Tag Archives: Problem Solving

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.

 

 

 

 


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 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.


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.


A foot in the door: Commencement Kaizens

For the last six months a team has been pulled together to address various areas of the commencement process here at Michigan Tech, from ticketing to safety, and from configuration of space to guest speakers. This team has covered the commencement process inside and out, and with all of the stakeholders involved too! That’s HUGE!! The team has met 13 times already, for a total of 20 hours, and they are just getting started on most of it.

Before I introduce the teams let me tell a little bit more about how the Office of Continuous Improvement and the commencement committee have paired up and identified the kaizens that they’d like to move forward on. The meetings mentioned used swim lanes, a process mapping tool to map out the commencement process. The details to go on the swim lanes were acquired by the team leader, Kelly Vizanko, who emailed all of the stake holders and asked for their timelines. For the ones that were not received via email, they attended half-hour segments to help the team map out their part of the process. These meetings then identified areas of waste using kaizen bursts. From there the kaizen bursts were grouped based on the sub-process that they fell into and then later placed into a ICE Table, used for prioritization. This is how the kaizens were identified, by the most important/greatest impact, the level of control the team had, and by the ease to implement change/improvement. The kaizens identified were: Ticketing, Preparation, Volunteers, and Space + Configuration.

Ticketing consisted of eight people:

  • Kelly Vizanko (Registrar’s Office) – Team Leader
  • Ashley DeVoge (Ticketing Office) – Team Leader
  • Megan Goke (Office of Continuous Improvement) – Facilitator
  • Rylie Store (Office of Continuous Improvement) – Process Improvement Coordinator
  • Alisha Kocjan (Registrar’s Office) – Team Member
  • Shanda Miller (Bookstore) – Team Member
  • Nancy Byers-Sprague (Graduate School) – Team Member
  • Mary Stevens (Graduate School) – Team Member

This kaizen is wrapping up soon with a report out to the commencement committee. Several changes are expected such as scanning tickets to track the number of bodies in the room, communication to students (undergraduate and graduate) streamlined, established a limit for how many tickets will be issued, etc…

Day 1
This is a photo of Day one of the very first kaizen. This is half of the start of the swimlane that ended up being created.

The Commencement Volunteers and Preparation kaizens are just about to take off, all we are waiting on is the dates to come (for the volunteer kaizen) and our team to be solidified for the preparation kaizen.

The team for volunteers is:

  • Kelly Vizanko – Team Leader
  • Gina LeMay (Research Office) – Facilitator
  • Megan Goke – Facilitator
  • Rylie Store – PIC
  • Alisha Kocjan – Team Member
  • Joel Isaacson (Athletics) – Team Member
  • Jennifer Biekkola (Alumni House) – Team Member
  • Brian Cadwell (Public Safety & Police Services (PSPS))- Team Member
  • Daniel Bennett (University Safety & Security – PSPS) – Team Member

And to kick off the Preparation Kaizen we have:

  • Kelly Vizanko – Team Leader
  • Alisha Kocjan – Team Leader
  • Laura Harry (Memorial Union) – Facilitator
  • Rylie Store – PIC
ICE Table
Here is the team leaders and the facilitators working on prioritizing the kaizens.

All in all, we have a ways to go on these kaizens but the goal is to have at least something changed in each of these areas by April 2018, and to reassess after this year’s commencement ceremony. A foot in the door for lean, just as the students are about to leave.


Root Cause Analysis- Saving the fish

A few weeks ago, I learned the importance of Root Cause Analysis and the difference a few LEAN tools can make. Unfortunately I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

My room is filled with fish. Between my roommates and I, we take care of  four Betta fish, two feeder fish, and a goldfish. I can admit that it is a lot of work. One night  I noticed a problem with one of our Bettas, Haru. Haru had gone from his usual energetic self, to sitting on the bottom of the tank and I hadn’t a clue as to why.  Immediately I jumped into action, trying everything I could to make the little guy feel better.  I tried everything, heating his tank, cleaning his water, even an extra snack for the night.  The next morning, Haru seemed worse.  Within two days, we had lost Haru to whatever had made him sick.  I tried everything to save the little guy, except applying my LEAN thinking.
After loosing Haru, I decided to learn from my mistakes.  My biggest mistake of treating Haru was that I hadn’t preformed any form of Root Cause Analysis.   The problem with ignoring Root Cause Analysis is that I only treated the symptoms, and I never treated the source of the symptoms. The trick to lean is that you have to find the problem in order to fix the problem.

