MLC Blog

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

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  • Thursday, April 08, 2021 11:42 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    The Events Committee is working on standardizing our offerings to help our membership know what to expect all throughout the year! Thanks to all who filled out the survey, that helped us shape our path forward. Here are a few things you can expect to see take shape very soon:

    • A repeatable “large event” cadence. We understand how important it is to be able to count on some of our favorite events happening at certain times of the year. The Annual Conference, the Healthcare Symposium, and the Grand Rapids Summit are the 3 major events that we plan on standardizing and offering at the same time each year.
    • A repeatable monthly events cadence. Our initial target will be one Gemba event, one Learning event and one Coffee Chat per month. This will help us curate content to fit those different events rather than relying on “whatever comes in” as ideas. Very proactive and thoughtful.
    • A focus on different levels of knowledge. We heard loud and clear that we have not made much of an effort to have events related to folks who are new or just beginning their Lean journey. We plan on fixing this! We plan on equally distributing events in 3 categories: Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced levels of Lean. It will not be perfect, but a focus will be made to achieve a better balance.

    These changes are very exciting and I hope all our membership will see value in these changes. Bringing knowledge and networking to Lean practitioners in Michigan is what we want to achieve through MLC events. I hope you join one or all of the upcoming amazing opportunities that we will offer!

    Dave Kippen

    MLC Events Team Coordinator

    To learn more about MLC's events, visit the Events and Learning page!

  • Wednesday, April 07, 2021 6:30 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    What I find so powerful and so valuable about Lean are the core concepts: seek to continuously improve and focus on respecting others throughout your improvement actions. These concepts are not business related strategies that apply in certain settings. They are human values that can be applied in any setting, work or otherwise.

    My own path of coaching Lean within the nonprofit sector has allowed me to explore new territories while seeing just how universal Lean principles truly are. The majority of those with whom I have been in contact in the nonprofit sector are completely new to Lean or have only a vague understanding of what it means and how it applies. The continuously incredible part to me is how inherently aligned Lean thinking and nonprofit sector work can be. Nonprofits have empathy ingrained in their missions and a focus on serving others is what often brings nonprofit professionals to work everyday. Nonprofit professionals also often wear many hats, being the grant writer as well as the volunteer coordinator and on the marketing team, for example.  So, being able to cut down on waste and streamline operations is critical to help nonprofits thrive. The core concepts of Lean often live in the heart of a nonprofit organization. It is just a matter of introducing the tools and formal methods through language and strategies that fit for the nonprofit environment.

    I am fortunate to have learned Lean backwards. I saw the outcome of an incredible personal Lean transformation and used that inspiration to work my way backwards through books, practice, and finally, formal training. That backwards method showed me the powerful difference the Lean can make on a person’s everyday activities, relationships at work and with loved ones, impactful leadership, enjoyment and success at work, as well as the ability to solve any problem. There is an expansive array of Lean tools and resources to help reach a continuous Lean practice. The important point of these tools, however, reaches back to the core concepts. The tools are the how of the concepts, but what matters most is that those concepts are ingrained. In my work with nonprofit organizations, I am constantly thinking about and adjusting the Lean language around the tools in order to help those who I serve understand the core concepts.

    Whether you are new to Lean or a well-seasoned expert, there is always more to discover, more to share, more learning to be inspired by. Sometimes even stopping to reflect upon what you have already learned may bring the greatest insight. Or perhaps shifting your mindset to be open to another new idea may make all the difference. Whatever it is, I hope you feel the welcoming and wonder of Lean as I do.

    Lauren Wisniewski

    MLC Board Member

    President of Rise Consulting, Co.

    Start or advance in your Lean journey with one of our training events!

  • Thursday, March 18, 2021 12:06 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    We are excited to announce organizational changes to the Michigan Lean Consortium Board of Directors. Tony Hayes has decided to step down from the Chair position. We cannot thank Tony enough for all of his hard work and effort leading the Board this past year. He has been an outstanding leader and role model for MLC. We are proud to announce that Katie Labedz has accepted the role of the Chair position. Katie previously was responsible for strategy on the Board. Katie comes to the MLC with over 20 years of Lean experience and previous experience being on the Board of Directors for other non-profit organizations.

    Vanita DeJesus has accepted the role of the Vice Chair position! We are excited to continue to work with Vanita in this new capacity as she continues to bring new and exciting ideas to the MLC! Mike Wiserma will end his term as Vice Chair in August 2021. Lauren Wisniewski will work with Vanita to be responsible for membership. We thank Lauren for her willingness to take on this new role.

