In this first podcast renamed as “Lean Six Sigma for Good” (formerly called “Earth Consultants”), I explain the change in podcast title and purpose.
In the audio, I share a presentation I gave at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN in early December, to share my experiences apply Lean and Six Sigma to nonprofits and at my past employers.
Below is the video from the presentation.
Later that day, we observed the campus mail room, to look for opportunities, and heard about ReThink Wabash, a local nonprofit looking for help with improvement projects.
- Lean Six Sigma for Good (free book)
- Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (RHIT) – Engineering Management Department
- LeanSixSigmaForGood.com (new home for podcast content)
Dr. Diane Evans (DE): So anyway, thank you for coming. So I brought a great speaker. I met Brion I think like two or three years ago. I was doing a presentation at a Six Sigma conference and the presentation was project I had done with St. Pat’s K-8 school. St. Pat’s is a private school and we were trying to add food share or food rescue tables there. So that’s when if a kid finishes his lunch and has an extra milk or banana or an orange, something he hasn’t touched, he can leave it at the table and then another student that wants it can pick it up. So it helps to reduce some of the hunger, maybe, that some of the children are experiencing in the afternoon or when they go home.
But the true reason we wanted to do this was to get it in the public schools. The public schools wouldn’t let us do this because they were worried about the risk of what if they set out on a piece of food, another student ate it and got sick, then they’d be liable. So after we did the project and we took the results to the Vigo County School Board and showed them how much we improved – just in a year alone, it was like 20,000 meals that one of the public elementary schools saved when they went ahead and instituted it the next year. So the following year, they let three schools in Terre Haute try it, more places where 98% of the students were getting free or reduced lunches. That’s where we wanted the share tables to go. When you see how many things are just being thrown away, like a banana, never opened just straight in the trash, that’s kind of what instituted our thoughts on that.
So I’ve done a lot of Six Sigma projects here and I just thought I don’t think a lot of people even realize that there’s been projects going on here on campus, so I just thought I would highlight those for a few minutes before I let Brion take over. So the very first project we did here was a food waste project. That’s when we didn’t have Bon Appétit; it was Aramark. A lot of students did not care for some of the food there, so what we were trying to do was when a student – you can kind of see some trays with food – when they brought their food up, we actually scraped the food into buckets and then we weighed the buckets to try to figure out, during the lunch period, on average, how much per person was being wasted. We counted anything that could be edible, so if they had something on their plate that could have been eaten, that’s what we put in there. There were problems, but eventually, it worked out and became a big project and we were pretty happy.
Going back to that for a second, we are not the group that got rid of your trays. I always have to say that because everyone’s like, “You’re the one that took over the trays.” No, I wasn’t but it happened soon after. The second time around, we didn’t scrape into cans; we put them into Ziploc bags, the waste, and then we would weigh these bags. But that picture itself is a real visual of like how much was coming off of each student’s tray, so it was a good project.
We did one behind White Chapel. There’s an invasive plant called a honeysuckle. It takes over and just grows and doesn’t let other things breathe and live. So we did a project where we were trying different tools, different areas, different standard operating procedures to remove these plants and do it in an efficient way.
It’s kind of blurred, but the big one that we did for a couple of years was the recycling program. You’ll see, over the academic buildings, that set of three. Two of them are one is for paper, one is for plastic, and one is for trash, but that set up, we tried to do it every… Actually, we did a spaghetti diagram and tried to put one equally spaced throughout the campus. So if you left class and you had something to recycle, you didn’t have to go all the way to Moench Café, which was the only place they had recycling. They had six bins and they were so specific you couldn’t figure out where to put a paper. Anyway, we spread these all over campus and I don’t know how I got my students to take data, but every day after classes, they’d go around with these grabbers and take out everything that could have been recycled and they’d put it in a bag and then we would weigh their bags. There were 15 different areas like Crapo 1, Crapo 2, Myers, and so then we had data from each of these areas. For a very exciting field trip, we went to a landfill, so that was one of the… I mean, it’s pretty ominous when you actually go there and see it.
I tried to do a recycling day where, after the weekend, we took all the trash from the dorms and then we were going through it to see how much… We got through a couple of hundred bags. I had no idea how much we generate over a weekend. It comes, also, from fraternities and sororities, so you could see pizza party, maybe some pizza party and then a little beer, a little bit of entertainment, but yeah, there was a lot that could be recycled there.
And for the recycling project, one of them was just to make that standard set up everywhere. We tried to make like nice pictures so people can look and know instead of having to read a lot of stuff. So the standardization, I think, really helped and they still are hanging a lot. They have started to fall all throughout campus and these signs are coming down. The problem with my classes doing the recycling project here is, once they’re done, it’s hard to sustain them because you can’t go check, before I leave every day, go check the trash. So I just hope, in good faith, that some of it has improved but I haven’t taken data for probably five years on this.
