Category: Success Stories

OHIO — Only Handle It Once

The following guest post was written by Kaylee Betzinger, a former student process improvement coordinator here at Michigan Tech and currently an intern at Amway in their Enterprise Excellence Department.

For the past 13 weeks I’ve been interning with Amway in their Enterprise Excellence Department. While in this position I’ve gotten to partner with a variety of cross functional teams throughout the business and within the West Michigan community. One project in particular is a non-profit venture with Mel Trotter Ministries. Mel Trotter Ministries exists to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ toward the hungry, homeless and hurting of the greater Grand Rapids area ( They are able to provide a variety of services to these people in need because of their 4 thrift shops located throughout West Michigan. I’ve been working closely with Greg Alvesteffer, Assistance Vice President of Retail, on their donation process.

Before I began working with Greg and his team, their donation processes were quite a mess. First and foremost, there was no standard process spanning all of the stores (yikes!), making it difficult for the store managers and Greg to share ideas with one another. We also found numerous wastes in their process, the biggest being over processing. Multiple employees were touching the same donation multiple different times which was resulting in huge batches (they would create a batch of 50 donated clothing articles, then push them down an “assembly line” for the next employee to work on). While observing at the Gemba, we asked the question “Why do you create these batches?” That got me a variety of answers and a few weird looks, but ultimately the answer was “that’s just how it’s always been,” a typical answer in non-continuous improvement environments.

After multiple days observing and a few hundred questions we began to experiment and change things around a bit. My Amway mentor, Steve Sweers, and I explained the value of one-piece flow in what Steve calls the OHIO method (Only Handle It Once). This really seemed to resonate with Greg and the employees we were working with.

After a few weeks of experimentation, I did some time study evaluations to compare the old process with our new process and the results were astounding! By eliminating the batching process and installing a one-piece-flow production we were able to decrease space requirements by 70%, reduce labor requirements in that area by 83% (they were able to reallocate several employees to other departments within the store), and ultimately increased productivity by 480% (yes, that is possible!). It’s incredible to know that we were able to get these results without any capital investment. All we needed was to apply some continuous improvement principles in their processes and presto, huge improvements!

Being able to share this knowledge with a business like Mel Trotter has been such a rewarding experience. I will be continuing this partnership this fall where we plan to continue to make improvements throughout their retail stores.


Lean Principles and Tools in Industry

We are pleased to present this guest blog by Mary Fogelsinger-Huss. Mary is currently an ASQ Certified Six Sigma Black Belt working for the Dow Corning Corporation in Midland Michigan. She has nearly 30 years experience in the chemical industry, with nearly half that time involved in quality practices for various product lines in the company. She holds a bachelors in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Technological University.

Lean Six Sigma has been widely accepted in the industrial setting as a method to improve many types of processes. The Lean Toolset is easily applied to nearly any setting that you can think of. The basic fundamental ideas of “making value flow” and “eliminating waste” can be as appropriate for a manufacturing company as it can for your own home. The first idea that many people like to apply is the “5S” concept:  Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. The first three are usually pretty easy to accomplish and are pretty straightforward in many settings…it’s that Standardize and Sustain thing that many of us struggle with. Here is an example, using a receiving dock at a manufacturing site:

1-beforeNotice the stuff piled on top of the drums, and the inability to access many of the drums. In working with this team, they realized that many of the items had been in the area for far too long, and they weren’t sure why they were there.

SORT will eliminate the items that are not needed or are in the wrong spot. Remove those items to a different location by keeping in mind the idea of “Runners, Repeaters and Strangers.” Runners are items used daily, and should be kept close at hand. Repeaters are items used weekly and should be kept in an easily accessible storage area. Strangers are those items that are rarely used and should be in a designated location. Anything that doesn’t get classified as one of those goes to the “Red Tag” area, and is either moved to the appropriate location or disposed of.

STRAIGHTEN  is the organizing of the area in accordance with the Runners, Repeaters, Strangers strategy and determining the optimum positioning of items. This is much easier with all the excess (waste!) removed from the area.

SHINE is the process of cleaning the area and upgrading the surroundings to a level that encourages pride in your work area, and making sure all your work items are in a usable condition, when needed. Whether that means replacing cabinets or a simple coat of paint…it all adds to increased pride in your work space.

STANDARDIZE the area to ensure items are returned to the appropriate spot and that any “nonconforming” item is recognized right away.  This is usually accomplished by labeling areas, creating shadow boards, or marking an area with text for what goes there.

SUSTAIN is one of the “5S’s” that we all struggle with. Everything goes great for a while, then we get busy or rushed and just “put this here for a minute”…then never get back to take care of it. One way to manage this is through the simple reminder of a photo.  Many of our areas have a photo of what the area should look like, and at the end of the day (or shift) we make sure it’s returned to that image. The photos are posted in a prominent place like a bulletin board or on a wall near the process area.  Also, in a more formalized 5S program, a monthly audit can be used1-after to ensure the gains made with the 5S activity are maintained.