    We are also pleased to announce Josh Foster has accepted the role of the Treasurer position after Richard Love departed earlier this month. We thank Richard for his time and assistance on the Board. We are actively executing our transition plans and appreciate your continued support of the MLC!

    Katie Labedz

    MLC Board Chair

    Learn more about the MLC Board of Directors at the BOD Bio page!

  • Monday, February 15, 2021 12:15 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    When an organization decides to implement Lean, the starting place is usually with a few processes.  It is assumed that the ‘right’ behavior will just fall in line as processes are implemented.  Organizations that focus primarily on process and minimize or ignore behavior end up facing various obstacles and realize that culture and leadership behavior can make or break a Lean initiative.  Do any of these sound familiar?

    • “I don’t have time to record on a daily management board.”
    • “The problem-solving board takes too much time.”
    • “We don’t have time for a Kaizen, I need everyone working to meet customer shipment requirements.”
    • “The standard work is unreasonable, it takes too long to get the line started up.”

    Leaders will need to learn about Lean and the components.  They also need to know what to do differently to ensure success for themselves and the organization.  If a leader has been with the organization for a decade or more, they likely have years of old habits to unlearn.  A Lean system needs strong “Lean management” to implement and sustain, to ensure there is a focus on the process and the results. 

    A common mistake is assuming if you design the right process, it should always run as designed and produce consistent results.  But the real world, isn’t that idealistic.  The more complex the process, the more attention and adjustment is needed as you implement and run Lean processes.  Leadership behaviors need to be aligned to ensure attention and iteration.  Because without it, an organization risks loosing the Lean momentum that was the crucial reason for the change in the first place.  

    Often leaders are rewarded by the organization (recognition, advancement, and feedback) by knowing the right answer, fixing a problem immediately, and dictating tasks to complete.  This behavior and approach is often associated with being a hero or a firefighter.  The organization can count on that leader to solve a crisis and keep things moving forward.  But McKinsey points out that there needs to be a fundamental shift to asking questions, finding root cause, and connecting tasks to organization purpose.

    A shift from the left to the right, isn’t easy.  The behaviors on the right require a leader to trade in the superman cap or firehose, a role that has been reinforced, rewarded, and provides an adrenaline rush.  Leaders have to develop new skills to engage the workforce, know what questions to ask, and champion Lean processes by linking individual work to organization results. 

    When I designed Lean Leadership development programs it focused on behaviors that would be needed to support Lean processes as they rolled out.  It wasn’t a gradual shift, there was no nudging.  It was a series of skills/behavior training that were aligned with the roll out of specific Lean processes.  For example, when visual management boards were rolled out, leaders were also trained that every interaction with an employee had a personal and practical need.  Leaders learned how to listen when an employee was resistant to the visual management board and to “hear” the practical need (understand, adjust expectations, etc.) and the personal need (heard, understood, respected, etc.).  Leaders were learning the new behaviors right along with the new Lean process.

    If your organization is struggling to sustain Lean efforts, it might be time to step back, and be a behavior detective.  What behaviors are rewarded?  Are those the right behaviors to reward?  What skills or behaviors do leaders need to do differently to maximize Lean efforts? 

    Becky Andree

    MLC Board Member

    CEO of Vertical Leadership Consulting

    Learn more about advancing lean leadership.

  • Monday, January 25, 2021 3:09 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    Wow!  2020 is gone, and it was uniquely dramatic for every one of us.  The disruptions in our lives ranged from inconvenience to upheaval to loss of loved ones.  Within the MLC, we had to shift our emphasis to online interactions, which have their own advantages, however the high value of live events with great networking, which I know you all value the most, had to be put on hold.

    As a new beginning, I want you to enjoy this year in your life with a new MLC experience.  As we progress through 2021 with the eventual taming of COVID through vaccinations, the light at the end of the tunnel brightens.  You have much to look forward to from the MLC in 2021, including:

    • A planned live August Annual Conference in Traverse City
    • Sponsored Lean training from the Sergent Results Group and the Northern Michigan MMTC as part of our new Resource Network
    • Energetic new Board members who are dedicated to bringing new value to you.

    I now have been the MLC President for 2 ½ years, and as it has been an enriching experience.  However, I find myself wanting to explore other avenues in my life.  So, effective January 31, 2021, I respectfully resign my position with the MLC.  I wish each one of you continued success in life.

    Best Regards,

    Al Woodliff

    Community Member

    Learn more about what the MLC is providing in 2021 on our Events and Learning page!

