In this podcast, I share a presentation that was Part 1 of a 2-part sustainability webinar series sponsored by Iowa Sustainable Business Forum and Iowa Lean Consortium (part of CIRAS). It was geared towards introducing those in sustainability roles to Lean methods, which have become some of the most popular improvement methods used in high-performing organizations in manufacturing, healthcare, government and many other industries. Lean is a continuous improvement method that applies to many organizations – not just manufacturers.
I share the basic pillars and principles of Lean along with case studies of how organizations like the St Bernard Project, City of Denver, Free Geek, and Province of Saskatchewan have applied Lean to reduce environmental and social issues.
Through this video and podcast, you will learn:
- The origins of Lean methods along with the basic principles
- About the eight types of waste, and how they impact the environment negatively
- How Lean has been applied to other organizations looking to improve their environmental or social impact
- About resources and websites to enhance your Lean knowledge
You can watch the video below, or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aHHIap4-0k
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- FREE online course called “Lean Six Sigma and the Environment”
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Have you ordered the new book, “Lean Six Sigma for Good: Lessons from the Gemba (Volume 2)?” The book is made up of 8 chapters written about experiences from Lean and Six Sigma practitioners, to give you tips and tricks to help you work with nonprofits in your area. All proceeds donated to charity. You can also order Volume 1 released in 2019.
Megan: Welcome to today’s webinar from the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum. Today’s event is the first in a two-part series designed to help your business apply Lean methods to further your sustainability efforts. Specifically, we’ll be taking a look at the basic pillars and principles of the Lean continuous improvement method, ESG and sustainability definitions, ratings and performance, where and how risk and quality management strategies like Lean integrate into ESG and sustainability performance, and some real-world examples of how Lean has been applied to organizations looking to improve their environmental or social impact. Each webinar will be recorded and posted in our library for you and your colleagues to reference. Please keep in mind that a member login is required to access the videos.
Our subject matter experts for this series are Brion Hurley and Adam Hammes. Brion is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt at Business Performance Improvement. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics, a Master’s degree in Quality Management and Productivity, and a Certificate in Sustainability, all from the University of Iowa. He teaches Lean and Six Sigma classes, facilitates workshops and events, performs statistical analysis, and mentors employees through improvement efforts. He volunteers his time with local nonprofits and is the author of the Lean Six Sigma for Good book series.
Adam has 20 years of experience as a corporate ESG and sustainability consultant, author, and instructor. He is the founder of multiple organizations, and has earned his MBA with a focus on Sustainability. Adam has international education and leadership experience integrating ESG and sustainability into corporate strategy, and holds many for professional credentials. In his early career, Adam led environmental initiatives at Kum & Go, and implemented continuous process improvement in energy water and waste as a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. Today’s webinar will be led primarily by Brion, and Adam will take the lead for part two on Thursday.
Brion: Thanks everyone. Thanks for joining. I just want to talk about Lean methodology and how that can help businesses and organizations looking to improve on any kind of metric or goal that they have. Here’s a little bit of my contact information. I run a consulting firm called Business Performance Improvement my background and a lot of my learning about Lean methods came when I worked at Rockwell Collins out of school. I spent 18 years there, and that’s how I got connected in with the Iowa Lean Consortium, which is a group of organizations that are in the state of Iowa or the surrounding states, working on sharing best practices and networking around how they’re implementing it and improving their business. My experience at Rockwell led me to want to go out on my own and do consulting, so I’ve been doing that since 2017.
We’re going to go through some of the basic principles. We’re going to talk about eight types of waste and how they have a direct tie to environmental impacts. We’ll look at how you can apply these methodologies to environmental and social impacts, and also some resources and links to learn a little bit more if you like this topic and would like to dig into it a little bit deeper.
First is this term Lean. Where does it come from and what does it mean exactly, because there’s a lot of confusion and people get a bad connotation around that term. It sounds like it’s going to be a cost cutting measure or we’re going to try to trim out the fat in our organization. That’s not really what it is intended for, but it sounds like that when you hear that term. It actually came out of a research that was done at MIT when they were studying American automakers versus Japanese automakers. They looked at the differences and they just said the Japanese automakers look like they’re doing things leaner. They have less inventory, there’s less chaos, things seem to run a little smoother, you can see more consistency in the work being done, and so that term stuck.
It was really a lot of research and work of many different Japanese companies, but Toyota is probably the one that they studied the most and have been the most open and willing to share what they were doing. You might hear the term Toyota Production System because that’s a very popular term that was used in Toyota, of course, and then it gets expanded and just morphed into this term Lean. But it’s a lot of what was taught and researched and what they observed looking at Toyota and the success they’ve had for decades.
Really, the key is around finding and solving problems and doing that with teams do the work. If we keep these principles very simple and not think about a car manufacturer but our own organizations, we all have problems, we all have workers who work in those areas who have to deal with the problems or sometimes create the problems or are helping resolve those issues, and they can’t do it themselves. They have to work with a team of other people who are part of the whole process. We want to make the work easier and more organized. Those should be general principles that any organization can think about and apply.
