MLC Blog

Welcome to the MLC Blog! A blog fueled by the Lean and Continuous Improvement Community!

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  • Monday, March 18, 2024 11:16 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    The GR Lean Summit was a resounding success, with every seat filled, showcasing the growing interest and commitment to Lean practices in today's business landscape.

    Thank you so much to our sponsors: GVSU College of Engineering and The Small Business Association of Michigan! Here's a glimpse into the highlights and key takeaways from this inspiring event:

    Full House! 100% Registration: The enthusiasm of the attendees was great as every ticket was spoken for, reflecting a strong dedication to learning and implementing sustainable Lean principles.

    Essentiality of Lean Practices: Brian Calley, President of the Small Business Association of Michigan, underscored the critical role of Lean practices in navigating challenges such as workforce shortages, tight margins, and economic uncertainties. His insights shed light on why Lean methodologies are indispensable for businesses aiming to thrive in today's dynamic environment.

    Avoiding the Lean Appearance Trap: Patrick Adams, CEO + Executive Lean Coach at Lean Solutions, emphasized the importance of prioritizing continuous improvement over busywork and unproductive meetings. His message resonated with the audience, urging them to make Lean practices a non-negotiable part of their business strategy.

    Building an Army of Problem Solvers: Beth Crowley, Vice President Operations, Crowley Group, shared valuable insights on the importance of cultivating a workforce of skilled problem solvers. By empowering individuals with the tools and mindset to tackle challenges head-on, organizations can foster resilience and drive sustainable improvements across all facets of operations.

    Improve Less: Chad Bareither led a breakout session emphasizing the balance between agility and stability in Lean initiatives. By focusing efforts on a select few areas for improvement and fostering collective commitment, businesses can achieve higher success rates and sustainable progress over time.

    Swift Style: Dave Kippen was Taylor-made to Emcee! Thank you so much to Dave Kippen, Continuous Improvement (CI) Manager, ADM, for hosting the Lean Summit! His humor and energy had everyone amped up for their Lean learning era!

    Customer Service Commitment: Attendees toured the Alro Steel Metals Service Center providing an opportunity to review plant changes and investments made in the past couple years to improve productivity, safety, and customer service.  The Metals Service Center was founded in 1948 by Al Glick. Participants learned of the history of the one Garage and one truck in Jackson, MI that, with Al’s hard work, dedication, and commitment to customer service, have expanded to over 80 locations in 16 states.

    The GR Lean Summit not only provided attendees with actionable strategies and insights but also served as a platform for fostering collaboration, sharing best practices, and inspiring transformative change. As we reflect on the event, we extend our gratitude to all the speakers, participants, volunteers, and sponsors for their contributions to making this summit a resounding success.

    Let's continue to embrace Lean principles, drive innovation, and cultivate a culture of continuous improvement in our organizations and beyond. Together, we can navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and chart a path towards sustainable growth and success. Here's to a future fueled by Lean sustainable thinking and collective dedication to continuous improvement!

  • Friday, December 01, 2023 1:17 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    By: Christina Dragonetti, Development and Communications Manager, The W. Edwards Deming Institute

    “I am not here to teach you anything new, I’m here to make you see things that you would not normally see.” – W. Edwards Deming

    From an early age, we learn to break things into parts. We learn the ABCs linearly: A to B to C to D. We learn to break math problems into pieces to solve them. Later, we're taught to compartmentalize entire subjects. History is different from literature, which is different from science, and so on. 

    No wonder we approach business by breaking departments or projects into parts and trying to optimize each separately! 

    But even with tools like Lean, some problems get solved…and then come back. That’s what Dr. Deming called a “system problem.” Breaking the problem into pieces and solving each, then putting it back together, doesn't always work. You are analyzing each part as though other parts aren’t involved with the problem. When you step back and look at the interaction of the parts with each other and with the people, processes, and systems around them, you will more readily see why the problem continues. Plus, you'll see how and where to intervene for a permanent solution. 

    For example, in a physical therapy clinic, they had problems with patients missing appointments. If you think of this as a problem with patients, your receptionists repeatedly call and email them about making and keeping appointments. Each appointment is scheduled individually. This sometimes impacts treatment schedules and causes patient confusion. Also, the hours spent on these calls and emails take time and focus away from the aim of the organization: helping clients reach their highest physical potential. 

    Using systems thinking, you see this as a problem with the entire appointment-making process. 

    In this real-life example, everyone wanted to focus on the aim of supporting patients, not on the chaotic scheduling process. With the support of management, the receptionists across 4 offices devised a plan using Plan-Do-Study-Act. They decided to schedule all the recommended appointments for each patient based on their treatment plan when they come in the first time. This plan eliminated the many calls and emails required to schedule appointments. The result? Patients mostly stopped missing appointments. They got the therapy they needed at the proper intervals. Staff and therapists were better able to focus on helping patients reach their goals. 

    What are the key attributes of system thinking?

    Systems thinking requires looking at your organization in a new, integrated way. Every system must have an aim: the reason the system exists. Your aim must include the future and the value your organization creates for the world.