  • Tuesday, December 22, 2020 3:24 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    Congratulations to our 2020 MLC Distinguished Service Award Recipients. The MLC Board of Directors usually honors the recipients during our annual conference. Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions we were unable to gather at a conference and recognize these amazing volunteers in person. 

    Here are some comments that came in during the application process:

    "Eric is a doer and can be counted on to help where needed; though humble, he has given his time and talents continuously over a long period of time. He spends many hours volunteering and has provided complementary space for the Lean Healthcare Symposium."

     "Greg shares his passion for Lean with others, mentoring them on CoP Lean in Legal best practices. He is reliable and enthusiastic, ready to provide feedback and improve. Greg always asks how he can help, and is an outstanding collaborator."

    "Tony has an enthusiasm unknown to mankind for the MLC. He volunteers for the MLC in dog years. Tony is a past board member and is currently an advisor to the MLC Membership team. Tony continues to share his MLC knowledge and Lean thinking strategies to help to grow membership."

    Thank you 2020 recipients for sharing your time and expertise with the MLC. 

  • Monday, December 21, 2020 8:00 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    MLC Community,

    This past year has been a very challenging one for all of us, where many of us have personally been impacted in one form another because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the MLC family, we have seen many members lose jobs, forced to work extended hours and/or take unpaid furloughs. And in the membership, unfortunately, we have lost loved ones in our families and in our communities due to the virus. 

    As we near the end of this year we would like to share some meaningful reflection of the recent activities and thinking within the MLC. We have modified much of what we do regarding our events and networking sessions by going completely virtual, and will continue to evaluate our service offerings as business conditions dictate. We have partnered with several people from various organizations such as Dennis Sergent of Sergent Results Group and the MMTC of Northern Lower Michigan, as recent examples. These relationships, in addition to our newly formed Resource Network will lead us through a series of Single Point learning topics, learning themes that we feel confident, will move us through 2021 and beyond. 

    Before I discuss the current state of the organization, I wanted to send sincere gratitude and thanks to our strong MLC Community--

    • Thank you to our dedicated members for sticking with us through this time; you are our life-blood given that membership has accounted for a significant amount of our income these last few months. 
    • Thank you to our volunteers that have been organizing, planning, and supporting our day-to-day efforts to offer great services and provide ever-increasing value for our members. A special thanks to Dave Kippen, our volunteer Events Team Coordinator, as well as all of our event team volunteers. We could not host as many MLC Events without you. Also, another huge thanks to volunteer Tony DeCaria who has been a strong voice working with Vanita DeJesus and our Membership Team over the past several months. Without you and your creativity we would not have been able to navigate these challenging waters. 
    • Thank you to our outgoing and new MLC Board Members who have challenged our current condition and are working to create a strong vision with some challenging themes for the next year. Your work is greatly appreciated. In addition, I want to take a moment to welcome our new Board members, Katie Labedz, Becky Andree, Lauren Wisniewski and Josh Foster, who will provide a strong diversity of thought, complimenting the work and efforts of our already talented Board of Directors. 
    • Additionally, our contract staff comprised of our President - Al Woodliff; General Coordinator - Laura Bankowski; and Finance/Website/Social Media Coordinator - Andi Barajas, in conjunction with Richard Love, our Board Treasurer, all have gracefully sacrificed hours to limit our expenses and manage the internal workings of the organization - you truly are our glue that keeps the MLC clicking on all cylinders! Being a near 100% volunteer organization and sustaining for 10 years+ is a testament to all of you and your personal dedication! 
    • And lastly, I want to thank both Ruth Archer, who has recently departed our board for her valuable and significant contributions over the years, and our Secretary, Anne Cram for her time, significant commitment and dedication to the MLC over the last year, as she has decided to leave the MLC at the end of this year. She has provided structure, organization and most of all significant ideas for us to act on as a Board over the last few months. Their collective presence and contributions will be surely missed! The opportunity within the MLC is not unlike what many organizations faced; we struggled putting our strategy to action, and with the recent pandemic, we experienced financial challenges, significant strain on the organization and our overall effectiveness, so as we move into 2021, we will be looking to leverage our membership in new ways, leveraging the talents that exist within the vast network across Michigan. So stay tuned, as we progress throughout the year to see how you can get involved more directly! 

    If you have any questions, concerns or desires please feel free to reach out to Mike Wiersma, myself or other members of the board. We sincerely need your hearts and minds to support our strategy, so please reach out to us to share your ideas, your time and other valuable contributions to make the MLC and Michigan as a whole, a stronger and more agile community of Lean thinkers.