If we look in sustainability, Lean doesn’t really touch on sustainability directly, but when you look at some of the principles and the way they do things, you can see these threads being pulled through. One of the most well-known people in the Toyota Production System is a manager named Taiichi Ohno who worked at Toyota. He was studying Henry Ford, and Henry Ford had a revolutionary way of producing vehicles back in the early 1900s, and that was by creating an assembly line. That formed the basis for a lot of the principles that we see today. So over 100 years ago, these principles were in play, yet we see that there’s still a lack of implementation or a lack of utilization of some of these methodologies even though it’s been around a long time.
Taiichi Ohno studied Ford very closely and adopted a lot of those same principles, but also expanded on it and they came up with their own methods and enhanced what they learned from US automakers and also what was done in early World War II. In the book Today and Tomorrow, Ford talks about a couple things that have a sustainability lens to it. He really tried to bring down the cost of his vehicles; that’s why he was looking for productivity gains. He wanted his workers to be able to afford to buy a vehicle, and that was not possible at the time. They were just too expensive, but he thought if I could bring the cost down, I can make it something they could afford to buy because they’re probably pretty passionate about the product; they’re making every day. He looked at ways to streamline and get raw material converted into a sellable product as quickly as possible.
He also doubled the worker pay in that community, and this was up near Detroit, because he realized it was actually less expensive to keep people around than it was to keep hiring new people with all the turnover. That was pretty revolutionary at the time. He said it’s worth it. I’m going to save money by paying them better. What a concept. He also introduced a profit-sharing program, so he was giving the employees some incentive, some buy-in into the organization itself. He’s responsible or is one of the early pioneers of the 40-hour workweek. I think, before that, they were working 50, 60 hours, and it was viewed as, as much time as they had available, that’s what they should be working. He said, no, we need to give people time off and give them a break and they’ll actually come back rejuvenated and relaxed and ready to go and be productive. The longer they work each week, the less productive they get. He also did a lot of work on the environmental part of it by reducing wood usage during production, and minimizing fuel, and reducing metal scrap because he saw that as waste and loss of money and income.
He also talked about salvaging people and giving them jobs that give them a sense of pride and be productive citizens. He even set up an orphanage for at-risk youth, the Henry Ford School for Boys, and really invested in that. He really wanted to have a way to help people in need. That has a lot of these similar sustainability lenses that a lot of your organizations are trying to achieve as well. I wrote up a summary of that in the link there.
Let’s look at the principles a little deeper. First one, invest in employee learning to increase their engagement. Sometimes when times are tough and costs are being pinched, we tend to back away from training. What happens is people say they’re not investing in my skill or my knowledge, and so people feel like they’re not wanted or needed. And then we’re not allowing them to learn new skills, which they could bring back and apply to make their work better or make the processes better. So it’s really about investing in employees’ learning even through experimentation and failure. That is a moment of learning, and it’s okay to have mistakes and errors if we learn from them correctly.
The principles talk about defining what value is. You go to your stakeholders and your customers and you ask the question what is valuable to you. Everything else that does not provide value, you look at it and say why do we do this? Let’s stop doing it. It allows us to focus on the tasks and activities that actually impact our customer, or end user, or stakeholders. Sometimes we don’t really understand what our stakeholders and customers really want. We also need to solve problems at the gemba, which is where the work is being done. We don’t solve problems in a conference room or a meeting. We go to where the problem is happening and we ask questions, and we observe, and we talk to people, and that’s how we solve problems.
We also have to look at something called the value stream, the whole perspective from when you get requested for your product or service to when you deliver it. That’s a systems view, a systems thinking perspective. A lot of times, we look at things in isolation and we make decisions based on my task or my activity, and I don’t see what happens before and after my work. We have to look at it as a whole system or you may end up sub-optimizing your work. That happens way more than you realize.
We want to create flow. Once we start working on something, the goal is to finish it and get it off our plate and move on to something else. We tend to jump around to different things, and nothing actually gets finished, and that can slow down a productivity. We want to work on one thing at a time. We don’t want to batch of our work because that creates other problems with inventory and confusion, and errors and mistakes go up. Our customers and end users suffer because it slows down the process even though it feels like it’s an efficient way to do the work.
We also want to pull only when the customer is ready for it. They might say, “I need that next week,” but you should check with them and say, “Do you still need it next week or do you need it a couple of days later because we want to give it to you with the latest and greatest information on it?” We don’t want to give it to you too early, and we obviously don’t want to give to too late. We want to give it to you just in time, JIT.
It also looks at problems and opportunities as our problems as opportunities. They’re not things we need to shy away from or hide, but to bring to light and say if we fix this, we can make our organization run better, so it’s changing the mindset around how to deal with problems. Make them obvious, make them stand out, make them painful so they get the attention and we can actually resolve it. But a lot of organizations try to had problems and they don’t want to talk about it because there’s fear there, fear of being blamed, fear of being laid off, fear of being yelled at, and that’s not good. That’s not a good culture.