Another one, we tried to reduce hand towel waste in Crapo. Crapo put in those new hand dryers that you could do like that, so we would try to encourage people to not take the hand towels. So we collected a bunch of data before and then after. One of our solutions that really didn’t work very well was we bought these. Y there called people towels. So you carry them with you all day and, anytime you need to dry your hands, you have them in your bag. So we sat some of these out and we bought a bunch of towels to sit out and it just never really… I mean, it is kind of… I thought myself, even though I’m a girl, it’s like you’re carrying this around all day and you keep pulling it out and students sometimes don’t wash them for a week or so, including professors, and then it would just be really dirty. So we bought a bunch of these. I bought these because they had elephants, so I thought then people would be like, “Oh, I’ll carry that,” but. So these are pictures from the restroom. We did some good advertising.
The big one, you probably know if you’ve been here, is the straw one. In all the locations here, they were using paper straws. Sorry, that’s wrong – plastic straws, which are not biodegradable. I mean, they’re so small, even if you recycle them, they slip through the machines. So we were working with Bon Appétit but we were trying to do this with biodegradable straws. And in fact, now, Bon Appétit, in their cafeteria, just uses the biodegradable straws. We put alternatives in all the coffee shops to see if people would choose them and they would. It’s about not even a cent more to add biodegradable straws, so we did some surveys asking people if they would mind the extra cost. For door prizes, for different, they could take a Snapchat challenge and send us a picture of them using our biodegradable straws and they could win metal straws or bamboo straws or glass, so we had all kinds of straws. I still have it at home there, it’s kind of cool. So that was a good one.
And this is the last one we did over at St. Pat’s. The cool thing is our students were working with their students. We kind of combined with the fifth grade class to do the food share idea, so we made some posters. But the idea is you have something sitting there, like with ice for milk so that kids that didn’t drink their milk, they’d sit it in there. You probably wonder why they have it. They are required, by state, to have so many things on their plate. Every student has to have a milk, they have to have at least one fruit or one vegetable. So we were trying to remind them you don’t need to take both, but it’s kind of like that system when you hear the person in front of you say, “I just want everything,” and then you’re just like, “I just want everything.” I mean, they’re first-graders, some, or second graders, so it’s like peer pressure, “They got everything. I’m going to get everything.” But, I mean, whole bananas were being thrown away, whole pieces of pizza, whole things of grapes and milk and everything like that. We set up a very, I think, efficient system, with a little bit of Lean, of when students brought up their trays, how we were going to separate and dump milk in here and measure individual milk cans and then we got a thing for fruits and vegetables and it kind of showed how much we were saving after we put the food share table in place. That’s pretty much it.
So we are doing Six Sigma projects here. It’s very hard to do a whole project in a 10-week quarter. I used to try to do both the instruction and the project and either one of the two suffered. So when I moved to engineering management, I was very thankful that I got out of the class, that is the project class that runs in the spring. So once you already know all the tools – the Gage R&R, the process map, all that kind of stuff – then we can move into the spring and just do a project that you’ll use all those tools and I can say, “Go do an attribute agreement,” and you’ll go, “Oh yeah, I get what that means.”
So anyway, that’s my interest and I’ve always wanted to do projects that matter. It’s hard and it’s hard to get permission from the process owners, the people that own the process. A lot of people don’t want to change, they don’t want you to come in, they don’t want you to look at their data, they think you’re trying to come and criticize, so it’s hard to get things started. So at this conference that I presented that last talk, I met Brion and he had a table set up for his book, he had a book called Six Sigma for Good, and it seemed like, wow, that kind of overlaps what I’m trying to do. And so I was really excited when I decided I want to do this… I shouldn’t say I decided. When I was told I’m going to do the seminar, I was like, whoa, this is perfect. I’m going to do Six Sigma and I want to do Six Sigma for Good. And so he had the book and the audio and I thought that would be a great person to bring in.
So let me tell you a little bit about Brion’s background. He is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He owns the company Business Performance Improvement in Portland, Oregon, so he’s pretty much a full-time consultant, teacher, facilitator of Six Sigma projects across the states. And he went to the University of Iowa, I can tell you that because we have another Amir is from there. And yeah, his whole series, I haven’t read the next one, the gemba, but there’s other books he has. His website has a wealth of information about doing projects and that’s one thing I need a lot of help with, I think, to figure out how do you start these, how do you get buy-in, how do you let people welcome you in to try to improve their system. So welcome, Brion, for coming.
Brion (B): Thanks, everybody. Thanks for inviting me. I appreciate it.
DE: I lied. I told him I would take five minutes. You and all know that’s impossible. I try so hard.
B: These projects are exciting, so you want to share. That’s the fun part. I mean, I get excited to hear these different projects and improvements that are going on. That’s what I like about the work I do is I just get to go in and help people make things better, so it’s super fun.
