Attending a kaizen, or an improvement event, may also be a foreign concept to some, especially to those that have never participated in one.

Two weeks ago, we discussed four things you probably didn’t know about a kaizen, particularly targeted to help those who have never been apart of one. Here we’d like to cover four more things:

  1. Use your resources wisely – Part of the girl scout law says, “I will do my best… to use resources wisely.” When making an improvement, or improvements, it gets really easy to see fantastic countermeasures that could be a solve all if there was a good amount of money spent. However, we like to say that money is out of scope. It’s always better to try and find a solution utilizing the resources already available, it’s about creative thinking and problem solving. That’s why I think of the girl scout law for this, because it follows the same principle.
  2. Improvement requires teamwork – Kaizen events, often times are a lot easier when there is only a handful of people actually assigned to newspaper (to-do list) tasks, simply because it’s convenient for everyone else. However, this has a tendency to burden the single one or two people. But it takes a team to identify current state and future state, as well as to implement the improvements.
  3. Change is an evolution and not necessarily a revolution – One of the pillars that lean is built on is Continuous Improvement. This was intentional in order to represent continuous improvements. We identify our current state and then identify the ideal or future stat, but in order to get from current to future we have to take baby steps. The leap to the future state embodies many small improvements that need to be made over time rather than a single large improvement. The purpose of continuous improvement is to keep striving for the future, but allowing grace to step in and slow things down (See #4).
  4. Slow and Steady wins the race – Kaizen events often seem tedious, but this is because the majority of the time is spent trying to fully understand the current state, the problems coming from it and then understanding the root cause. This takes a considerable amount of time, because it slows the thinking down so that nothing is missed. Then you move on to identifying the future state. Once the future state is identified it gets really easy to start coming up with counter measure after countermeasure. Tying back to #3, it’s easiest to start with the first countermeasure in a series and then come back to the others later on.

The eight pieces that we’ve discussed are huge in understanding the culture within a kaizen event. These items are in alignment to our office, the Office of Continuous Improvement, and the ground rules that we practice in kaizen events on the Michigan Tech campus.

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If It’s Not Broke…. Fix It?

The phrase “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” is a concept that seems to be very reasonable and is widely accepted by many. If there’s nothing wrong with the end result of a process, then why tinker with the process at all? Spending energy and time on something that does not have an issue would be a waste of time, right?

Maybe not, this form of thinking and attitude negates Continuous Improvement in that there is no improvement, and a process become stagnant. PDCA cannot take place when it’s met with the notion of “what we do works” and “we’ve always done it this way.” Sometimes it’s hard to see how a process can be changed for the better, especially if you believe the current process is also the best process.

Oftentimes, this way of thinking prevents improvement from ever beginning, largely because  it’s perceived as a waste of time. Everyone is already busy enough without having to put time into a process that clearly works. PDCA isn’t about whether something works, but more, can it be improved? Time spent towards improvement is an investment, and never a waste of time because it increases the value produced by your process.

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Continuous Improvement is not meant as something to point fingers or say that something is being done the “wrong” way. It is meant to allow you to maximize effectiveness and efficiency, to complete your goals and to fulfill a purpose in the best way possible. Improvement should always be looked at in the most positive of light, as it is about evolution and growth, allowing for the best to come out of everything.


4 things you (probably) didn’t know about a Kaizen event

In the last 10 years we’ve gained a lot of momentum in sharing Lean with the people of this campus; the largest connection has been made through hosting Kaizens, improvement events. However, when hosting a kaizen there’s not always team members that have ever heard of Lean and Continuous Improvement, let alone fully grasp its concepts. This isn’t their fault, how could they possibly understand something they haven’t been exposed to?

That being said, there’s eight things you probably didn’t know about a kaizen event that can help you to understand them a little more, the first four will be covered here:

  1. We’re not here to fix it for you – So often when our office assists with a kaizen, others believe that we are the ones that are going to come up with the solutions. This isn’t the case, the facilitators and coordinators are there to coach the team through a new way of problem solving, so that the team can develop the solutions.
  2. No silent objectors – A whisper can be more damaging than a shout. Meaning, if a team member has an idea, in agreeance  to the conversation or not, and it’s whispered or only kept as a thought, then that may be lost potential. We highly encourage all members of the team to share all of their thoughts and opinions so we can gain all perspectives. I mean, each team member was invited to the kaizen for a reason, right? And just to clarify we don’t encourage shouting, there’s really no need for it in a positive and mutual-respect environment, but shouting your idea is better than not expressing it at all.
  3. Blame the process, not the person – People are out of scope when identifying problems in a process. The process is the way it is, because it was able to be that way. Typically people don’t try to do a bad job, or deliberately cause waste. It’s easy to blame people, but really that person was just a victim to the faults of a process.
  4. It’s okay to disagree, but it’s not okay to be disagreeable – This kind of ties to #2, we encourage ALL opinions to be shared. Including opposing opinions. BUT, there is a difference between a difference of opinion and simply being irritable or challenging to work with.