There’s a key element we call respect for people, and that includes not only the workers and people in your organization, but the local community that you work in and serve. How do we do this in a respectful way? If you see something happening in your organization, you don’t say, “Why are you doing it like that?” Or, “You’re not supposed to do that way.” You ask questions like, “I noticed you’re doing it in a certain way. Can you tell me why?” That’s a much more respectful way and you’ll get a more honest answer than you’re going in and being very forceful and putting a person on edge or they already feel like they’re being attacked. They’re going to respond differently.
The way you do that is by blaming the process. All of the problems stem from process issues, not people. People are, hopefully, trying to do a good job. Let’s assume that they’re here to try to do a good job, so if we have problems, it’s probably the process isn’t working. If you go with that attitude, you start to see people will start telling you the truth about what’s going on in your organization and you can start resolving some of those process issues. So they’re not a bad worker, they just got hired into the wrong organization or the wrong department or the wrong job because our hiring processes isn’t very good. Hopefully, that makes sense.
We’re looking for simple, low-tech solutions to problems. We’re not looking for automation, AI, and computers as the first thing we try to do. Let’s really understand it and let’s come up with some simple ways to solve this problem. It doesn’t have to be complex or fancy or highly technical because that allows us to actually implement it quickly. Some of those other things can take weeks or months or years to implement. What could we do right now to make things a little bit better than they are today?
We’re also trying to work smarter, not harder. We’re not trying to make people work harder and go faster. It’s let’s minimize the complexity, let’s simplify the process, let’s take away steps that are unnecessary. That will allow us to go faster without trying harder. We try out ideas all under the guise of an experiment, let’s see what happens. Let’s try this out. I don’t know how it’s going to work. I think it will work, but we’ll never know until we try, so instead of us talking about it for days or weeks, let’s just go try something and see if it works. If it doesn’t, great, we learned something new and we’ll make adjustments.
That means that the improvements will never end. Your organization will never run out of problems. You’ll always have things to work on. There’s always new opportunities that creep up. Your customers, your stakeholders, your end users, your local community, they’re going to want changes. They want to see things improve and get better, so it’s never-ending. You strive for perfection, and you’ll never get there, and that’s okay. It’s the striving for perfection to try to focus on.
These are some of those key principles that make up the heart of a lot of the tools and methodologies that I’ll talk about a little bit later. One of the tools that we start off with is learning about the different types of waste in our process. There’s a couple of different acronyms. One of them I use is called TIMWOODS, and it represents different terms and words that you can think of and look for your process. If you see people transporting products or documents from one place to another, that’s an opportunity to say why do we have these groups spread out so far? If you see waiting, what’s causing the delay here and how do we get rid of that delay? Is there an approval we’re waiting for? Who’s approving that? Why are they approving it? What is their criteria? How do we give the criteria of approval to the people doing the work? Those types of things, we’ll look for. Obviously, defects and errors and mistakes cause delays in the process, so we want to do the work correctly the first time. If we have to go back and fix something and do it again a second or third time, that’s going to slow down the process. These are things in the process you study and look for, and if you see them, then you say there’s an opportunity. It’s something you practice and you start to get good at observing these things.
One of the cool things is that a lot of these wastes also generate environmental impact. If you have, let’s say, defects down here, it can lead to excess items that have to be recycled or disposed of, and that adds cost to your organization. Even if you can recycle it, it’s better to use it in its goal state, not getting some kind of partial credit for it later. We want to use it to its full life, and we don’t want to have to throw it away. We want to find another use for it so we don’t have to pay you for hauling fees for somebody to take away and throw it into a landfill.
If we have inventory, that means we have to store a lot of items somewhere, and we have to use heating and cooling and maybe light the space, and that is added utility costs. When we have transportation and motion, that might require extra packaging to protect something that’s being shipped or sent somewhere. The further it goes, the more protection it needs, and then there’s fuel and energy needed to transport those items.
So as we reduce the waste in our process, we also are having a positive impact on our environmental use. This was something that came out of some documents that the EPA put out, back in about mid-2000’s, that showed the connection between process waste and environmental waste. We can also look at these core five areas as places we can look at our organization for our environmental impacts. Are we consuming and utilizing water correctly and efficiently? Are we polluting into our local air? Are we throwing away or putting things in the landfill, like solid waste? Are we producing chemicals or hazardous waste as toxins? And how are we consuming the energy from our utilities, the natural gas and electricity? Are we doing that as efficiently and as effectively as possible? These are some areas you can start to look at and say how much are we consuming of each of these areas, if any, and then maybe we can use those as opportunities, utilizing Lean methods, to improve on them.
There’s a different methodologies you could use to go about that, but a lot of it is around pulling together teams of people from different departments and looking at it from different perspectives and brainstorming and learning about how these different things are generated and used by the business and organization, and chipping away at that. There might already be emphasis on being conscious about these things, but how do we use the power of the team and the workers to get some great ideas out and build support and buy-in around tackling these issues? A lot of them working in sustainable organizations already are passionate about these topics, but with the Lean methods can provide a framework for which to go about doing it. Instead of just let’s meet in room and talk about it, we can follow these different tools and methodologies to get there quicker and more effectively.