Here’s how the area looks after the 5S. Notice the paint lines on the floor and labels on containers. All unneeded equipment and materials have been removed and, as you can see, the floor just shines!

Which area would you rather work in?

Sponsored Programs Kanban

Sponsored Programs Kanban for the end of the fiscal yearMichigan Tech’s Sponsored Programs uses a Kanban to keep track of all the tasks they need to complete at the end of the fiscal year. A Kanban is a visual management tool that shows you the status of a process at a glance. The university has two financial closes for the fiscal year–one on June 30 and a final close around the second or third week in July. This Kanban helps them keep on track. They review and update it in their daily 15 minute group-ups. Each horizontal space represents a task that must be completed. Each task and associated team are written on sticky notes. A task which has not been started is placed on the far left. The responsible team is next to it. As the task is completed it’s moved to the right, first to 25% complete, then 50%, 75%, and finally, 100% complete. Any person in the office can look at this Kanban and know what’s complete, what needs to be done, and who might need some help. Tammy LaBissoniere, a Lean Implementation Leader in Sponsored Programs, uses Kanbans to keep track of several different processes. Talk with her if you think this might work for you. Or contact our office anytime!

MICUP Internship

Today we’re cross-posting an article written by Wendy Davis for Michigan Tech’s Human Resources News blog.

NamGiao Tran just ended her six week internship with Human Resources.  Nam was a MICUP student visiting Michigan Tech from Grand Rapids Community College.

Nam’s internship project in Human Resources focused on making improvements to the internal flow of work related to a staff hiring.  Her first week began with learning about Lean philosophy and focusing on the concept of standardized work. She began by working with department staff to understand the hiring process and creating a swim lane process map.  The exercise of creating the process map identified specific improvement areas which Nam worked on for the remainder of her stay.  Her work supported the creation of standardized tools, forms, and checklists that will be implemented to improve the process flow.

Nam is pictured below with her poster that captures the work she did.  The photo was taken at the MICUP Poster Presentation on June 19, 2014.

Nam plans to transfer to Michigan Tech next fall to study Accounting.

Change is on the Way!

Often times you can’t help but overhear conversations between your fellow classmates, and regularly the topics of interest revolve around two things–how tough our winters are, and how bad our dining halls are. This unfortunate perception held by some students has sparked a flurry of improvement events currently being held on campus. The one I would like to highlight is the Residential Dining Blueprint kaizen that was conducted this week.

The cries have been heard and the dining hall managers spent 12 long hours over the course of three days creating a blueprint for “what makes an awesome dining hall.” As a student playing the “customer” role on the kaizen team it was very refreshing  to see just how much each and every manager is devoted to improving the residential dining experience. In creating the blueprint the team took advantage of a great organizational tool: the Fishbone diagram (click on the diagram to enlarge it).

The dining hall managers and staff definitely have their work cut out for them, but that isn’t going to stop them in their pursuit of creating the greatest possible dining experience. I look forward to seeing the improvements in the coming years.

Lean Greenbelt Coaching Experience Recap

Guest post by Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Assistant Vice President for Administration

Last year the State of Michigan embarked on a journey to bring Lean to state government as part of the Good Government transformation.  The “Lean Greenbelt” program was offered through a collaboration with Oakland University and the Michigan Lean Consortium (MLC), and to date 52 people have been certified, representing every state agency.

Through the MLC, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a coach to individuals in the third cohort of greenbelt candidates as they worked on their first projects of implementing lean in their state agencies. It was my job to provide guidance, feedback, and act as a sounding board to issues experienced on the projects, since I had walked in their shoes in my own Lean Journey.

My three candidates’ departments and projects were:

  • The employee onboard process at the Department of Technology, Management and Budget’s Organizational Performance & Measurement department
  • The out-of-state travel reporting process at the Department of Natural Resources
  • The Institutional Review Board (IRB) Process at the Department of Community Health

Without any background in state government, I was apprehensive about the coach’s role but was pleasantly surprised to find that the processes identified for improvement were very much like processes I would find here at Michigan Tech. In fact, we had done an IRB kaizen event here several years ago that I was familiar with.  Many of their questions and concerns were exactly the same as I had when I first began my Lean journey, such as which tool to use at any given point in time and how to best communicate improvements.

The candidates utilized a pull system for their coaching needs, and the way this worked is that I only provided coaching when they asked for it.  To familiarize myself with their projects, I first helped them develop and revise their project charter, which is similar to a kaizen profile that we would use at Michigan Tech.  This was accomplished through email and individual telephone calls.  I also set up a weekly conference call with the promise that I would be on the phone line to answer their questions during those weekly “office hours” if they needed it.  Almost every week I had at least one candidate calling in with questions or asking for suggestions on how to approach their lean implementation.

