Continuous Improvement Blog

Tag Archives: Continuous Improvement

“ExperienceChange” Simulation

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the change management simulation known as ExperienceChange. This opportunity was presented through a course I’m taking with Professor Latha Poonamallee on change management. The course, MGT 4500: Managing Change in Organizations, is primarily an experiential learning class that focuses on “developing an understanding of the complexity and dynamics of change in complex organizations.”

The simulation involves two scenarios that require learners to use the fundamental change management theory as the basic framework to guide themselves through a fictitious simulation in assessing and understanding different change tactics. This framework guides the user through a seven step process of gathering buy-in for a Lean transformation:

  1. Understand
  2. Enlist
  3. Envisage
  4. Motivate
  5. Communicate
  6. Act
  7. Consolidate

This was a great experience for me as a Lean practitioner to increase my knowledge and understanding of how to effectively implement organizational change. For anyone who is preparing to go through a change, I highly recommend the ExperienceChange simulation. This training tool can definitely help maximize the chances of your workforce making a smooth transition from “the way we’ve always done it” to the “new” way.


Lean and S.W.E.

I just got back from the national Society of Women Engineer’s (SWE) conference held this year in Nashville, TN. I was pleasantly surprised because there were three different sessions being held on continuous improvement. I was able to attend two of the three and really enjoyed them.

The first session I went to was titled “Shark Tank! A Creative Approach to Drive Continuous Improvement” and was given by Jennifer Walsh, an Engineering Program Group Manager from Medtronic. In the talk, Ms. Walsh presented some creative approaches to continuous improvement that I thought were great. An example was by using social media to convey ongoing continuous improvement techniques that were being used around her business unit.

swe

The second session that I was able to go to was titled “The People Side of Lean” held by Kimberly Sayre, PE from the University of Kentucky’s College of Engineering. Ms. Sayre, the Lean Systems Program Manager, talked about Lean as a systematic method for eliminating waste within a process. She explained “Lean was developed at Toyota (internally called the Toyota Production System), and the People Side of Lean is a critical piece of sustainable Lean transformation. Organizations first implement the tools, improve efficiencies and eliminate waste, but then reach a plateau until they are able to gain full employee buy-in.” Ms. Sayre went on to explain this “natural struggle point” in getting improvement throughout the whole system. This talk helped me navigate through this phase of my Lean journey, and she even included a hands-on exercise about communication skills. I especially loved how she was from an academic setting and saw how this could relate to Michigan Tech’s campus.

The last session that talked about Lean was held by Claribel Mateo, the HR Director at Turner Construction Company. Her talk, entitled “Using Technology to Build Better Buildings through Efficiency and Visualization,” talked about how Turner implements BIM (Building Information Modeling) and Lean Construction principles and practices on projects from early design to construction, to enable the project team to drastically reduce field requests for information and change orders while enhancing quality and compressing construction schedules.

Overall I had a great time at the conference and look forward to implementing what I learned back here in Houghton, as well as in my life after graduation.

 

 

 



Rare Super Blood Moon and Continuous Improvement

Earth’s moon along with the Sun’s gravitational pull are what cause tides on our earth [1]. In the past, coastal cities used the tides as a way to tell the time of day. This past week the “Super Blood Moon” was out, and for all those who gazed up at the sky with me in the Houghton area, I’m sure you can agree with me that it was a majestic sight to see. The awe I felt was only heightened with the knowledge that the phenomenon last occurred in 1982 and is not expected to occur again until 2033 [2]. As I reflected on how amazing it was watching the super blood moon, and seeing the moon change from its normal white color to an amazing orange hue over the course of a few hours, I couldn’t help but think about how time, the moon, and this rare occurrence all relate back to continuous improvement.