    For example, at The Deming Institute, our aim is: “enriching society through the Deming philosophy.” Everything we do, including our learning events, how we communicate, and our administrative processes, are working toward sharing this knowledge with the world. (Note: "making money" is not an aim; it is a byproduct of your system.)

    Once you’ve figured out the aim of your organization, identify inputs, processes, and outputs (positive and negative) of the system, as well as the customers for each. Customers can be internal or external to the organization. At the organization level, inputs can include staff members, government regulations, technology, and the suppliers who provide inputs. Some organizations include COVID or global warming as part of their inputs. Processes include anything that adds value to your product or service or keeps the organization running. 

    For example, in an ice cream business, processes include creating new flavors, billing methods, payment processing, manufacturing, distribution, sales, and all the people involved in all those processes. The interaction of all these parts and people, working toward a common aim, creates a system. 

    Finally, identify your outputs. These can be good: profit, brand recognition, happy customers, happy employees, influence on legislation, reduced carbon footprint, and more. Outputs can also be negative: waste, legal action, insolvency, unhappy vocal customers, or staff turnover. For some organizations, your output also includes the success of the clients using your product or service. When you create this level of detail about the interacting components of your system, you can begin to draw a picture of the components that you have to manage towards the aim.

    This “big picture” view of your organization calms the chaos, (mostly) prevents firefighting, and helps everyone understand their place – and therefore their value – in the organization. 

    Why use systems thinking?

    Systems thinking, as Dr. Deming described it, is helpful for tasks, processes, organizations, families, communities, society, and ourselves. It allows for a more rational and methodical approach to problems. Everyone in the organization works toward a common aim. Happy customers, high morale, low turnover, profit, and innovation are byproducts (outputs) of a well-designed system.

    If you want to learn more about the Deming Management Methods or his 14 Points for Management, visit To learn more about our online learning program Deming NEXT visit  

  • Friday, October 20, 2023 11:21 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    The MLC hosted an online Coffee Chat with Beth Crowley Presenting Takt Time 101

    Takt time is how often a product must be completed to meet customer demand. Cycle time is how long it takes to complete work. Beth used the image below to show us an example and asked the question, will this process deliver on-time?


    1. Unbalanced lines, over production, and of course the Takt time examples
    2. Takt time depends on high production of standard products in a repeatable process. It's not great for customized orders, job shops
    3. World War II Bomber production at Willow Run highlighted that Ford's Sorenson used the concept of Takt time and process cycle time to redefine how a Bomber could be built each hour

    The MLC is grateful to Beth Crowley and to all those who attended. It's great to see what's working and not working on Lean journeys; we are all in this together.

    We welcome more opportunities for member learning and sharing. Email to discuss how you can partner with the MLC on Gemba Tours and more.

  • Friday, September 15, 2023 11:17 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    Granger hosted MLC learners on Friday 10/13/23, the group was introduced to the Granger construction team at the Ford Motor National Product Development Center a 92,000 sq. ft. reconstruction project in Allen Park, MI.

    The tour included a summary of the project by Joann Kobacki, Project Manager and Chris Scharlach Lean Operations, and others on the team.

    Below are a few highlights of what was learned.

    1. Lean construction is as valuable as Lean used in other environments; consider flow, pull, and waste.
    2. Joann reviewed how flow of work coordinates elements of moving through a project by staging areas of focus. She illustrated how entire floors and areas are mapped to create flow.
    3. Chris has been at this with Granger since 2015 and explained successes like learning to use LCI (Lean Construction Institutes) contributions for software such as Last Planner has been a big lift to organize the flow of project materials and people.

    The Granger team was gracious in offering lunch to the 20 plus MLC attendees and a working discussion followed.

    The MLC is grateful to Granger and to all those who attended. It's great to see what's working and not working on Lean journeys; we are all in this together.

    We welcome more opportunities for member learning and sharing. Email to discuss how you can partner with the MLC on Gemba Tours and more.

  • Friday, June 16, 2023 9:36 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    Cummins Sales and Service is a leading provider of diesel-engine service for on-highway trucks, emergency vehicles, school buses, and more.

    • Participants took a tour the facility
    • Conducted a waste-walk
    • Saw the many 5S Improvements and use of Visual Management tools throughout the facility

    The MLC was excited to participate in an amazing gemba walk at the Cummins Sales and Service station this month!

    Thank you so much for the opportunity to learn!

  • Wednesday, June 07, 2023 9:30 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    Summer in Michigan is the best!

    The 2023 Annual Conference is our major event of the year! Held in breathtaking Traverse City, MI this August, the offerings this year reflect feedback from attendees and membership throughout the year from all of our events.  I am very excited to see everyone and learn what has been happening in your lean worlds!

    Register Today!

    During the conference the MLC Board of Directors holds its annual public meeting to share the journey over the past year and where we are headed. Our directors are volunteers who work very hard, year round to create direction and support the MLC. Although, election nominations have come to a close we are always looking for interested humans to join the team. If you are interested, please contact me directly!