On October 17th I was able to travel to Lansing to see the final report-outs of all 19 greenbelt candidates, including my own three coachees.  This was an extremely rewarding experience for me, to be able to share my knowledge and lessons learned from my own Lean practice.  I am also proud to know that these projects have produced time savings, financial savings, improved morale and have reduced waste to make Michigan an even better place!

MUB Catering Standards and Visual Controls Part II

At the end of April I was part of a project to 5S a shelf in the MUB kitchen.  The blog post for the first shelf can be found here.  The next step at the time was to do the same process to a similar shelf of catering platters and trays.

Initially we were going to simply 5S the second shelf.  However, after some discussion during the Sort phase we realized that it might be worthwhile to take a look into what was truly value-add that should remain on the shelf.  Originally there were two levels of platters and trays.  One called “copper” and the other called “silver.”  The copper level of service consisted of plastic items.  These platters and trays were prone to being scratched and losing aesthetic appeal, therefore requiring frequent replacement.  The silver level of service, though more expensive, did not require as frequent replacement.

We began asking why we had two levels of service.  At first we thought that having two levels of service gave the customer options and control over what their food was served on.  However, it was found that very rarely did anybody request the plastic level of service.  After performing this informal 5 Why exercise we decided to standardize from two levels to just the silver.  This resulted in

  • Decreasing inventory (increasing shelf space, decreasing capital invested in non-value add items)
  • Improving flow in other catering processes
  • Eliminating the risk of customers having a poor experience with plastic platters and trays

Mini Improvement Event for HR Benefit Orientation Packet

A short improvement event (utilizing 5S methodology) occurred today to solicit feedback from recently hired employees on the value adding (and non-value adding) items in the Benefits Orientation Packet.  The packet is designed to provide resources for new staff to make decisions on benefits such as medical, dental and vision insurance, retirement, etc.   The packet has collected information and resources over time and through many benefit changes – which has resulted in a lack of organization, duplicate and redundant information, and non-value added information to the customers.  Check out the Before and After sheet of the improvements the team made in just a few short hours.

Graduate Application Review Process

Lean in Higher Education is about the University delivering expected value through their processes and services, using University resources more effectively, and providing employees of the University with more meaningful work.

The department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences, recently learned how successful their spring 2012 kaizen event on their graduate application review process was.  The “current state” prior to any improvements was that the length of time it took to respond to graduate students was causing a loss of students (to other schools who respond faster), re-work, and over-processing of application material.  The length of time to respond was approximately 50 days!

A cross-functional kaizen team was brought together one year ago to focus on this problem.  The team consisted of members of the graduate student selection committee, a staff member from the Michigan Tech Graduate School, a graduate student providing the perspective of a customer, and a Lean facilitator. A process map was created indicating that there were 33 steps to complete a review and respond to students.  The team identified problems within the many steps and brainstormed ideas to eliminate the problems/waste.

As a result the process was reduced from 33 steps to 24 steps, a 27% improvement.  After a year of collecting post-kaizen metrics the team has recently learned that their improvements have reduced the time to respond to students from 50 to 15 days – an impressive 70% improvement!  Congratulations to the kaizen team!!

The process map for the graduate application review process.

Personal Kanban Board Take 2

You might recall a post from almost one year ago when I introduced the concept of personal kanban boards.  I began using this tool that week and I have not gone a day without using my board since!  I find this tool to be very effective for my work (projects, correspondence, coordination of activities, etc.).

If you compare the below picture to the graphic in the 2012 blog post you will see that my personal kanban has evolved quite a bit – a little bit of check and adjust.  I have made many changes over this past year to adapt the board to fit my needs, I think this is a very important step in making your kanban board work for you.

Here is a bit about some of the changes I made to my board:

  • I color coded my work (stickies) by month – giving each month a color allows me to see items that are falling behind.  A month works great for the type of work I do.
  • I changed my headings – the original PDCA heading was more confusing than helpful (personal opinion, I know others who find these headings to work well).   I came up with three headings: my “hopper” are items I will work on at some point, “today” is work items for the day, and my “waiting” column allows me to keep track of items that I sent off but will be waiting for a response on.
  • I also strategically limited my column sizes.  For instance, my “today” column cannot fit more than five stickies.  I would despise working a day with more than five stickies – so this board constraint holds me to that.  Limiting your work in process (WIP) is one rule for personal kanban.  The other rule is to visualize your work.

In the past year, I also found a great website that helped me better understand this concept:

If you are interested in starting a personal kanban board for yourself or your work group, please contact me.  We have many examples across campus to give you some ideas.

Wendy's Personal Kanban March 2013
Wendy's Personal Kanban March 2013