I want to just cover just a little bit of background. I want to go through just kind of how I view this kind of Lean Six Sigma for Good methodology, just run through a bunch of different examples of things. Hopefully, it’ll get the wheel spinning in your head around things that you can do or things you could try out and test and maybe make improvements to in everything that you interact with. That’s really the idea, is how do you apply all of this great learning to something meaningful, like Dr. Evans talked about. That’s what I want to be doing. At the end of the day, you have a limited time in this world, so I want to be able to say something’s better as a result of the work we do, so that’s what drives me.
I just want to go through a bunch of different examples of things, just to try to get you thinking about different ways to apply these concepts. Some quick background. I have a statistics background; that’s how I got into the Six Sigma world is I started working at an aerospace company and they needed some help there and I started to bring some of the Six Sigma methods. They were also going through a Lean methodology at the time, so I started learning Lean through the program that they already had in place and I didn’t really know much about it starting off. And so over the last 18 years that I worked there, I was learning both of these methods or bringing in one method and learning the other. I think there’s really good overlap between the two methodologies.
I got really into the environment about 10 years ago. I started realizing the kind of problems we’re having and climate change and things like that and made a connection that, hey, I’ve got the training and the things I’m doing at work is very similar, just different data set. I can use the same approach. And so I did a lot of research to try and find all the stuff out there working around Lean and Six Sigma applied to environmental problems. That kind of brought me into sustainability and I did some classes around sustainability and started doing some stuff at work, and I’ll talk about those. Got involved in nonprofits, so I’ll talk about some of those examples. I ended up moving to Portland because I thought that would be a cool place to live, a lot of good sustainability environmental programs going on, I want to be in the center of that activity, and I started consulting two and a half years ago.
So this is my consulting business, and I really tried to set it up as this triple bottom line approach of profits, people, and planet, and I think the food waste is a great example of that. They’re saving money by retaining a lot of the food or maybe, if people can go back for seconds, they don’t have to because there’s an extra banana or a pear laying around. It’s also good because you don’t want people to go home hungry and that suffers and that hurts their education and their retention of information. And it keeps things out of the landfill, which has methane emissions and greenhouse gases. So it’s a win-win-win all the way around and those are the types of projects that get me excited.
There’s bigger initiatives going on, the Sustainable Development Goals. How many of you have heard of the Sustainable Development Goals, raise your hand? Some of you? Okay. These are like global goals that countries are trying to strive for. So when I think about improvements I’m making, what of the 17 goals does this align into – clean energy and reducing hunger and equality, clean water? So there are huge challenges going on, but that’s daunting to think about, so I think about what can I do locally. And so the Multnomah County, which Portland is part of, has put together a climate action plan. And so in there, they list of different activities and things that they’re trying to do, so I try to look at both of those lists and say how are the projects I’m working on tied into those bigger challenges, but at a level that I can actually do something about because it is kind of daunting at times.
So I went through the B Corporation certification. How many of you have heard of a B Corporation? A few of you? Okay. It’s just basically saying I’m trying to do business in a way that is holistic and good all the way around and looking at my volunteer work, my donations to nonprofits, my volunteer activities, and just trying to not be so focused on where most companies are is how to do I make the most profit and that’s not motivating for me.
And 1% for the Planet is another program that says you will donate 1% of all your sales to a nonprofit organization. So there’s organizations, Patagonia was one, that helped set that up, so you’ll see that label on some things. That just says I’m interested in working with businesses who care about these types of things. I want them to be successful.
I’m assuming there’s some background with Lean and Six Sigma. How many of you have learned about Lean, specifically Lean methods? and then Six Sigma methods? More of you. Okay. So, real quick, Lean is another term that was used to describe the Toyota production system back in the late 1980s. And so for three decades now, this has been rolled out and it’s still slowly getting rolled out. Some of the groups I talk to have never heard of some of these techniques, so it’s still new. It was developed after World War II. The US people over to Japan to teach them some of the quality methods and then they took it and kind around with it and, all of a sudden, they started beating the automakers in the late 70s, early 80s. People like, “What’s going on? why are people buying these Japanese cars that used to be kind of a joke? now they’re better quality and better reliability and less costly and they’re fuel-efficient.”
But the principles go back to Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor and the Gilbreths, and so these aren’t brand-new methods, it’s just kind of packaging up for modern business. And so manufacturers got on board really early, but now we’re seeing this in healthcare, we’re seeing it in government work and it’s starting to expand out because everyone has processes and everyone has stakeholders or customers, so these methods apply.
And as Six Sigma, you’ve learned about that, that was kind of the response to the Lean movement or Toyota’s success was we need to step up our quality game. And so much more on the statistics, and there’s a belt certification to kind of keep track of where people are at with the knowledge and experience, a lot of tie with the financial costs. And GE kind of popularized that method because they claimed to save billions of dollars for their organization with Six Sigma, so it’s through success that it’s really taken off. But it even goes back to, a lot of these go back to the heart of what Dr. Deming teaches back in the 1940s, 50s and his work in Japan, and Joseph Juran. So again, not new techniques or tools but how do you bring them into a business settings and apply them and then not just manufacturers; how do you get it into every type of organization.