I decided to use a Fishbone Diagram to try and determine the cause of Haru’s Sickness.  To start the Fishbone Diagram, my roommate and I brainstormed everything we could think of that might have caused Haru’s sickness.  Modifying the Diagram slightly for our fish tanks, we separated these problems into categories.  We decided to group them by, problems with materials, problems in his environment, problems with the way people interact with the fish, and procedures in place for the fish routine and maintenance. Once we had our diagram set out, we started asking why. For each problem we listed, we first determined if the problem existed in our tank systems.  Then We used the 5 whys to find the cause of each problem.  After all of our analysis, we determined that Haru’s sickness was caused by poor water quality.  The water quality was a result of over feeding, or contamination of the tanks.  The overfeeding was a result of a lack of feeding schedule.  The fish were being double fed because we didn’t know that the other room mate had already fed them.  The contamination was caused by miscommunication to guests. we never made it quite clear who, or what could touch each fish’s tank. Once we knew the root cause, we were able to fix the problem. By posting a feeding schedule and rules for the tanks we have been able keep all of our other fish happy and healthy.
In the world of problem solving, root cause analysis is easy to forget. It can become a habit to treat the symptoms without ever discovering the real problem. As with our Haru,  treating the symptoms can have disastrous consequences. As I continue learning and using LEAN, I will have to remember, You have to find the problem to fix the problem.

Asking why
The pink notes helped us to visualize the answers to some of our Whys.
Finding the possible problems
The blue notes were all of the possible causes of Betta sickness.

An Apple a Day Keeps the Problems Away

Lean is like eating an apple. There’s the skin that we all see-it has a color, a texture, and a stem. However, once you break through the skin with your teeth you see a different color, texture, and the core. This is the same principle in Lean and problem solving through the use of the five why’s.

You’re given a scenario (the skin), you see the results of the problem (the color), you see the repercussions of the results (the texture), and you may even see a sliver of the actual problem (the stem). Yet, until you sink your teeth into the scenario you won’t truly see what’s underneath. By taking a bite you slowly begin revealing a new color, a new texture, and eventually the core, or in this case the root cause.

For a moment let’s pretend that it only takes five bites to get to the core of the apple. Each bite represents one of the five why’s.

Imagine a woman who cuts off the ends of a ham before putting it in the oven. Her husband asks “Why do you cut the ends off of the ham before cooking it?” *Bite* She replies, “because it’s how my mother cooked it.” So the husband goes to his mother-in-law and asks, “why do you cut off the ends of the ham before cooking it?” *Bite* She replies, “because it’s how my mother always made it.” So the husband goes to the grandmother and asks why she cooked ham this way *Bite* here he got the same answer that he got from his wife, and his mother-in-law. Finally, he asks the great grandmother “Why have you always cooked your ham without the ends on?” *Bite* She replies, “so I could cook as much ham as possible,” the husband then asks, “why couldn’t you cook the whole ham at once?” *Bite* and she replies, “because the pan I had was too small.”

For generations, the women thought this was how they were supposed to cook a ham simply because their mother before them had cooked it that way, but not once did they stop to recognize that there may be an underlying method to their madness. Over the years this resulted in much ham, time, and money wasted for no real reason.

By asking ourselves five why questions we allow ourselves to get to the root cause. Now, if the husband had only asked four why questions, his last answer would’ve been, “so I could cook as much ham as possible,” this really wouldn’t have answered his question-it would’ve gotten him closer but not to the root cause. The same is true with eating an apple-by taking few too little bites you don’t ever see the core, all you recognize is the apple in your hand. However, if you take another bite you may just find the seeds, and your perspective and appreciation for the apple in your palm has changed.

*Note: The example of the ham is one that was introduced to me by Daniel Bennett of Public Safety and Police Services here at MTU.