    We look forward to hearing from you! 

    Thank you, Stay Safe, Healthy, and Happy Holidays to you and yours! 

    Tony and Mike

    Chair & Vice Chair of MLC BOD

  • Tuesday, November 10, 2020 8:05 AM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    2020 brought unexpected challenges for everyone this year. At the State of Michigan our office — The Office of Continuous Improvement (OCI) was quick to pivot our skills and lend a hand to many aspects of the COVID Response. One of the “asks” this summer was to assist the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity with preparing to scale up the Workshare division to meet new customer needs. 

    For those unfamiliar with what workshare is and why they would need to prepare for increased services:

    Michigan’s Work Share Program allows employers to restart their business and bring employees back from unemployment. Employers can bring employees back with reduced hours - while employees collect partial unemployment benefits to make up a portion of the lost wages. Employers can also retain their current workforce and are given the flexibility to choose which of their employees are part of a Work Share plan.

    It is a great program for Michigan businesses small and large to participate in during times like these.

    One of our service lines we developed, and have really seen a demand in lately, is Capacity Planning. This methodology used by our office relies on basic Lean principles and activities to assist work areas in identifying staffing needs for the current or anticipated volume of work (scaling up or down). 

    In this case, the workshare division anticipated they would need to scale up substantially to effectively meet demand this year. Our methodology included analyzing the current volume of work through process mapping and using Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) to identify the Expected Time of tasks in the current process. 

    Expected Cost Time is found through the following PERT Calculation:

    Optimistic Time (O): The minimum possible time required to accomplish a task, assuming everything proceeds better than is normally expected 

    Most Likely Time (M): The estimate of time required to accomplish a task, assuming everything proceeds as normal. 

    Pessimistic Time (P): The maximum possible time required to accomplish a task, assuming everything goes wrong (but excluding major catastrophes). 

    Expected Time (TE): The best estimate of the time required to accomplish a task (the implication being that the expected time is the average time the task would require if the task were repeated on a number of occasions over an extended period of time). 

    ET = (O + 4M + P) ÷ 6

    Once we had a good snapshot of what the current process and volume looked like for the division, we used our Key Assumptions Activity to identify conditions that are assumed to be in place or that must occur for the future process to be successful. An example for this process was:

    There is an increased awareness of the Work Share Program and we will never see the pre-pandemic “normal” numbers again (0-5 plans)

    At this point, we shifted to facilitation of what the future capacity should look like by first identifying all of the current positions assigned to support the process with their total summary of hours for the year (sick, annual, and holiday leave removed, along with 15% of the hours removed for general administrative duties—per project management standard). In this case, the total hours per employee that they can allocate to tasks is 1,747 hours a year. We then did the following with the data from the PERT activity:

    • Calculated total hours for each main task/assignment for the year using the expected time data.
    • Assigned hours to each position. Determined if the hours are split by the team or the same for all. 
    • Unplanned hours are the left over extra or negative hours after all work is assigned. 
    • Divide the negative number of hours by 1,747 and that provided an estimated shortage of positions in the work area,
    • To wrap up the project, we identified issues and ideas to improve the process for the future and escalated those that would be high impact/low effort sprints for the team to get in place prior to the surge in workload. 

    The results of this project were recommendations to the divisional leadership for additional positions and quick win improvements to meet the anticipated customer demand and improve the process. The data and methods used to determine positions justified the need for the division to agency leadership. 

    The real success story of this project are the anticipated results for the customers (State of Michigan businesses and employees). There will be a decrease in the time to process the workshare plan and thus a reduction in wait time for unemployment benefits. Businesses can retain their workforce and employees can make up portions of lost wages. Helping State Departments achieve results like these is what makes Lean so valuable to the State of Michigan and to fellow Michiganders. 

    Have a Safe, Healthy, and Happy Thanksgiving,

    Anne Cram 

    Lean Process Improvement Specialist, State of Michigan DTMB

    MLC Board Member

    Do you have a story to share about your Lean Journey?

  • Wednesday, July 08, 2020 5:36 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    Do you belong to a community of practice (CoP)? You may, and not even know it! A community of practice is a group of people informally bound by shared expertise and a passion for a joint enterprise.* At the MLC, we’re constantly developing CoPs for people who are involved in Lean, quality, and continuous improvement efforts in healthcare, legal, manufacturing, academia, non-profits, human resources, government, and utilities, and we’re open to your ideas for new CoPs. We’ve made it easy by developing standard work and sharing best practices across communities.