So within each of these, there’s what we’re looking for in process improvement is where is the waste and inefficiency in the process. And so there’s different types of waste that get identified. When you overproduce something, when you have inventory, when you have defects, when you transport or have a lot of motion, that’s wasting time from getting something to your end customer. And with those come environmental impacts. When you have inventory, that means you need more building space and that means you’ve got to heat, cool, and light the space and that uses energy. So if we can cut down the amount of inventory we need, we don’t need this big a building or we don’t have to expand our building and construct with new materials and the energy and the carbon that goes along with that. Each of these, when we make efficiency improvements, naturally, we actually reduce our environmental impact as well. O that’s kind of a nice benefit there, a side benefit but that’s not often… Usually, the companies are going after these main issues and they’re not really realizing that they can have a good positive impact on the environment. So I’m trying to get organizations to realize that they can go and help this and help their business as well; it doesn’t have to be a trade-off.
I want to break this into a couple of different categories. I want to look at where the impact I might be having or trying to have an impact on, either on the environmental standpoint or just like social good, community services, that type of world, and then whether I was doing this as part of my paid job or this is volunteer personal time, so four different buckets.
So let’s start with the first one, environmental activities going on at work. I mentioned I worked at an aerospace company and so when I started getting into the environmental piece, I said we should probably have a green team, so I set up a green team. No one said I should or said you need to do this; I just,” I’m going to set this up to see if anyone shows up.” And so that is something that you could do. If you end up getting a job somewhere, you can say, “This is something important to me. I want to see if other people in my company are also interested in that topic.” Just set up a meeting or talk to a couple of people and say, “Hey, do you want to get together over lunch and talk about what we can do, as employees, to put in recycling in our cafeteria or put a compost bin out there. What would that take?” We also had these green bag sessions where we had employees come in and talk about things that they’re doing. How did they get to work? by bike. How are they traveling two hours on a bus to get here and what’s their route look like? and so people would just educate other employees about what they’re doing from a sustainability standpoint or how they greening their lifestyle. That’s really powerful to hear peer-to-peer or coworker-to-coworker discussions. We called that the green bag session instead of a brownbag session.
We had an Earth Day fair. We brought in organizations and nonprofits and had employees come through and learn about different things. So we’re not imposing it on them, just giving them an opportunity to learn over their lunch hour. So we did a couple of those sessions, then the local county had a sustainability program, so we followed their criteria and went through that and assessed ourselves and go through the top level for the sustainability and got awards for that and we got recognition. They put our name in the paper and they wrote an article about us. That’s free publicity for the organization, and so that’s a benefit for them. It’s marketing and branding that they didn’t even think about or realize. But we also addressed some of… We got some good infrastructure going for greeting our cleaning supplies and stuff like that, so it was a really good checklist, as a starting point, for our organization.
Now I’m going to talk about two projects I did specifically. The first one was we were trying to Lean out our manufacturing floor. What you notice here, in the before picture, is there was a lot of carts and they cart everything around in the building and they’re just all over the place and actually getting in the way. It was a safety issue and it was just cluttering this place, so it looks just over… It was just busy and messy and disorganized. So as we were streamlining our process, we started to realize we don’t need that many carts. If we control how much work is being done in the process and not overproduce, we only need 30 carts instead of 50 carts. What happens, it turned out, that there were going to replace all those carts anyways because they didn’t have the right electrostatic issues with them. So they had a purchase order out there for 52 carts and so when we finished our Lean efforts, we came back and said, “Actually, we don’t need 52; only order 30,” which is still a lot of carts, but. So right there, we saved 20 carts from being purchased, so we saved money and the material and all the energy that went into making those 20 carts maybe can go some to somebody else, so we’re cutting down the environmental part of that. I think it was like 500 bucks a cart, so this was not cheap carts. So just by doing some Lean improvements, we actually had a good positive impact on the environment too.
I also did an electricity reduction project where I used more Six Sigma methods. This was a challenge because the building was like a million square feet, which was like huge. It’s like a whole city block. And so we did some regression modeling and found that temperature is the driver, of course, and that makes sense. This was in Iowa and you guys have very similar timing here. It’s very dependent on the outside temperature. And you could say, “Well, we can’t do anything about that,” but the question is what is affected, inside the building, by the temperature? it’s the heating and cooling system, so as we dug into that a little deeper, we started realizing they run this heating and cooling 24-7 – overnight, over the weekend – in case an employee comes in and needs a comfortable work environment. So we pushed back on that and we collected data and we got some feedback from a pilot group that said here are the actual times when they’re swiping their badge in and out; it’s not as often as they said. They were coming in and out, “We come in on the weekend all the time.” Well, not according to the badge swipe data you’re not. So we tried to get some real data versus just what, anecdotally, people were saying.