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Super Blood Moon [NASA]

One can get used to how things are going, and when something out of the ordinary takes place it can set the whole system into shock. For example, an increase in job responsibilities as an employee, or for students, a disruption in their schedule like fall career fair. These times do not need to cause anxiety and worry. Such events don’t happen on a daily basis, and it is good to take time and recognize them as they are and then trust that the systems set in place will work as intended. If the rare shock to the system does take place leading to an upset in the way the system behaved before, it could be an indication that the previous system was not as effective as it could be. This is a great time to implement Lean tools, and if needed a whole Kaizen event! Taking time to gather key people and utilize an appropriate Lean tool to get back in the rhythm of things can really be helpful. That’s what Continuous Improvement is all about!

Relating back to the blood moon example, Beijing was unable to see the blood moon because “a choking blanket of air pollution covered Beijing” [3]. This caused anger among residents and was a time that the pollution problem was brought to national attention once again. This shows how sometimes extraordinary events can actually be a call to action, a way to set the wheels in motion to make a positive change.

As career fair is now over, and the super blood moon has passed, I look forward to making sure my systems can handle such fluctuations in time demands, and I reevaluate their past true effectiveness.

If you want to know more about continuous improvement feel free to reach out to the Office of Continuous Improvement either by phone, 906-487-3180, or email improvement-l@mtu.edu

References:

[1] Oceanservice.noaa.gov, ‘Why does the ocean have waves?’, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/wavesinocean.html. [Accessed: 30- Aug- 2015].

[2] P. Video, ‘Progress Cargo Ship Racing Towards ISS After Nighttime Launch | Video’, Space.com, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.space.com/30718-progress-cargo-ship-racing-towards-iss-after-nighttime-launch-video.html. [Accessed: 30-Aug-2015].

[3] USA TODAY, ‘China’s smog smothers ‘blood’ moon’, 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/10/08/china-smog-blood-moon/16903549/. [Accessed: 30- Aug -2015].

 


Lunch and Learn at the Lean Enterprise Institute

This summer I had the great fortune of being a mechanical engineering intern at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory. While in Cambridge, John O’Donnall, Executive Director of the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), was kind enough to reach out to me and invite me to visit the office. Mr. O’Donnall and I had the chance to meet on campus last year when he was the keynote speaker at the 2015 facilitator graduation.

 

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Lean Enterprise Institute located in Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

While there it just so happened that they were also having a guest speaker come in and talk about Lean in the civil engineering world and how much waste happens at construction sites because the main currency is the amount of time it takes to complete a project. Although I had to leave before the whole event was over I found her talk to be very interesting. It really opened my eyes to the need to integrate Lean practices into the civil engineering world the way mechanical engineering has integrated it into manufacturing. Below is a picture of the talk from an outside view.

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Presentation on integrating Lean principles into civil engineering projects

 

I also got to meet with James P. Womack the founder of the LEI, as well as some of the M.B.A. summer interns who were in the office. Every summer the office hired a few M.B.A. students from the area to work with them and learn in an immersive experience about Lean principles. John O’Donnell and I mused about the possibility of bringing in Michigan Tech M.B.A. students on as summer interns and I think that it could be a mutually beneficial experience for both parties. 

 

 

Elizabeth and John
Selfie with Mr. John O’Donnell

 

Before leaving John showed me around the office and I was pleasantly surprised with how much our own Office of Continuous Improvement here at Michigan Tech resembled the  Lean Enterprise Institute. A picture of their office can be seen below.

 

 

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Snapshot of the open floor plan office at Lean Enterprise Institute

 

I had a great experience there meeting up with Mr. O’Donnell, Mr. Womack, and meet some of their M.B.A. summer interns.  

 


Developing Students, Improving Universities

This post was originally published at The Lean Post. Our own Theresa Coleman-Kaiser, Assistant Vice President for Administration, is the author. 

Today, lean thinking in higher education is uncommon. As a rule, institutions that teach lean continuous improvement in their academic curricula or that have centers or institutes to educate the public struggle themselves to be practitioners in their own administrative processes. There’s the challenge of teaching lean thinking and the challenge of practicing it ourselves in the administrative processes of a university system.