I’m just going to walk through a couple of examples. The first one I want to highlight is a government agency. This is the city of Denver and their Department of Health and Human Services. They had a lot of long waiting times and frustration from citizens and the people working in that process. It took about five days to complete a single application, and usually these applications were for residents in need, they were recently laid off from their job, looking for unemployment benefits, and things like that. They conducted these kaizen events, which were what I already talked about, a group of people coming together from different departments to study a process, look at it from the entire system’s perspective, learn how the process is actually performing, walk around and talk to people, observe it in action, and come up with proven ideas based on some of these methodologies and techniques that we learn in Lean.
They did six months of events and came up with a flow cell for different types of applications. What they did, instead of trying to have every application go through the same process, they set up different processes for each type of application or family of applications. What that did is allowed them to customize the needs of that application for the people who need it, and it streamlined each of those applications. They found that, once they do that, the flows were much simpler for some applications, and then the ones that are more complex, they needed a more complex way of handling it. But they also found that there were things that they could do to make it less complex. By separating them out into different types of applications and developing processes for each of those, they were able to greatly improve the flow and they could process things from five days down to hours, or even within the same day, they could process some of these documents. Huge improvements there, and there’s a video link where you can watch what they did there. If you work in an office or you do a lot of stuff with paperwork, that’d be a great example take a look at.
The Province of Saskatchewan in Canada, they were looking at their health system and they were trying to make some improvements. Over the course of a decade or so, they started to roll out Lean and they eliminated backlogs of health claims. There were about 2200 backlogs for out-of-country health claims, and they were able to eliminate that backlog. They took the student loan processing down from 12 days to 2 to 3 days. They took international applications at Saskatchewan Polytechnic down from 90 days to 15 days. They looked at horizontal well applications processing, from 30 days down to 1 day. Speech therapy wait reduced from 8 weeks to 4 weeks, occupational therapy wait, from 18 weeks to 7 weeks. There’s still lots of opportunity there, but huge strides in the current process to what they got to, and they keep chipping away at that. This is continuous improvement, strive for perfection. You just keep chipping away, but those first initial improvements can be very powerful and very huge benefits. I’ve seen 50%, 60%, 80%, 90%, 99% improvements on some of these initial activities because they never brought the right people together to really focus on these processes before. They’ve just merged and grown up and just ended up where they were. We haven’t gone back and said is this really the right way to do this? You can read an article about their work there.
This obviously works for for-profit organizations. Lean has been around probably for a good 30 years in some organizations. When I worked at Rockwell Collins, they started Lean in 1997, so they’re on year 25 right now, and they still have lots of work to do. This is a never-ending process. It’s great to have started 20 years ago doing this, but you can start tomorrow or today as well. It’s never too late to begin. There’s tons of examples for for-profit organizations, but this is a recent one I helped with.
During the pandemic, this prefab home manufacturer was really experiencing difficulties with wood pricing. If you recall, when people were stuck at home, they started doing a lot of home projects and the price of wood skyrocketed. That was part of their business is building homes, and looking at these prices they were getting for wood, it was going to cause a lot of strain on their profitability. They went through some Lean training. They applied some principles, like spaghetti diagrams, time studies, and process standards like work instructions, standard operating procedures, developing maintenance procedures, visual controls. 5S is a workplace organization technique where you going organize the workspace and declutter it, make things visual, put up signs, color code things. Build in a cleanup activity into your schedules. Keep things nice and organized so that everyone can find what they’re looking for, and you can do that with digital files as well. It doesn’t have to be physical ones.
They did a lot of those activities. They were also looking at their wood waste because they were throwing away a lot of good quality wood into the landfill. They didn’t have a good way to handle these little scrap pieces, so it was very disorganized. It was just in this big dumpster. They ended up organizing that into standard sizes so when they would see that they have a little gap, they could just go and say that’s about a 6-inch gap here. Let me go into the pile that’s already preselected, precut for 6 inches, and I’ll just pop that little piece in there instead of going and grabbing a brand-new piece of wood and cutting it up and then throwing that into the dumpster, hoping that someone uses the other part of it later, which they said they wouldn’t have time to do. It was just faster to use a new piece. They organized the way in which they handled and managed their scrap pieces, so that saved them tens of thousands of dollars a year.
That was great for from the environment standpoint, and they also saved money because they looked at their value that they were providing and looked to the type of lumber, and they saw that we don’t have to use as high a quality here. We don’t need the best of the best lumber here. For this part of the home, we can try something different. They had some cost savings there. They really had to understand what the value was for the customer, and for the customer, it didn’t matter. I have a video you can watch, and there’s a bunch of examples of for-profit companies applying Lean. I didn’t want to put too many in here. I’m really trying to get people to see that this applies to any kind of organization.
Here’s another one I really like. It’s in the nonprofit called the New York Food Bank. Toyota actually has a lot of facilities in the US, and they have a group called TSSC. That group goes around and does some volunteer work with nonprofits, teaching them these methods and showing them that this stuff that we use and the techniques we learn in our automobile manufacturing, they do work in any kind of organization. They’ve published videos and some case studies of their work.