So with that, we actually walked around and found all 50, I think there’s like 55, substations in the building and we went around and took samples, manually, off each station that said it’s 2 o’clock, it’s station number 12, they have 174 kW being pulled right now and we’ve gathered that data. That also pointed us to the HVAC as the source of most of the energy being pulled at any snapshot in time. So with all the different pieces, we were able to get some buy-in that there’s an opportunity to cut back that energy. We also had to deal with the change management part of that, they had already bought some override buttons, but they hadn’t got them installed because it would cost them $50,000 to install them from labor. So they already have the materials, but they didn’t have the approval to do the labor part of it. But when we showed them the data in our pilot study, just like Dr. Evans was talking about, the pilot at the private school, that was the data we needed to be able to show that this is going to pay for itself. That $50,000 is going to turn into $300,000 in savings. Just like that, it got approved because we had the data to do that. The idea was already there, they had already come up with the idea but they couldn’t get any further without that data, so that was a huge reduction of energy.
So in personal life, as part of my sustainability project, I kicked off a project at the local stadium. I was trying to increase the recycling going on at the stadium. And so the data was very poor; all we had was one data point. We had one game, in the previous season, where they had collected data on how much diversion they had. Basically, they measured how much total trash was generated and how much went into recycling and they were at 25%. So not a good sample size, of course, but I say it, I’ll take one data point over no data points. In analysis, you kind of take what you can get, so any data is better than none and I’ll take five data points over three, but you do what you can. And so we worked through some efforts to try to improve that and we came up with some simple improvements, but really, the methodology of DMAIC was what really helped sell this project. We got the stakeholders involved early, from facilities to security to athletic department, and we talked about this problem. I wanted to say I don’t want to go down this path if I don’t have support there. I’d love to do this project, but I also don’t want to waste my time. And so that structure of define, measure early on really helped get the buy-in for that project. If you don’t do that, you get down here and you have these great ideas but nobody’s really excited about implementing them and it’s going to go nowhere. So I think that was really more the powerful piece of it. It wasn’t the analysis so much, it was really the structure of defining out the problem at the beginning. So what we ended up doing was putting in some bins and making it more accessible for the fans and then doing some other stuff on the backend with the students who were cleaning up the stadium.
The other thing we did was a waste sort. So we actually took one game and we pulled about 50 trash bags and we went through it all and sorted it all out manually. It was messy and it was gross, but it was very eye-opening, especially for the students who really kind of saw the impact. I think you talked about that earlier. And this is part of the Lean method is really get your hands in there and see what’s going on in the process and it’s really eye-opening for employees and people. It’s like they don’t really understand the problem until you really get into the details and it’s like really powerful. So we got it up to 50%, so it’s not may be as high as we would like to get it, but it’s an improvement and this is the continuous improvement mindset – just keep getting better and better every year. The cool part is this has actually is sustained itself through the last season. We found a fraternity that took over some of the coordination of the volunteers. They had done some marketing campaigns. In 2012, when we do the project, I wanted an advertisement on the scoreboard. It didn’t happen and I finally saw, last fall, that there was an ad that went up on the scoreboard finally. So it took seven years for it to happen, but it’s still going strong and so that, to me, is really exciting that it’s maintained and sustained. That’s another really challenging part is how do you keep the signs from falling down and how do you keep the adherence to that process and keep it going and momentum. That can be really a challenge for improvements.
I also just decided… I met somebody who there was an Indiegogo campaign for a wallet manufacturer in Kosrae, which is in Micronesia. Does anyone know where Micronesia is or have heard of Micronesia before, the Federated States of Micronesia? I heard a little bit about it through a sustainability course, because I was looking at we had to do a report on countries and this popped up and I’m like I see this on the drop-down menu when you look for states. It’s actually part of the US, so if you go through sometimes on drop-downs, you’ll see Federated States of Micronesia. I thought it was like a joke that somebody put it in there, but it’s actually located… It’s like a series of islands in the middle of nowhere and they were making wallets and I said, “I’d like to go visit there. That looks really cool and I bet nobody has been there.” They get like 1000 visitors a year, so literally no one goes there to visit, but it’s beautiful. They make wallets and they make them out of banana fiber. So they take trees that have had their harvest, banana trees, but they just sit in the farms and, usually, the farmers burn them to get them out of the way, so they said, well, let’s grab those and let’s harvest them and turn them into a paper. The paper is strong enough that can turn it into a wallet. Those of you who got a business card, that is the banana fiber, so they made those business cards.
And so they have zero waste operation. They use old coconut husks to produce the… They had to cook the fibers and loosen them up, and so really cool operation. And so I got a chance, this summer, to go and I spent five weeks on the island. I just volunteered my time because I wanted to go there and I said, “Do you want some help with like your operations?” and they were like, “Desperately, yeah. I just kind of set up this business. I’m not really a business operator, kind of learning on the fly. So if you can come give me some consulting help, I’ve got a place for you to stay.” I was like, “That sounds like a great deal,” so that was really cool experience.