    Have a safe month and I hope to see you in August.

    For the love of Lean,


  • Friday, May 12, 2023 11:10 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    As new life emerges around us, it’s a great time to reflect, set new goals, create plans, and take action!

    In late April we said, “thank you” and “farewell” to our four University of Michigan students, who have graduated and moved on to begin their careers. Fiona, Grant, Markus and Keaton were of great assistance evolving our strategy mindset and deep diving to bolster areas of our organization!

    We also completed our Q2 strategy meeting. After a year with this team and six months developing and executing a Purpose Map we had moved the improvement needle and have had many great lessons learned.

    I am excited to move forward continuing to develop long-term strategy and develop actions, short term to achieve our new future state. We would not have been able to do this without the assistance of our four University of Michigan students!

    We have migrated to MSOffice platform! You, as membership, should see enhanced communication and ease of connecting virtually for events. We as a board, have greatly improved our communication, have better organized historical documents, and are now working off the same platform. A huge “thank you” to Melissa Sherman for spearheading the procurement and transition of this project!

    Keep in mind May is the Michigan Lean Consortium Board of Directors Election Month. During the month of May we solicit for interested members who are willing to join our team, by nomination. Those nominations are then vetted and then sent to the membership for a vote. Please watch for multiple announcements through May for nominations and in June for the opportunity for vote in new board members.

    Annual Conference registration is also open!

    The AC team is just part of the overall events team and I wanted to give a big shoutout to everyone supporting all the events! Our events have been outstanding, and the Annual Conference will be no different! As a staple, your feedback helps us directionally pinpoint what 2024 will look like. Please be sure to provide candid feedback whenever you are able.

    Lastly, I want to thank all the volunteers who have been supporting the MLC. You are the fiber that makes this organization great!

    Be safe and have a great month!

    For the love of Lean, Holly

  • Friday, May 12, 2023 11:06 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    Jeff Varani was our April Coffee Chat Subject Matter Expert.

    We were delighted to have Jeff Varani as our April Coffee Chat Subject Matter Expert. Jeff provided an insightful presentation on Root Cause Analysis (RCA) that gave us an overview of the tools and examples of how to apply them. He also shared the real-world outcomes and resolution of challenges. Jeff's expertise and experience in the field of RCA was invaluable and we are grateful for his contribution to our Coffee Chat.

    Jeff Varani is the Service Growth Director for New Power Products at Cummins Sales & Service North America (CSSNA), a division of Cummins, Inc.

    Before assuming this current role, Jeff was the General Manager for mid and northern Michigan service operations of CSSNA. Responsibilities included directing the day-to-day operations of shop and field service operations for engine and power generation markets, product sales, customer experience, health & safety, and creating the right environment for the team. His experience leading cross functional teams, and operating knowledge of other market locations helped turn around a key underperforming market.

    Thank you, Jeff, for sharing your knowledge with the Michigan Lean Consortium!

  • Tuesday, April 11, 2023 12:41 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    Happy Spring!

    David Mann wrote in his book, Creating a Lean Culture, “20% of the effort in a successful lean transformation is using the tools, while 80% is changing the way leaders think and their management practices.”

    The MLC was able to showcase both the physical and the mental aspects of Lean in the month of March! We featured an extremely impactful Lean Leadership Summit and a Gemba Walk at Sartorius and Zingermans Mail Order. Thank you, MLC Events team for organizing such great events. Also, a note that the 2023 Annual Conference registration is now open!

    The board continues to meet monthly with directors running their respected areas of focus on a daily basis. We focus on the PDCA strategy at our quarterly face to face. What is thrilling to see is the strategy is beginning to work! We know this by registrations for events, feedback from events and an increase in membership. We had a huge spike in new members this month. Welcome, all who have joined the MLC! Please continue to provide your candid feedback to the board members.

    The election process for the board of directors begins in May. If you are interested in running for a board seat, please keep an eye out for the announcement coming soon.

    The MLC is great because of its members. Thank you to everyone who supports the MLC every day is their way.

    Be safe and have a great month!

    For the Love of Lean,

    Holly Plaga
    MLC Board Chair

  • Tuesday, April 11, 2023 12:35 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    Emir Avdic was our March Coffee Chat Subject Matter Expert.

    March's MLC Lean Coffee Chat equipped participants with the language and knowledge needed to increase leadership buy-in for their Lean efforts and practices.

    View: How to Deal with Non-Committed Leadership in our presentation library!

    For the past two decades, Emir has focused on the development, management and execution of strategic business development programs across global markets. This includes management and coordination of globally based employees and resources to develop international expansion strategies, validate sales opportunities, identify, and vet strategic partners, guide clients through acquisitions/greenfield operations in international markets and execute international expansion strategies on behalf of our clients. He has worn many hats in many different industries in the past years.

    In the previous years Emir has worked with small to medium sized companies but also multi-billion-dollar organizations looking to expand into Europe or the United States either through entity setup, acquisitions or greenfield operations as well as managing the businesses on behalf of his clients.

    Thank you, Emir, for your time and expertise!

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