After Hurricane Sandy up in New York, these groups of Toyota consultants went and helped out one of the food banks. What they did is they realized that when they were distributing these boxes of food for the people in need who were affected and needed food, they realized that they could be done a lot more efficiently. Through the improvements that they come up with, with the team, they were able to increase the number of boxes they could fit on a truck from 840 to 1260. They redesigned the workflow to get it down from 3 minutes down to 11 seconds just by the format and organizing of the work. And they were able to distribute out the boxes from 3 hours down to 1.2 hours, almost down to a third of the time, which frees up their volunteers and others to go off and do something else, either go home early or work on some other group that needs help or go distribute food somewhere else. These are really cool applications and improvements that need to be made, and it’s just helping people understand the principles and methods that are there. That link will go to an article, and then there’s a video I like showing to me classes that is really cool. If you haven’t seen that one, it’s really powerful.
Another organization that was impacted by the help of TSSC was St. Bernard Project. They go in after natural disasters, and specifically after Hurricane Katrina down in New Orleans, and they help rebuild homes. One of the first projects they wanted to tackle is how did they get a home rebuilt much faster than they have been doing. Through this improvement work, they went from 116 days down to 50 days. They also looked at delays from waiting for the trades to be able to perform their tasks, which could be up to 40 days delay. They had long volunteering phases that they were trying to reduce down. Getting the tradespeople and components to arrive on time, they got that down quite a bit. That resulted in 61 days reduction in the lead time, cutting that time in half, which means they have more time available to go build more homes. So they went from 4.8 homes rebuilt to 8 a month. They documented all of this in a book called Getting Home. You can read about that on that article there and I think it references the book, or you can search Amazon or your other favorite bookstore and you can find the Getting Home book.
I was really inspired by the work that TSSC group was doing, and so when I lived in Portland, Oregon, we had an organization that was trying to do something very similar. We would take our skills as process improvement experts and go reach out to nonprofits and see if they’d be interested in getting some help. One of the groups we worked with is called Iowa Waste Exchange, and the process a lot of electronic items. They’ll take in mobile phones, computers, laptops, cameras, and they try to salvage it and resell them or they’ll recycle them. I think they send them to Japan where they get melted down and metals get separated out and they get put back into the supply chain. During the pandemic, they had limited staff and volunteers, and had a lot of spike in demand for refurbished laptops because, if you recall, there was children kids taking school from home and a lot of them did not have laptops, or their own computers to be able to do that, or enough computers in their home, so they had all this demand and interest in getting laptops. This organization would also donate a lot of laptops as part of their mission.
We went through and did some training with them and helped them through some 5S efforts, something called the kanban, which is a pull system. We set up some visual dashboards and metrics so that they could track progress of what they were producing and have metrics of success on how they’re doing, and really tried to figure out how do we empower the staff to make the processes better. Sometimes I think people wait for management to come and tell them how it’s going to be better, but we want the people that do the work to be the ones empowered to come up with the ideas and make the changes and experiment and learn as they go.
Adam (A): Even in your title, Lean and Six Sigma get thrown together sometimes in the methodology. In your experience, how do they work well, how do you separate the two, or do you think they’re intermingled? What’s your take on Lean and Six Sigma?
B: A little bit on the Six Sigma part. There was another effort, around the same time, to come up with quality improvements. Part of it was because the Japanese were getting very good at producing products and services and they were beating a lot of the American companies by the late ’70s, early ’80s. Six Sigma came out of that is a quality improvement effort. There was one group going off and studying with the Japanese were doing, and then others were saying let’s get back to the principles of things that we did really well decades earlier, and let’s get back to some of those methods. So there’s these two efforts that diverged at the beginning, but they, over the years, have slowly been combined and blended together because they each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and so combining them makes a lot of sense.
I would say the difference is the Lean methodology is a little easier for people to adopt and pick up. Six Sigma starts to get into statistics and data analytics, which is very powerful and really effective, but some people aren’t big fans of math and statistics, and so it can scare some people off a little bit. Usually, there’s software involved that you have to learn how to use. And so there are some barriers to entry on Six Sigma that Lean doesn’t really have those same barriers, and a lot of the problems I see, some of these Lean methods can handle a lot of those simpler, easier problems. I usually encourage people to learn about Lean first, and then as they get into this deeper and want to become proficient in process improvement, then add in some Six Sigma statistical techniques as they go through. But definitely they complement each other because they’re all about making your organizations run more effectively and making your customers happier or your stakeholders happier with what you’re doing, faster turnarounds, lower cost, more effective, higher quality, those types of things.
A: Thank you. That’s perfect.
B: As a result of these improvements, Iowa Waste Exchange was able to improve their production by 300%. They went from 100 laptops to 300 per month, which is huge because they had this demand that they couldn’t keep up with. They were able to do that in less time and with less people because they were really focused on what do we actually need to do to get this laptop ready and into the hands of someone who could use it. They realized that maybe some of the things we’re doing were unnecessary or overkill for what the task was. Maybe they don’t need the latest software update. Maybe they don’t need all these bells and whistles. We just need them to be able to get onto their meetings and it doesn’t need to have as much stuff in there as we think. There’s an article about that, and there’s a video from one of the people involved that explains the process and things that they did.