What they struggled with was attendance and productivity, and so using data, we started to collect the data. And so every four hours, I would go and grab all the time cards and type them into a spreadsheet and look at how many wallets they produced, and depending on the size of the wallet, I would give them different points or credits for that. They were trying to come up with a way to measure productivity to see if there are differences between the different sewers and how are things going and where are the problems at in the operations. The other thing was looking at attendance and saying how do we improve attendance? Who’s doing well with attendance? Who’s showing up all the time and who isn’t showing up? can we understand the root of the issues? is it a transportation problem? is issues going on at home that they prioritize that over coming to work? is it that they have enough money and they don’t want to work the rest of the month? so try to get into some of the heart of the issues behind that. So just trying to get at the data and then start to track that data. So nothing real complicated, but just giving the owners some visibility to what’s going on in the operation and starting to look at it more from a statistical standpoint and a charting standpoint. We did a lot of different things, but that was kind of the guts of what I spent a lot of time on, just trying to understand their productivity and look for opportunities to take out time in that operation.
Because of that recycling project, when I came out to Portland, I got involved with a nonprofit around recycling. The campaign that we put together was called Bring Your Own Cup. Portland loves their coffee. They’ve got coffee shops about every block. I think we counted like 300 coffee shops in Portland. It’s a little overkill, but they all thrive because people just like their coffee. So we said let’s go after that from an environmental standpoint and I’d never really got involved with a nonprofit. I was going in pretty blind. So I got in right when they were starting this campaign, so I kind of took over and started to run that.
One thing I tried to do is apply Lean Startup methods to that that says before we invest a lot of money in graphics and messaging and print up a bunch of materials and take them to coffee shops and say, “Can you hand these out?” maybe we should go talk to them first and find out what they want. And so there were some interviews going on and we took some rough drafts and some sketches and said, “Is this something you would put up in your store?” Because if you can’t get through that part of it, everything we would’ve done would’ve been a total waste. This is not a big nonprofit, so we don’t have a lot of money to work with and the supplies cost money and so the worst thing we could have done is printed out something, take them to the shop and say, “Can you guys hang these out?” and they’re like, “No, we don’t like the messaging,” or the logo or the branding or, “We want to do our own thing,” and now we’re out of money and we’re not even making a difference. So Lean Startup says go to your customers and talk to them first and give them something very minor or minimal and get feedback immediately before you spend any kind of effort or money on your solution. These are just solutions and ideas at this point. Luckily, we got some pretty good response about our Bring Your Own Cup campaign, but we did find some interesting things. We were going to make these trifolds and put them on the tables. We were ready to print up a bunch of those and we were like let’s see if the shops like that and they hated those. They were like, “Do not put anything on the coffee tables. People bring their laptops; they want the full space of the table. And then, every night, we put the chairs up and we don’t want to be taking these things on and off all the time.” So that was awesome feedback to hear before we wasted a bunch of money and effort on making these trifolds. We thought it was a great idea, but our end-users did not. That’s the startup mindset.
Also, we put together a zero waste conference and we’ve got videos on the Recycling Advocates website, if you’re interested in zero waste. We have different speakers talking about different topics. But in Six Sigma, we talk about the FMEA tool and how do we mitigate risk. And so, for a conference, I was really concerned. I’d never put on to a conference before, so I tried to walk through. Okay, if I was an attendee, what would I do? I need to get to the conference. How do I get there? Do we have directions on the website? do we have bus routes listed? when I park, where do I park at when I got there? where do I walk when I come into the building? how do I navigate into the building quick? then when they get there, okay, do we have a place for restrooms? Do we have signs for where the restrooms are at? do they something to drink? should we have water available? and this is tricky with a zero waste conference because you don’t want to provide anything because that’s a really tough crowd. So anything that’s handouts or napkins or plastic straws, that’s not going to go over well, so we really had to think about how do we do this in a very sustainable way.
We basically tried to use some kind of a similar version of the an FMEA. I didn’t go through and score it all out with severity occurrence and detection and RPN scores, but I just walked to the whole process and said what can go wrong? what can fail and have we thought about that, and mitigate that in some way. I feel like that really helped. It went off really smoothly. I think we only had one or two small issues, but I think that mindset around risk management was really good to make it a successful event. So I tried to apply some Lean and Six Sigma into that process.
In the community side of it, if you work at a company, there’s some great companies that actually give you time to go do volunteer work. Some people don’t even know that. They work at the company and say, “I had no idea that they’ll give me time to go volunteer and get paid for that time.” So I’m trying to encourage people, if you work somewhere, go talk and look through your employee handbook and find out. Maybe they will actually let you take time off and go do stuff because it’s good for the employees. When companies give employees time to give back to the community, they know that you’re more likely to stick with that company because your values start to align and they said, “We’re not just about making money; we actually care about our whole community too.” So check and see, or if you’re evaluating a company to work for, ask them about, “Do you guys do volunteer work? Do you allow for volunteer work or does it always have to be on my own time?” And so that can be a real good benefit. So if you have that as an option, please take advantage of that. It doesn’t have to be on your own personal time, so there’s some stuff that you can look for. I’ll provide all of these slides for you guys to have.