    At the core of the work we do, we leverage our knowledge of continuous improvement using Lean principles for the benefit of our organizations. Belonging to a CoP can be an important part of your personal Lean “knowledge management” system. Whatever your position is, you can benefit from the knowledge and networking you’ll get from participating in a community of practice. As a result of my engagement with colleagues at other organizations, I’ve had new opportunities, sounding boards for problems I encounter, and friends who support me. Through my communities of practice, I’ve learned about resources I wouldn’t have found on my own and had helping hands keep me from stumbling into pitfalls I didn’t know about. Sometimes, it’s only my friends in my CoP who can celebrate a success with me, because others don’t always understand how hard something was to do!

    There aren’t any rules about how a CoP should function. As a group, you can meet at a cadence that works for you. Your group can decide if you want to pursue projects, provide training to members, share stories, collaborate, and/or celebrate success. In the MLC, our CoPs develop a charter that guides the activities of the group, but this is a living, breathing document. The group can choose to modify it at any time.

    Let us know if you want to join an existing community of practice, or start a new one! We’ll connect you.
    *Communities of Practice, 1999, Wenger & Snyder, Harvard Business Review

    Ruth Archer
    MLC Board of Directors

    Technology & Social Media Liaison

    Learn more about the MLC's Communities of Practice!

  • Thursday, June 06, 2019 6:02 PM | Andi Barajas (Administrator)

    DeWitt High School students in Jeff Croley's Creative Leadership: Opportunities for Social Innovation class learned how to create a process map for a 5 Why Root Cause Analysis. Chuck Wynn, a Specialist for Operations Excellence at Emergent BioSolutions was a guest instructor for the day of April 1, 2019. Chuck is well versed in Lean management, overseeing quality in the manufacturing division of Emergent BioSolutions (a Lansing area based biotechnology company). 

    DeWitt Students Presenting on Bullying Going Unaddressed in Schools

    Photo: DeWitt Students Presenting on Bullying Going Unaddressed in Schools

    As the result of a Kaizen Blitz activity from last year, Chuck learned of the work of the Creative Leadership class - thanks in no small part to the Michigan Lean Consortium email newsletter! After several communications and a meeting, we decided to collaborate together to teach a problem solving method to Jeff's students. It has long been a goal of mine as a MLC member to expose high school students to ideas of Lean Management. What better way than to have a professional such as Chuck work directly with students to provide a basic overview of some Lean concepts? 

    The day of Chuck's presentation went exceedingly well! After a 12 minute presentation (Chuck had a student time him: how appropriate), that detailed the fundamentals of a process map to help identify the order and relationship between variables of a problem (along with the highly relevant example of the Flint Water Crisis). Students were instructed to identify a process that either currently is producing positive or negative results. The goal of a process map is for students to develop disciplined system thinking to find solutions to problems or maintain a successful status quo.

    DeWitt Students using Lean Tools to explore the problem of Bullying Going Unaddressed in Schools

    Photo: DeWitt Students using Lean Tools to explore the problem of Bullying Going Unaddressed in Schools

    Here are the steps students were required to follow:


    1. Pick an event (a problem; a result that was not expected; or something that went very well that you’d like to repeat.
    2. Create a high-level “5-Why Chain” — no less than 5; no more than 7—to identify why the event occurred.
    3. Create a branched Cause Map – do a “deeper dive”, going into as much detail as needed to identify all 1)the factors and  2)their interactions that contributed to the event.

    Students were divided into groups of 2-3 to create their process maps. Some of the events they selected were:

    1. Homelessness
    2. Suicide Prevention
    3. Problems with the school's drinking fountains
    4. School related stress

    DeWitt Students using Lean Tools to Explore the Idea of Empathy

    Photo: DeWitt Students using Lean Tools to Explore the Idea of Empathy

    Jeff and I circulated throughout the classroom to assist students. It was interesting to see the variables and their sequence on the maps. We encouraged/challenged them to think more deeply regarding the underlying factors of some variables that they failed to consider. Students were engaged and excited to visually represent relationships between variables. Upon completion of the task, students presented their maps to the rest of the class. Chuck pointed on how the students made assumptions that may or may not be true regarding their issue or problem. Students left the class that day feeling good about the activity and that it was well worth their time! Many thanks to Chuck Wynn, Jeff Croley, and the MLC for their support in making this event a reality.

    Jason LaFay

    DeWitt High School/DeWitt Creativity Group

    Learn more about Lean Tools!

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