I’m just giving you some different examples to think about and dig into. Hopefully, one of those sounds pretty interesting and you can read a little bit deeper and watch some of the videos. If you’re looking for other examples too, just reach out to me. I’ve got a lot of different things that I’ve found over the years and I try to save links to, so I might have seen something that I can share with you as well. Like maybe you work in a library. I’ve seen some stuff where people have implemented improvements in a library, stuff like that. Work at a zoo. I’ve seen some stuff done in Seattle at the zoo and the San Diego Zoo. We’re starting to see more and more examples throughout these different types of organizations.
I mentioned the EPA earlier. One of the toolkits they have is these Lean and Environment, Lean Energy and Climate, Lean and Chemicals, Lean and Water, Environmental Professional’s Guide to Lean and Six Sigma. They publish these as a way for organizations to learn the connection between Lean and environmental issues, so if you are working on something to lower water usage or chemical usage or reduce your energy costs, those are great toolkits to check out. They’re free, you can download those. That gives a little bit of explanation of the techniques and the methods, and then give some examples and case studies on ways in which you can go about that. Definitely, you want to check those out.
A: Actually, you’re about to get into this, so maybe it was good timing. Iowa Lean Consortium, back at least before COVID, I know they used to do a lot of on-site workshops, very hands-on stuff. I don’t know if they still do that, but is anything like that possible in the future? Maybe it would be a crossover sustainability-focused ILC workshop where people can get the hands-on testing or hands-on practice that they are so good at providing at the Iowa Lean Consortium.
B: I don’t know the details there, but about 10 years ago, we actually did a workshop, myself and Mike O’Donnell. We did a dumpster dive and waste improvement workshop down in Iowa City. I think we talked about trying to do that again at some point. I think that there are some opportunities there for some workshops specifically around what are the challenges each of these organizations are facing. So if it’s around energy reduction and energy costs, we could build something like that to focus on. If it’s around solid waste and landfills, there’s different techniques. Similar, but slightly different versions of that. Maybe it’s a dumpster dive methodology. If it’s around water, we could do something with mapping the flow of water through your facility and looking for condensation and leaks and what equipment is using it the most. There’s definitely trying to understand what are people challenged and dealing with, and how do these methods help them specifically in those areas. That’d be cool.
A: You mentioned, getting very specific, if it was even topic specific, like water or waste, you could say it was waste and bring on Shelley, and I think she’s on today, the Iowa Waste Exchange. And if it was water, you could bring in– I don’t know who that would be. But energy, it could be the Iowa Energy Efficiency Association. I feel like there could be topic-specific organizational partnerships as well. As soon as you picked a topic, you’d have other groups that would be able to come in and show examples. So fantastic. I love where you went with that.
B: Definitely check out the Iowa Lean Consortium. They’re part of CIRAS, under the Iowa State University. And then also, the state of Iowa has had a Lean Enterprise for many years, and so they’ve been implementing process improvement using Lean methods at the state level. You definitely want to check that out too. I don’t know how it works with state employees versus residents and the ability to go into some of their workshops or learning, but they do publish a lot of their case studies. I went through a bunch of them in the past. There are some really cool projects, reducing permitting time for new construction or looking at their processes internally for updating the budgets and streamlining those processes. We all want our taxpayer money to be done and spent efficiently, and so definitely it’s great to see all these states get involved.
There’s also a whole bunch of videos from the state of Connecticut that I’ve seen, through gembaacademy.com, where they went around and captured best practices at their state level. A lot of large cities and states are taking up Lean as a methodology because it’s effective, the state of Washington, we mentioned Denver, different cities in Texas, even down where I live in South Florida. Each state is starting to adopt a lot of these methodologies.
I also added some links here for some free courses if you want to learn more too. One is on Lean Six Sigma and the environment. There’s quite a few modules in there, but if you want an intro to Lean, specifically around environmental improvements, check that out. I also built a course that’s around home efficiency because sometimes it’s hard to bring in some of these methods into work, but we all have opportunities in our homes to be more organized and streamline the process of making your favorite meal or doing a chore. That’s what that course is geared towards, to get you started very easily into something that you can control and you can change.
There’s also a website, Lean Six Sigma for Good, where I try to find as many articles and videos and case studies where Lean and Six Sigma and process improvement methods are applied to, I would say, organizations that aren’t in it for a profit, so your government agencies, your healthcare in most cases, police and fire, or nonprofit organizations, NGOs, local clubs. Those organizations that aren’t trying to make money, there are applications for these methods. I have a podcast where I interview people doing some of that work. On my consulting website, I’ve got some free templates and tools, and also a podcast where I just talk about different topics. These are couple of sustainability books that I recommend. There’s quite a few that are out there that touch on exactly the same kind of things I was mentioning today, how do you bring in sustainability and connect it in with some kind of Lean or Six Sigma or process improvement methodology.