So then community work from a personal standpoint, volunteer work. I’m part of a group called the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers, that’s for Dr. Evans and I met, that’s where Emir and I met too. And so part of each annual conference, the Sustainable Development Division started to do some volunteer projects. So they’d pick a nonprofit and they have people come in a little early for the conference and go and volunteer for a couple of hours. So I thought that was really cool and so I joined in the second year of that program and then I ran and coordinated that initiative the last couple of years. This year, we’re going to be in New Orleans, and so we’re trying to nail down who that nonprofit is going to be. But we go in and we bring the industrial engineering group, which usually has a lot of good Lean background that they get trained on, and we have people go explain their process and we watch the process – either at a food bank or at their Habitat for Humanity or in a community garden or a clothing donation processor, another kind of restore building of furniture that got donated to them. We just look for more efficient ways to do the work and we give them suggestions and recommendations when we’re done. So we’re not just there to provide a set of hands, but to actually give them more consulting advice, so leveraging the training and skills we have to some of the nonprofits that don’t really have that background or the staff haven’t gone through that type of training before. They don’t have engineering degrees; they don’t have maybe degrees in business management or MBA people in their organizations. That have people who are passionate about the problem and the mission, but not necessarily know how to run a business or organization, kind of learning on the fly.
When I moved to Portland, there was a group called Lean Portland that had just gotten going. The founder of that, Matt Horvat, had done some work with a nonprofit and he wanted to use this group as a networking group to kind of keep in touch with the local community. So over the last couple of years, we started to get together as a team and go out and work with local nonprofits on an ongoing basis. So that conference is kind of a one-time deal – you go there, you volunteer, and then you leave and say, “Good luck.” Now, we could have some ongoing work and we could train and we could check in on them and follow up with them, so that’s been really cool. It’s good development to have to see new processes and say, “Where’s your data?” and they say, “We don’t have data. So now help us out.” So those are new challenges that you don’t see, maybe, in the business setting, so it’s a good experience. We’ve had people come and say, “I took some Lean training, but my company doesn’t do Lean,” or, “I took my Green Belt but I don’t have a project,” and so we can try to connect them up and say, “We’re working with is nonprofit and they’ve got a perfect project for you. This is where you can apply what you learned and maybe get your certification.”
So we’ve done some work, we helped redesign a new check-out area for one nonprofit. We helped them establish these welcome stations, because that was confusing for people. When they walk in, they don’t know the rules and how things work, so we just set up a simple board and then they have evolved that and expanded it to make it nicer, so that’s continuous improvement. Just get something out there and then slowly try to improve over time. We did some 5S activity and cleaned up and organized certain areas. This is just kind of a mess, and so let’s have hooks and let’s have labels and let’s stick to that. Cleanup and declutter this area and free up some space. This is a safety problem too, people tripping over or stepping on things or customers… I actually have a rip in one of my jeans because there was a metal pole sticking out of one of the walkways that I caught my jeans on it at one time, so that’s a safety concern. And so just helping them get more organized in their process.
This is an electronics recycling nonprofit, and so they either repurpose and resell mobile devices and laptops and computers, or they recycle them in a very structured way. This was the before picture. If you were a volunteer and you go in there and they say, “Can you go try to fix that iPhone 6S?” Good luck. Unless you work there, you might know where all the cords are and where the instructions are, but for a volunteer, it’s not a very welcoming space. So they went through and de-cluttered and organized and actually pulled everything out of their stock and said what do we actually have here so they can actually see what they… And then the salesperson came and said, “These are going pretty well. These are good. Can you make as many of those as you can?” instead of just, “I like this. I’m going to work on this next.” They had some structure to their process, finally, and then they were able to repair the right things at the right time that actually would sell. It does no good to repair something and it sits on the shelf. That creates inventory, that’s one of the wastes.
One of the other places looking at sales. So we break down the data and look at some simple boxplots and some simple data and say where are your sales at? obviously, Saturdays are good days. And what are these potential outliers in our data? what does that tell us? why was it such a good day of sales? what can we learn from the successes? and what happened on this day – was it a weather problem? was it a communication issue? did we open late? did we not have staffing on that day? let’s understand and look at our data and then look for the anomalies, good and bad. So start to use the data that is available, which is limited, it’s not as detailed as I’d like to see, but like I said, I’ll take what I can get and we’ll see what we can learn from the information we do have available.
So here are some of the organizations that I’ve done some work with as part of this Lean Portland group. A lot of donation processing because that’s very tangible and it almost looks like a manufacturing process, so people understand that. But there are groups, like Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, that’s all virtual and they just have five people in an office and they put on events and have sponsorships and they help connect people together. That’s not tangible, but we can do stuff visually and put their projects on a board and events on a piece of paper in their office and they can see where everything is at, so visualizing the work is a big element.