What are some areas of waste around you? Have you properly identified the root cause? If not, try utilizing the ‘5 why’s” they may be able to help you find a problem you didn’t originally see.


Moving Waste

Recently I have done what most college sophomores do- I moved out into my own duplex with a few friends. The experience has been liberating and I am excited to see what the year brings. However, I haven’t been excited to see the waste I have brought into my new lifestyle of blissful freedom. While unpacking boxes I found myself wondering “When was the last time I wore that shirt?” “What on Earth are these random bits and pieces of paper?” “I don’t even remember the last time I was even interested in this!” Needless to say, I have a lot of junk that doesn’t need to hang around any longer.

Fortunately for me, my job is centered around continuous improvement! Instead of immediately jumping to the conclusion that I need to throw all of my possessions away and start over again to get away from this overwhelming mess, I came up with a game plan for this weekend that will surely get my things in order. I will be doing an overhaul of my things using 5S- Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, Sustain. I will start by going through all of my boxes and removing the things that I don’t need. Then I will make sure it is all clean (going out of order here, so I’m not putting dirty clothes away in my closet) and put it away in various locations around my room. In order to sustain my soon to be limited collection of valuables I am going to refrain from hoarding clothing and going through my things every 2 months to ensure that I am not to accumulate a surplus of unnecessary items. Daily, I am going to tidy up my room and this will keep my worldview from growing cluttered and overwhelmed.

Continuous improvement has brought a lot more to my life than just a job. It has given me a new way of looking at problems, fragmenting them into manageable pieces, and fixing them without jumping ahead of myself. I recommend that everyone who has trouble with waste, use 5S to help tidy their surroundings- I promise you’ll be able to breathe easier afterwards.

Dont let the best youve done so far become the standard for the rest of your life

5S poster

Aspen Holmes
Student Process Improvement Coordinator
The Office of Continuous Improvement


Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Any college student from around the world will tell you how fast-paced and hectic it is trying to figure out the rest of your life. Between classes, student organizations, figuring out our financial situations (and trying not to drown in them), and truly trying to enjoy this time in our lives, students are busy! Likewise, any professional in the workforce will tell you the same thing–being an adult isn’t easy. Can it all be done?

Process mapping and standard work for any task allows for smoother running and less stressful experiences with better outcomes. In one of my classes this week, we looked at the writing process for a research document. It was highly recommended to be taken a step at a time so as to not overwhelm the writer. The paper is to be taken piece by piece and improved upon gradually. The writers were advised to take detailed notations of their process goals in order to complete all of the necessary tasks in a timely manner and fully report on all of the key points of their topic. Things cannot be made without time and effort, and one can’t do everything at once.

Lean principles are everywhere and, if studied, are not difficult to implement. Many people misconstrue continuous improvement as solely a manufacturing or workplace fad. In reality it can be applied in many aspects of your daily routine to provide a more organized, efficient, and beneficial way of doing things. How do you use Lean in your everyday life?

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Sharpen Your Ax

At the Michigan Lean Consortium‘s annual conference, I attended a session on A3 Thinking for All Seasons by Brian Vander Weele. Brian began his session with a compelling story:

A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. “That depends,” replied the foreman. “Let’s see you fell this tree.” The young man stepped forward, and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, “You can start Monday.” Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by — and Thursday loggerafternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, “You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today.” Startled, the young man replied, “I thought you paid on Friday.” “Normally we do,” said the foreman. “But we’re letting you go today because you’ve fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you’ve dropped from first place on Monday to last place today.” “But I’m a hard worker,” the young man objected. “I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!” The foreman, sensing the young man’s integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, “Have you been sharpening your ax?” The young man replied, “No sir, I’ve been working too hard to take time for that!”

Sometimes we get so involved in getting our work done, we forget to look around to see if there’s a better way. Using an A3 form is a simple, structured method for improvement. It’s a terrific tool to reinforce understanding the problem before jumping to solutions. It makes the problem and proposed countermeasures visible, and encourages experimentation. But it’s not the form itself that holds the power–it’s the thinking and the process. Lean processes, methods, and tools can be used to create an environment where continuous improvement is the norm.

Tell us about your favorite Lean tool!