I would say, for most of the sustainable organizations, you have a passion around sustainability already, what I’d say is a lot of organizations have found Lean and Six Sigma methods as a way to be more effective in making improvements. If I was to simplify it down, I would say it’s figure out what is broke or what the problem is, and really make sure you understand that. Gather some data and gather a team of people together. Review how things are right now. Look over their data and results, talk about it amongst each other from different perspectives. Come up with a list of ideas that you want to try out. Try out those ideas and measure whether it actually worked or not. If it worked, lock it in and make it a permanent change. If it didn’t work, that’s okay. Try something else. And then teach people these methods to try out that may be more effective than some other ideas [so that they become natural 0:44:10], and then repeat and do that over and over again.
That structure is pretty simple, but how you go through those steps requires a little bit of some of these methods that may not be familiar to a lot of organizations already. Some of these books talk about some of these methods. Some of them will be more case studies, some them will be just different ways of thinking around it. Adam’s going to talk about his upcoming webinar on Thursday where it’s looking at the other approach to say why is sustainability important for organizations that are already focused on process improvement. Some of these books touch on that topic as well. That’s all I wanted to cover today.
A: Shelley gives a shout out and said, yes, she is on from the Iowa Waste Exchange. She’s a great resource. Always happy for a dumpster dive, she said. Duncan had to go, but he said I want to make sure I said thank you for the Lean overview. Very insightful, but he had to drop off.
I was going to say, Brion, you mentioned, which I love, water mapping. Sometimes I just imagine 17 people in a room with sticky notes and on a wall, but if you have somebody come in and map your water use, does that defeat the purpose? I feel like Lean, one of the principles you said was engaging more people across departmental. Sometimes vendors will come in and just do an assessment for you that seems very similar to Lean, but it doesn’t maybe engage as many people in the organization. How do you feel about those things, and can you get around it or is that something you see?
B: I think that’s probably the most common one, it seems like, an energy audit. An outside firm experts will come in and assess the building and infrastructure and say you could change to LED bulbs here you could put up solar or you could upgrade this equipment, you could change out the piping system we’ve got, you can insulate pipes better, we could change out the windows. All those things are great and good options. Where I think it can complement that technical high-level view is what can the employee behaviors be sone, and how do we engage people in that, like shutting off equipment, shutting off lights, turning off equipment on breaks, things that they can control that don’t require a capital investment and cost.
Some of those audits will identify some of this behavior things, but how do we engage employees so that they own that and it’s not dictated from the top management down that just says you’re going to do this, this, this? How do we get them to walk around and see and listen for air leaks and look for opportunities where something is running longer than it’s supposed to? It’s using more energy than it needs to or you’re hearing a leak, who do you talk to about the water leak? Or you notice now that there’s a puddle on the ground or you’re hearing something and you’re listening for it for the first time. Really engaging people in maybe not the massive things like a solar project, but if it’s things that they can control and contribute to, which a lot of little things like that can add up to some of these big investments and it doesn’t even require capital to do it too. So I think it complements some of those big assessments too.
A: I think it reminds me of your earlier slide where another principle, I think, was simple, low-tech solutions are best. Usually, the vendor giving you the assessment isn’t necessarily just going to say it’s an easy free fix. Your people just need to do this. They’re trying to sell you something, and if you don’t show that report to your employees, you might miss one of those opportunities for a simple, free behavior change.
More questions. From Ethan, how can a startup leverage Lean methodology?
B: There’s actually something called Lean Startup, so there’s a whole methodology geared around a new organization and how do you accelerate the experiment cycle on your product or service that you’re rolling out. Maybe you have some of these in play already depending on what you’re doing, but basically you don’t know exactly what your customers want, and sometimes they don’t even know what they want either, and so the idea is how do we give them the MVP, or minimum viable product, and get feedback instantly and quickly from them and make adjustments based on the feedback that we’re hearing. I think a lot of times, in a startup, you’re trying to guess at what the customer wants and hope that you guess right. You invest a lot of time and effort, and find out later or too late that that wasn’t exactly what they wanted. So you start small and you iterate quickly and over and over again as you gain quick feedback from that customer.
I’d encourage you to check out something called Lean Startup by Eric Ries. That book will give you a lot of good overview of those principles, and embedded in there is those same principles I went through, respect for people, experimentation, problems are good thing, getting to the process and not the people for blaming when problems do happen. You’ll see those same principles going through that, but it’s definitely geared for I’m starting a new venture or we’re trying to roll out a new product or service.
A: I think that’s fantastic because, Brion, it reminds me a little bit of the relationship between, it was just our next question, of Six Sigma and Lean where there’s also Agile where it’s the minimum viable product. I think a lot of these, the more you study them, they do have a lot of crossover and they could work well together.
Michelle asks how, and I think she’s looking for something very specific because you mentioned it earlier, are you able to separate when Lean is a sufficient tool instead of using Six Sigma?