My goal is to try to replicate this model everywhere so that any nonprofit can go to a local community or volunteer group like that, who have some process experience or consulting knowledge and experience and say, “This is the problem and challenge we have. Can somebody help us on, a volunteer basis, to fix that potential issue?” And so, of course, my background is Lean and Six Sigma, so that’s kind of my focus around it, but it could be anything. Any kind of skill you have, there are nonprofits that probably need that. So that’s a more rewarding experience than just going in and just being a set of hands and just doing kind of a… They need that work done, but also, it’s better to help them make that work better. So I’ve got a long ways to go. We have got a couple of different groups set up. That’s kind of my long-term goal and that’s the reason I put that book together.
So just to recap, the volunteer experience, it’s really how do you best utilize the volunteers for these nonprofits. That’s what they thrive on, is the people donating their time. What we don’t want is for them to come into a process that’s confusing, disorganized, hard to follow, requires hours of training. So how do we simplify the experience for the volunteers so they get in and are effective and useful right away, they have a better time, and they actually come back the second time? so that’s what a lot of them are struggling with is how do I simplify the work for a volunteer. It’s really trying to push the envelope a little bit to challenge people to say let’s simplify the process so that it’s not so confusing.
But the comment I get a lot is, “I don’t want to work in a factory; that’s why I worked in a nonprofit,” and I try to tell them it’s not that bad of a place. If you’ve ever been to a factory, they’re not terrible places to work, but I get the idea that they think it’s going to be robotic and structured and just work, work, work, work all the time and that’s not really the approach, but it’s been eight interesting to hear that comment. We want them to make an immediate impact when they get there. The nice thing about this group that we put together, instead of me just going off and working with groups, over time, life happens. People get new jobs and they’re like, “I can’t volunteer for a while,” or, “My work is overwhelming. I can’t make it to that meeting.” So having backups has been really effective, so a team of people has been really good.
And then donation processes are very different from other traditional processes because you don’t get to control what comes to you. In a lot of manufacturing companies, you buy things, what you want, at the right time. Donations just to show up, and so you have to kind of think of ways to apply these concepts where you don’t control what you’re getting. So that’s been kind of an interesting challenge for me and really something that I’ve been learning the best way to teach and help them with those processes.
There’s just a couple of resources. I have an outline course; I think you sent out the link to that. It teaches Lean and Six Sigma with a tie to the environmental aspect, but just a good overview of some contract concepts. I have a podcast I put together with different interviews and topics and presentations like this that I give. I have a website here in Lean Six Sigma for Good, which is a lot of examples – every example that I could find that’s around government, nonprofits, how to run a zoo more efficiently, medical care in Africa. Whatever I could find where there’s a social good or positive impact on the environment, I just put those out there. So you can search for a lot of different things on there if you’re looking for an example or if you know somebody who works at an organization, say, “Here, I found a government agency applying it to billing and it’s in Seattle, but you’ll get the gist of how these concepts can help.”
And so a couple of different books that are out there you might check out related to environmental work or nonprofit work with Lean and Six Sigma methods. The one that Dr. Evans was talking about was I grabbed people that I knew that had done some volunteer work and I said, “Can you write a chapter about your experience, so if someone wants to volunteer, they can learn from your best practices.” That’s something we just released pretty recently. The EPA put out some toolkits around Lean in the Environment and Lean and Six Sigma methods, so those are free and available. I can’t find the links. The EPA website has changed a little bit lately, so I have links to these. I downloaded them just in case. But they put out some really good stuff 10 or 15 years ago, so that’s a good opportunity. That’s my website, that’s the Lean Portland website, the Lean Six Sigma for Good website, and there’s also Lean for NGO, nongovernmental organizations. You can check that out too.
So recap, Lean and Six Sigma can help for-profit companies reduce their environmental impacts, either directly, going after like electricity reduction, or indirectly, Leaning out their process and, “I don’t need as many carts.” Nonprofits and government agencies need help with Lean and Six Sigma to solve some of those challenges, so if you have that background, those are areas that are in desperate need of that help. They just aren’t aware of it and they don’t have people that can help them with it. And your employer may allow you time to do some of that work; it doesn’t all have to be on your own time. But if that’s the only way you can volunteer, it’s really rewarding, and it is a great way to network with people. Some people don’t have…they’re not enjoying their job and some of the nonprofit volunteering work they do really kind of rounds that out a little bit better. Any questions? I guess we’re done talking.
DE: Yeah, we’re about. So if you are not taking the course but you have questions, you can send them to me and I can pass them on. And if you want the slides, just email me and I can pass those along. I really appreciate everybody coming and some people we’ll see the rest of the day, but you’re welcome to join us for different parts; I have a schedule. But thank you and thanks, Brion, for coming and giving us your time.
B: Thank you very much for having me.