So there’s four things you probably didn’t know about kaizen events, particularly the culture of a kaizen event. Stay tuned for the next four.

If you’d like to learn more about kaizen events, and how we run things here on campus, consider subscribing to our blog. We aim to get a post up once a week.

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The Purpose of Lean

The Office of Continuous Improvement had the pleasure of welcoming guest Karyn Ross on Monday afternoon (and on her birthday, no less!). Having her here at Michigan Tech was a wonderful opportunity, as we get to learn more about Lean from another perspective.

While talking with Karyn and students from Leaders in Continuous Improvement, Karyn was asked how to better cultivate a Lean culture, was there certain tools that they should be using. Karyn’s response was not what I expected, but I was also pleasantly intrigued, as she addressed our usage of tools and Lean culture in a way that allowed be to look at Lean in a way I hadn’t previously.

In terms of tools, there are many that we have in order to help us make an improvement, and there tends to be heavy dependency on these tools. However, improvement is more than implementation of just a tool or tools: it’s the combination of principles, practice AND tools that allow us to accomplish an overall purpose. It is the establishment of the purpose that seems to have been forgotten, which means that an important key to improvement has been forgotten as well.

When beginning an improvement event, the first step is to identify and evaluate the current state, when really we should be asking and establishing what our purpose for the improvement is. “What is it we want to accomplish? What do we need to do, in order to make that accomplishment? How can it be done in a way that fulfills our purpose?” Establishing your purpose allows you to be able to define your target of the improvement. Only after the purpose and  your target are established can you truly look at your current state and start to find how to bridge the gaps. Only then can tools be used without creating waste.

In terms of culture, Karyn asked, “What is the purpose of Lean?”  To which the immediate response was the one I had only ever known; “To make all processes more efficient and effective.”

I was taken aback by Karyn, smiling, saying, “Can we flip flop those two?”

What did she mean, to flip the two? In most everything I had read about Lean, all that I had learned through training, the saying was always “efficient” and then “effective”. How could you be effective without being efficient first? Karyn went on to talk about that when a group works towards their purpose, and produces an end result that adds value to their customer, then they are being effective. The more value you produce for the customer, the more effective you are being, and the more you are fulfilling your purpose. Therefore, being more effective allows you to become more efficient, as you fulfill your purpose in the best, Lean way possible.

In all, I think that there is a lot that we can all learn about our purpose within Lean and about our own culture, Karyn more than helped me learn about my own. Towards the end of our visit, Karyn herself was asked what is the purpose of Lean, to which she replied:

“The purpose of Lean, is to help people improve the world.”

Karyn was overall, engaging and knowledgeable, and I wish I had had more time to talk to her. I hope that now, with my new found knowledge about my own purpose within Lean, that I can help other people improve the world, and do so more effectively.


The Trickiness of Out-of-Scope

One of my first solo kaizens has been with a group of newly trained facilitators, and has gone smoothly so far! I would like to share how during this particular kaizen, I witnessed this group really dig-down and think of tools and ways that would allow them to cover as many aspects of the root cause as possible.

Recently, the IT library help-desk has been working on improving the hardware drop-off process. The process itself had issues such as miscommunication and lack of information and standards. This left the help-desk with no information about the hardware’s progress as well as other issues, such as the customer not knowing how to access what little information there was about their hardware.

One of the challenges of going through this Kaizen was how often certain parts of the process were “Out-of-Scope” due to the process involving many other departments and people. Though IT could do their best to standardize the parts of the process that they were hands on, there was little that could be done at that time in terms of standardizing the process as a whole.

As ways to address communication within IT and the customer, they came up with ideas such as information cards for customers specifically, as well as more details added to the hardware log. These two improvements helped a majority of the process in terms communication all around.

Although it was established earlier that areas of the process that took place in and with other departments was out of scope, the team came up with a fairly simple idea that was still able to address the lack of communication and was able to help bridge between the current improvement and the out-of-scope. Their idea was to create a channel that allowed communication only between the main contacts of IT and the other heads of the process. This way, there’s more effective communication between all groups involved in the process.

It was very exciting and refreshing to see this group take on improvement in a creative way, in which they didn’t let the out-of-scope deter them from improving what they could.


Taking the Plunge into 5S

For some people accomplishment comes from the words, “our work here is done,” however, I believe that accomplishment can also come from, “we’ve only just begun.”

As we’ve shared in the past, each year 15-18 Michigan Tech faculty and staff come together in hopes of becoming the newest additions to our facilitator co-hort here on campus. To achieve the title of a “Level 1 Facilitator,” each candidate must attend seven days of training, complete various homework assignments, and participate as either a team leader or a facilitator on a new kaizen with three to four other candidates.

The group I’ve been assigned to has decided that their kaizen was going to be to 5S the Foundry Lab located in the Material Science and Engineering building. A couple of weeks ago, four future graduates, and an already seasoned facilitator, went to the gemba, where work is done. Our tour of the Foundry Lab consisted of Team Leader, Matthew Otte (Material Science and Engineering) walking us through the various workstations and processes for every corner of the lab. Our walk took a little over an hour and a half, and we really only scraped the surface for potential areas of improvement.

