Tag: success

Storytelling = Stealth Lean

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Cayce Will, Director of Information Technology for the Vice President for Administration at Michigan Technological University.

At the 2015 Michigan Lean Consortium Annual Conference, I attended a session titled, “Jane & Jack–The Story of Transformational Leadership” by Ms. Christine Coyne, Manager of Global Continuous Improvement at NSF International.  The description for “Jane & Jack” was intriguing to me–it promised to discuss how to facilitate positive continuous improvement behavioral changes in your organization through two things: the use of a fictional story and NOT mentioning Lean.  This sounded crazy, and like something I wanted to hear about first-hand. How could a simple story contribute to becoming a transformational leader?

There are innumerable aspects and elements to being a good-leader-going-on-great, and one of them is the art of reflection.  It is advisable to make, take, or borrow sufficient time to reflect on one’s leadership journey.  Charging ahead without pause to review your course is a sure way to get lost, fast. To start the session Ms. Coyne gave us the background leading up to the writing of the story, background which is pretty critical and, I think, a fairly common situation most Continuous Improvement leaders experience.  Ms. Coyne recounted her rollercoaster ride bringing Lean concepts to management with high hopes and excitement over the great potential Lean had for improving their business.  The tracks dipped a bit when adoption rates were much lower than expected and management didn’t seem to get it.  “More training,” said Ms. Coyne, and round two began. Less excited, more determined, more training and yet again Lean wasn’t taking hold. Ms. Coyne couldn’t quite understand, after all the great training, the clearly laid out benefits, the shiny new tools, why management wasn’t jumping all over Lean and utilizing it everywhere. But, true to the tenets of continuous improvement, she reflected on her situation and decided that a new approach was necessary.

She prepared a story of two people, a thought leader within the organization named Jane and an operational leader on the plant floor named Jack.  Their story described business and operation issues they were running into in their daily work and their approaches to addressing their issues. Nowhere was Lean mentioned in their story.  But the beneficial results of their choices were obvious and it was clear that their Lean based choices were good choices.  At the end of each of Jane’s and Jack’s chapters the reader was asked if they would be willing to try processes and procedures similar to what Jane and Jack tried.  Only a fool snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, and after being presented Ms. Coyne’s story, her management began quickly adopting and approving behaviors that earlier were deemed “Lean” and shunned.  Success.

I like this approach.  It reminds me of a phrase I might have coined–Stealth Lean or Lean by Ninja.  Essentially, avoid lean terminology (it just gets in the way) and teach everyone the practices you want them to follow. Show them the improved results they could sustain by changing their processes.  Don’t call it Lean. Sneak process improvement in without drawing attention to it. As I thought about the message Ms. Coyne’s story conveyed, it occurred to me that we should never be “doing Lean.”  Day-to-day, aren’t we all truly, simply, “doing business?” Perhaps through more storytelling we, too, can positively influence our workplace culture and do our business better.  I’m willing to give it a shot, how about you?

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A Brief History of Michigan Tech’s University Policy Office: How Lean Methodologies Helped Pave the Way

This post was originally published in the Business Operations Blog. It was written by Ann Kitalong-Will, the executive director of business operations here at Michigan Tech.

leanSometimes continuous improvement results can take some time to materialize. But it’s important to remember to focus on the goals you’re trying to accomplish, and to trust that lean process improvement methods can and do result in reaching the tangible goals that we have in our work.

In 2012, as part of a grant Michigan Tech received through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, we were able to bring consultants to campus to help us continue on our lean journey as a University. Our grant application had proposed an innovative approach to enhancing relations between management and union-represented staff via a rigorous series of Lean training sessions. Lean as a management method is particulary well-suited to accomplishing such a goal, because it is an approach that focuses on the value of each employee, at all levels and within all units. We believed that our proposal would contribute to improving communication and relations between employees at all levels across campus.

I was a co-PI on this grant and participated as a “student” in most of the training sessions. One of the exercises we were asked to do was to facilitate a kaizen(“improvement”) event to solve a challenging process issue in our work. Having recently taken on policy administration at the University, I had become aware of many areas within the policy development process that seemed to cause confusion for customers (policy developers) and for the campus community in general.

We assembled a small group of individuals that included me, and 3 or 4 additional people who served as facilitators, subject matter experts, and customers. From this single kaizen event, we were able to identify some key improvements that needed to happen:

  1. We needed a dedicated staff member who was primarily responsible for overseeing policy at the University.
  2. We needed to critically review the current policy development process, and identify ways we could eliminate wasteful or unnecessary steps.
  3. We needed a new website, that included tools for policy developers as well as some “educational” pieces about what policy is (and isn’t).
  4. We needed to continually educate the university community on the policy development process, and provide some outreach and support to policy developers along the way.

Most of these goals hinged on the need to hire that staff member. I am now pleased to say that in 2014, after a lot of thought and planning, we were able to hire a University Policy Coordinator, Lori Weir, who has jumped right in to making these kaizen-originated goals a reality. She is also constantly looking for ways to continuously improve how we manage policies at Michigan Tech, and I’m looking forward to working with her to realize our vision of what a Policy Office should be.

I encourage you to visit our new policy website, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, suggestions, or would like help getting started on a new policy.

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Create Constancy of Purpose

W. Edwards Deming
W. Edwards Deming

William Edwards Deming, a statistician and professor, developed a theory of management based on fourteen points that he considered critical for management to become transformational and thus lead their business to greater success. He published his ideas in a book titled “Out of the Crisis” and I recommend you get a copy for reference. His thoughts and published works have led to the development of systems like Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, and Lean. Deming’s work is not a blueprint for success, ready to be copied, but his fourteen points are a starting point for discussion, consideration and contemplation when it comes time for you to begin your journey of management transformation and improvement.

Let’s start this journey together, now, as we discuss Deming’s points and see how they may relate to you and your leadership style and business goals.

Point One: Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

Seems pretty simple right? Well, this one little sentence is packed with complexity just waiting for us to unravel. This point squarely puts the onus on Management to make looking out for our employees the number one job, while the responsibility of the employee is to improve their product or service. The focus is not on the product or service; rather, the focus is on choosing to dependably improve our product or service. Acknowledge that what you offer isn’t perfect and can be done better. And if it isn’t done better by you, reliably, your competition will do it for you and put you out of business.

Deming also advocates that you focus your business on being competitive and providing jobs. To truly improve our competitiveness, I feel we must recognize the value our staff bring to our business, and concentrate on allowing them to self-improve. People—not the thing we produce or the service we provide—are at the core of our operation. Without our employees, nothing is made, nothing is sold, and no amount of marketing nor motivational speeches will change that – our staff make our business. Empower them.

The secret to success...
Benjamin Disraeli said it succinctly

Benjamin Disraeli said it most succinctly – and I believe Deming would agree – that to truly succeed in your business Management must fully embrace continuous improvement as a living element in our operations, making it the basis of the corporate culture. Staff should be 100% supported by the the company and the management. Staff should be empowered to make positive changes to improve their working environment and better their product or service.  And there should never be any doubt that the company fully supports continuous improvement efforts.

As we continue this journey through Deming’s fourteen points, we’ll see how each point can easily stand on its own, while at the same time often reinforcing one another—much like management and staff have their own jobs to do but must work together to keep driving improvement forward to increase productivity.

Next Article: Point Two – Adopt the new philosophy

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