In 2008, when Michigan Technological University’s own lean journey began, President Glenn Mroz introduced the principles of lean thinking to his administration and asked that a transformation begin at the university. Mroz knew what Balzer pointed out in Lean Higher Education (2010), which is that institutional processes link to the overall success of universities and directly benefit all constituents, particularly students. Our intent was to begin this journey by first using lean thinking in our everyday operations and also begin exposing students to lean principles through participation in improvement events. This directly aligned with our directive to “prepare students to create the future.” It also aligned with our strategic intent of distinctive and rigorous, action-based, experiential learning, responding to the needs and challenges of the 21st century.

At Michigan Tech, we’ve found many compelling reasons to seek out a continuous improvement methodology we can use as a foundation upon which students could build academic and career success and that would also be effective in improving our own administrative processes.

                             Value Stream Mapping
                             Fishbone Problem-Solving

Here’s where we’ve focused our energies:

  • Accreditation. The University’s accreditation is dependent upon demonstrating continuous improvement in both academic and administrative areas. We’re working on creating and sharing demonstrable methods for improving administrative processes. Demonstrating and measuring improvements builds our credibility and strengthens the assurance argument necessary for university accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission.
  • Cost of Education. As is the case in many states, Michigan has experienced shrinking state allocations for higher education. To keep the resulting rise in tuition costs as low as possible, employing lean continuous improvement methodologies help contain costs. Cost savings that can be used to offset tuition increases have been generated through a variety of improvement events ranging from reducing days of inventory on hand in our dining services to reducing fuel costs at our golf course by adjusting mowing patterns and frequencies.
  • Quality. Improved administrative processes elevate and strengthen the student experience. This is done by saving time, reducing waste, and avoiding cost while delivering the expected service to students. This helps Michigan Tech retain students.
  • State Initiatives. Since 2010, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has supported service and process optimization and lean practices through the Office of Good Government. As a state institution, at Michigan Tech we’ve aligned with these efforts.
  • Universal application. Lean thinking and practice have daily application in all aspects of the business and academics of the university. Part of our work has been about simply spreading this thinking throughout administrative and academic offices.
  • Pull. Companies recruiting Michigan Tech graduates have told us they are looking for students with exposure to and proficiency in lean continuous improvement. We’ve worked to share this information with students through employing students in our Office of Continuous Improvement, by including students in kaizen events, and by sharing lean knowledge through our Leaders in Continuous Improvement student organization
  • Academic curricula. Most importantly, adopting a continuous improvement methodology integrated with an academic curricula is what makes a difference for students’ overall learning experience. Currently, we have 22 quality-related courses on different aspects of lean and continuous improvement being taught as part of a diverse curricula on our STEM campus.

Successes So Far

Michigan Tech’s lean transformation has its foundations in a network of over 20 trained improvement facilitators from all areas of campus. These volunteers range from hourly employees to executives who work to facilitate improvement events requested by departments. Initially the university engaged outside consultants to provide facilitator training, some of which was funded by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services through a labor/management-focused grant. Currently an Office of Continuous Improvement is staffed by a Manager and a team of student Process Improvement Coordinators that provide training and support the lean efforts on campus.

A student organization called Leaders in Continuous Improvement was formed two years ago and continues to grow in size and interest. Over 650 university employees have been exposed to lean thinking and over $250,000 in savings have been identified through formal improvement events.

Ongoing Challenges

The culture of higher education poses challenges when rolling out a lean transformation. Some are unique to higher ed and others are more universal. Here’s what we’ve experienced:

  • Unwillingness to view students as “customers”
  • Difficulty translating lean’s manufacturing history into knowledge work
  • Discomfort in learning as you’re doing
  • Focus on the visible use of tools instead of the underlying thinking
  • Oversimplifying Lean as the application of just one or two tools (5S and visual displays)
  • Push back on standard work as “dumbing things down” and wringing out creativity and intellectual freedom

What’s Next

We plan to continue designing courses to prepare lean-certified students who are ready to work in industry. This will require the endorsement and participation of academic leadership, as well as continuing to also practice lean improvements in the administrative processes of the university. Our goal is to serve as a co-curricular learning laboratory for students, teaching lean thinking while also assisting in the university’s success.