B: I’d say one thing first is that Agile would be pretty prevalent in software development now. I think the rise of Agile is really impressive. Lean has taken decades to roll out, Six Sigma has taken decades to roll out. Agile just kind of took off and I’ve been so impressed with the way it’s just adopted. It’s almost like if you’re not doing that methodology, it’s like what’s wrong with your organization? It’s so cool the way that it just spread because it was effective and it’s working and people were like, okay, we’re not set in our ways. Maybe because software development doesn’t have the roots and the history that we have to overcome, but definitely, if you’re doing any kind of software development, Agile is geared directly for that. It’s more applicable than just software, but that’s where its roots are coming out of.
The question on Six Sigma or Lean, usually what I’ll ask is have we tried to do anything in this area or process yet? If the answer is no, then I say let’s start with some principles around Lean, and let’s engage the team. Let’s study will flow, let’s gather some simple data, let’s look at our process and see what we can do. If the answer is we’ve been trying that and we’re still stuck, that’s when I start to switch over and say let’s look deeper at that data. Let’s start to crunch some numbers, let’s validate some of these measurements we’re taking. Are these even the correct data? Is it giving us false data? Let’s run a more complicated experiment. When I get stuck on a problem, then I start to integrate more Six Sigma into it because I know maybe the simple improvement methods, and this problem is not as easy to solve. Without getting into specific tools, I try to keep it simple like that.
A: Thank you. One comment, Shelley says, before we sign off. Thank you so much, Brion. This was great information. Much to consider. I appreciate your time and expertise. But also Moritza says great and inspiring session. Thank you. I would like to ask if you experience a difference in mindset working with teams and nonprofits versus for-profit organizations. As a facilitator, how do you approach, motivate, and convince them to start working with the new LSS, Lean Six Sigma I’m assuming, methodology?
B: If she’s asking about working with a nonprofit, my experience so far doing volunteer work has been that the focus isn’t around productivity necessarily. The goal may not be to be as productive as possible. It’s about volunteer engagement, it’s around providing a good experience for the people in need going through your products and your processes and getting your services. It’s maybe not to do it as fast as possible, but make sure that they are doing it in a respectful way that they’re feeling valued. There’s other elements to it than just speed and quality, and so we have to make sure that when we’re going in, we’re looking at it much more broadly than just tangible metrics that maybe a for-profit business would look at.
Another thing we really focused on with Free Geek was the volunteer experience and saying that has to be there. We can be productive, but if they hate doing the work, they’re not going to come back tomorrow. We rely on our volunteers to help us meet our mission, goals, and have the impact that we have, so we want them to have a good experience. If that means we don’t get as many laptops processed, that’s okay as long as they come back tomorrow because we want the lifetime participation of that volunteer. We don’t want to run them off because we’re too strict and too rigid. There was a fear, from a lot of the organizations, that we were coming to turn them into a factory, so we had to alleviate some of those concerns.
If the question is around for-profit businesses, it’s similar. We still want a good employee experience. Just because the company is trying to accomplish metrics for their customer doesn’t mean the employee has to suffer in that and has to be a victim of whatever process is created. We want their participation to say how can we make this easier, less frustrating, less annoying. If you go after some of those things, like safety. I want to make sure that I go home safe to my family. If you tackle those problems first, and you show them that’s why we’re doing this, and we’re not doing this to save money. We will save money by doing this, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to give you a good experience and get you engaged in our processes, help you make our processes run better, make sure you leave safely every day, you’re going to come back and be productive. If you are coming back over and over again, we don’t have to rehire for your position. We’re going to save money like Henry Ford talked about. You’re going to be productive and you’re going to do good work, and our customers are going to be happy and they’re going to ask for products and services from us.
It’s really focusing on the employee and getting them engaged and teaching them how to improve their own work, they feel ownership around it. They start to realize I have control. I’m not a victim to this anymore. This company is listening to me, they’re engaging me in this process. I actually like coming to work now, or more than I used to. That fuels this positive cycle of improvement that happens. The opposite happens when you don’t listen to people and you tell them just come to work and do your job and don’t talk back and we don’t want to hear your ideas. They slowly get less productive and they start looking for work somewhere else. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish. Whether it’s a volunteer or a worker, we want people to come to the jobs that they do and the time they spend away from their families and not feel like they’re wasting time. If you do that well, which a lot of these methods help you drive towards that, the outcomes are going to be positive for your organization.
A: I think that’s a fantastic answer. On everybody’s behalf, and many people have already said this in the Q&A, but just thank you, Brion. That was a fantastic, great overview of the principles, and also, I loved the case studies, just seeing it in action. Great answers for all the questions that people brought up, and thanks to everyone for asking those questions. I’ll briefly just say, on Thursday, we have a follow-up, which is Sustainability for Lean Organizations. If you’ve already taken some steps with Lean and you feel like that’s a skill set your organization has, my hope is that that webinar will show you other areas that are ripe for opportunity, and how that integrates in, and just really understanding. I think we’re going to touch on things that were mentioned today, just from a different perspective. It is a lot of the same stuff, but looked at in a very different way, approached from a very different angle, like sequencing and how to go about it, but also to assess where your organization is at and what you’re ready for. Please join us, and we’ll both be there on Thursday again. Thank you, Megan. Thank you, ISBF. Thank you, Brion. Thank you, everyone for coming, and I hope everyone has a wonderful day.