Before
This is the top view of the Foundry lab before any changes have been made.

Following this Gemba walk I found myself a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of potential within the lab. I was struggling with imagining where, how and when to start.

One of my favorite things about lean is that it has taught me to become an independent problem solver. When this overwhelming feeling creeped in I remembered that the most important thing with any change is to just start. There’s no rule that says you must jump from current state to ideal state in one step. Continuous Improvement is about incremental changes. It doesn’t matter how big the stride, what matters is the direction.

Considering this, the team and I regrouped, and we decided to start with one single workbench and slowly pick away at other areas within the Foundry.

Before finishing station
This is a before picture of the finishing station workbench our team decided to start with.

Now, these emotions I experienced weren’t necessarily circumstantial, however they’ve been encountered many times by many people and seem to be associated with any sort of change. Commonly, this sense of being overwhelmed is coupled with 5S. I’ve found that in most cases, when 5S is initiated, there’s usually a lot that needs to be done.  These emotions can be used as a trigger to take a deep breath, and pick one incremental change at a time.


Scheduling of the Library Conference Room

There has been a new Kaizen started here in the Office of Continuous Improvement, and I get to be the PIC for it! The new Kaizen is through the JR Van Pelt and Opie Library. The topic will be based around the scheduling methods of conference room 103 in the Library. Chad Arney, Director of Strategic Initiatives, is the team leader. He has proven to be very knowledgeable, both in the understanding of Library itself and in Google calendar. Andrew Miles (Financial Aid Manager), Briana Tucker (Student Engagement Coordinator), and Lori Weir (Dir Admin Services & Projects) are the three facilitators that have volunteered for this Kaizen. An added bonus, is that they are all outside eyes, and often ask very formidable questions about the process for how to schedule the conference room. Our team members are Annelise Doll and Mia Kemppainen, both employees in the library who know the process inside and out, and work with it on a daily basis.
We held our pre-meeting at the beginning of the March and identified what the problem was exactly. Chad explained the confusion and difficulty there was just to reserve the conference room, which believe me, was very confusing, especially for an outsider looking in. It was a bit unbelievable to see the process that people have to go through to reserve this room. Not only is there a lengthy process, but there is all the potential for other people to be in the room or that another reservation could be made, over-booking your event.
We held our first Kaizen day this past Monday with the whole team together in one room. We were able to create a process map of what people have to do to reserve the room. We were also able to figure out some things in Google calendar that really none of us have really known about before, like knowing who can reserve the room on campus and how Google calendar can accept whether or not the room can be reserved. It was very interesting to learn about these new things I hadn’t known before. We were also able to identify the different things that people struggle with when reserving the room.
Overall, it’s been, and hopefully will continue to be a fun, exciting, and great learning experience.


Blame the Process

I was recently presented with an opportunity to “think Lean” outside of my normal work setting, with others who are unfamiliar with Lean. I have found that in a work place where Lean is the norm, it is very easy to do things the Lean way, especially since everyone is working towards Continuous Improvement. The real challenge is to implement Lean in areas of your life that you hadn’t normally before, and to challenge the way you previously reacted to situations. One of my personal challenges has been to remember to “Blame the process” when there’s an issue, instead of blaming myself or another. Instead, you must look at the process in order to find the areas that create opportunity for mistakes and waste.

Our student organization MEDLIFE had a shipment come in for a fundraiser, in which we looked at the master sheet to make sure we had everything we were supposed to, which we did. Off to a good start, we started distributing the goods. It wasn’t until we came to the last few orders that we realized we were short multiple packages, and customers orders were missing items. After wracking our brains and consulting, we found out that an entire order hadn’t been ordered, as the order sheet was in an envelope that was thought to contain only money, and it was never opened.

In situations like this, I have time and again looked for the person to blame, the person who “screwed up”. It was what I had been used to, and was something I used to witness on a daily basis. However, before I could let this take hold of me, I took a deep breath and chanted to myself “Blame the process, not the person.” And so, after figuring out how it was corrected, we all congregated and began the break-down of the issue.

We used 5 Whys to understand what lead to the envelope and order being missed, which led us to understand that the overall collection process had been terribly messy and un-standardized. People had randomly dropped off orders, names were not on all the papers, some money was in envelopes, some money was just clipped together, and most of it was not labeled. In addition, if we had taken the time to separate orders before allowing people to pick them up, we could have caught the issue sooner and there wouldn’t have been multiple incomplete orders.

Overall, a recipe for disaster! After going through everything, I was astounded by the fact that only one order had been missed, as it must have been very frustrating for those who had the job of counting everything up and recording the orders. With this information, we now have a standard of how things are to be labeled and turned in, as well as by whom and when. This way, our collection process for any future fundraiser will be much more efficient, and less stressful for those who are collecting.

Not only did it feel good that I was able to react in a Lean way, but it was also a good experience to correct an issue the Lean way with others.