We’d like to hear from you. Do you think that higher education can provide students with an immersive experience that brings together both the academic curriculum and the co-curricular companion piece of administrative processes and extra-curricular activities? Tell us your thoughts in the comments. We’re particularly interested in hearing success stories that we can learn from!

 


Trend Prediction

Hello, this is Elizabeth, one of the student process improvement coordinators at Michigan Tech. This semester one of the classes I am taking within the department of mechanical engineering is “Engineering Design Process.” Within the class we are charged with designing a way to change the landscape of the moving luggage industry. Innovation is one of the main objectives. I decided to look at how I could integrate my course work and job. Taking advantage of the Lean Library in the Office of Continuous Improvement  I checked out the book The Innovators Toolkit.

Book

The book starts off with having the user define the opportunity. It stated that, “Taking thousands of shots at an undefined target (unfocused ideation) won’t result in any innovation goal”.  From here the book is broken up into four parts; defining the opportunity, discover the ideas, develop the designs, demonstrate the innovation. Within these four parts there are different techniques to be used. I chose to focus on part two – discover the idea and more specifically technique 16: trend prediction.

In this age of rapid change and a push towards innovation it is important to be able to accurately predict where future trends will be in order that one’s invention matches the needs and wants of those trends. After searching around online I found that a lot of the organizational templates used in the book are available to the public for free. I would encourage you to look at them and use them to your advantage

 

 


Welcome Elizabeth Wohlford!

The Office of Continuous Improvement has hired a new Student Process Improvement Coordinator. Elizabeth is a third-year Mechanical Engineering major and also does research in the Biomedical Engineering department under Dr. Neuman, is Vice- President of Michigan Tech’s student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and is webmaster for Michigan Tech’s Society of Women Engineers. She brings to the office previous experience in Six Sigma and Lean Practices from previous internships with Johnson Controls and Kimberly-Clark along with a willingness to learn more about the world of continuous improvement.

Here Elizabeth will introduce herself and share some thoughts about her new role:

When I went into my first industry experience as an intern for Johnson Controls I had very minimal exposure to the world of continuous improvement. I was given a process improvement project dealing with automotive door panel scratch testing and tasked with identifying the variables that affected performance. I was able to go through Green Belt training with using the project to learn Six Sigma methodology. While working at a mill for Kimberly-Clark in Utah I was exposed to Lean practices and how crucial it is to have standard processes in the world of mass production manufacturing. When I found out about this open position in the office of Continuous Improvement, I knew it would be a great opportunity to continue the learning process and be a leader in conducting improvement efforts on campus.

Over the past few weeks that I have been working in the office, I have put together a training course for teaching about Lean practices. I will be working on assisting with the coordination, data collection and facilitation of Kaizen Events.

I am grateful to be given this opportunity and look forward to adding value in the office by executing on initiatives that drive Michigan Tech’s campus to the next level.

WohlfordElizabeth

 


4 Major Pitfalls of Process Improvement Initiatives

I came across an article a few days ago discussing some of the key reasons why Lean initiatives are unsuccessful. Anyone on a Lean journey has probably encountered one or more of these problems at some point. I wanted to share four of the pitfalls discussed in the article that I see most commonly in my work in process improvement. The article includes the author’s thoughts and suggestions on ways to avoid these pitfalls.

This is an excerpt from Paula Riley’s article, Ten Pitfalls to Avoid in Process Improvement Initiatives.

Pitfall No. 1: Lack of upper-level management support for process improvement initiatives

This can have a number of causes, including lack of understanding of the potential value, a poor implementation process, insufficient sustain controls, inadequate validation process, or loss of focus on the bottom line.

There are a number of things that can/should be done to minimize this. For example, you can schedule an orientation session with upper management. Or better yet, encourage them to become trained and run a project. Routine project reviews should include participation, not only from the process owner, but also from those over him/her. Ensure that improvement initiatives always maintain their focus on the business’ bottom line.

Pitfall No. 8: Team make-up not including all relevant functions

This problem has a variety of causes, including resource constraints, siloed functions, and the failure to recognize the value of other functions in obtaining an all-encompassing view of the process. As a result, a narrow view of process results in narrow improvement plan and minimal results — or none at all.

The key is to ensure that all functions affected by the process are involved in the project. That being said, team size can be an issue. An ideal size is from six to 10 members. Any less may cause one to wonder if all appropriate functions are included. Any more can cause the team to be difficult to manage and result in a loss of focus. Therefore, where appropriate, some resources can be supporting team members, rather than full-time team members. This will allow them to be brought in to the improvement process when they are needed, but keep the team size manageable and allow them to focus on their other duties when not needed. Whether a full time team member, or supporting team member, all should be copied with minutes and other team documentation.

Pitfall No. 9: Not walking the process and involving the operators

Every project should start in the work area where improvement is expected. As improvements are implemented, additional visits to the area are in order to ensure that employees in the area understand and benefit from the improvements. At the end of the project another visit is needed to ensure that the control plan is fully implemented and effective.

Bonus: Ineffective control plan

Unless something is put into place to prevent returning to “the way it has always been done,” the process will slide back to what it was. The tendency is to put in more instructions, signoffs, control charts, etc., in an attempt to control the process. But this is not the way to go. The new process must be easier to run than the old. It must make the operator’s job simpler, better, faster. It must make going back to the old way undesirable or hard to do and the new way pleasant and a joy. This requires careful thought and ingenuity from the team, and close involvement and feedback from the workers in the process. But please don’t jump to an engineering solution involving capital. There are other, cheaper, ways to accomplish this — you just have to dig them out.

Looking at these various pitfalls, it seems that they are often inter-related and linked. As a result, like a set of dominos, one problem leads to another, leads to another, often exponentially. If you need to improve your process improvement process, make it a project. Get a team of the right people together, charter the project, and use the tools to make improvements. Look at potential (or existing) problems as opportunities for improvement — and go after them.


Lean at Tech Update

Michigan Technological University campus

At Michigan Tech, continuous improvement is being integrated into the everyday operations of the university. A central Office of Continuous Improvement supports departments and individuals in their efforts and functions as a knowledge bank for people seeking more information. This office connects people who want to do a continuous improvement event with a trained facilitator; the university’s 24 facilitators are all volunteers.  

Training, workshops, and coaching help to develop a continuous improvement culture. The Lean facilitators and Lean Implementation Leaders attend monthly continuing education to keep their skills fresh. All new supervisors are required to receive basic training in Lean principles. In addition, periodic workshops on topics like 5S and Process Mapping make Lean immediately useful and accessible to university employees.

Michigan Tech’s Continuous Improvement program also increases campus and community awareness, exposure, and engagement. Initiatives in this area include an active website, this blog, a recurring article in the university newsletter Tech Today, a Twitter account (@Lean_at_MTU), and a Lean Library. A Lean Model Office tour showcases Lean practices in an office environment; stop by the office at 136W Wadsworth Hall to take the self-guided tour. Michigan Tech also organizes a quarterly meeting for the Copper County Lean Group made up of 26 area businesses who gather to learn more about Lean and continuous improvement, share stories, collaborate, ask questions, and celebrate successes.


Summer is a Perfect Time for Improvements!

Classes are over and the snow is melting, which can only mean one thing…Summer! The return of Summer means longer nights, vacations, and opportunities for improvements!

The Office of Continuous Improvement encourages you and your department to engage in small group discussion and talk about continuous improvement opportunities. It doesn’t take much; just a few minutes to exchange ideas and possible improvements for your area. There are plenty of lean facilitators on campus who are ready and willing to help. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an improvement event, please contact us at improvement-l@mtu.edu or call 906-487-3180.