In this podcast, I share a webinar that I gave to the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (as a board member of the Sustainable Development Division).
The webinar is titled “Process Improvement Nonprofit Volunteering with Local IISE Chapters”
I share some background on our Lean Portland group, and how it is connected to the local Portland chapter. I also shared some examples of work done in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Atlanta (presented by Greg Smith).
- IISE Sustainable Development Division
- IISE Portland Chapter
- Lean Portland
- Watch the webinar with slides
- Download the slides (PDF)
Carol (C): Thank you for joining us today for the webcast Process Improvement Nonprofit Volunteering with Local IISE Chapters presented by the Sustainable Development Division. I’m Carol LeBlanc and I’m today’s moderator. And now, I’ll turn things over to today’s presenters, Brion Hurley and Greg Smith.
Brion (B): Thanks, Carol. This is Brion calling in from Portland and Greg is on here as well from Atlanta.
Greg (G): Hey Brion, hi everybody.
B: What I’d like to do is we wanted to share some activity that different chapters have been doing around this concept of process improvement nonprofit volunteering and so we’ll talk through a couple of examples. Tiff is not able to join us today, she’s got some important stuff going on at work, so I’m going to cover her peace with the Seattle Puget Sound chapter.
The idea here was to try to share some of the activity that is happening and then, hopefully, through our successes and some of our struggles, you’ll have a better idea of how your chapter could, potentially, reach out to local nonprofits and start to practice your skills and give back to the community and help them see some of the benefits of the skill set that we have and also engage your chapter and build some momentum for the people who are involved and wanting to learn more or practice their skills.
The Sustainable Development Division is a group I’ve been involved with since I think around 2013. I think it’s been around a little bit longer than that, just by a year or two. It’s a fairly new division compared to other divisions, but what our mission is, is to advance the general welfare of humankind by applying resources and creative abilities of the industrial engineering profession to the development of sustainable societies. What we looked at was the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and those are pictured in the bottom right there. There are 17 goals and so, as we looked at how we can impact the world, we thought that that framework was really powerful as a way to connect in our activity to those 17 goals. Those goals are meant to help us achieve a better world. That’s something we can actually keep going for generations and generations into the future. It’s around clean energy, no hunger, no poverty, health and well-being, and gender equality; really important issues of our times.
We thought about how could our division impact those goals and, through our awards, we’ve been looking at student paper competitions that might be targeting one or more of those goals. Excellence in teaching sustainability and bringing in new students to start to consider and think about how their skills can be applied towards these goals, our Best Paper award. This year, we’ll have our first winner of the Excellence in Sustainable Development, which is going to a nonprofit that is working towards one or more of these goals and applying some of the industrial and systems engineering skills and process improvement to that particular goal. That’s how our division is really trying to focus is what impact can we have on these goals and try to share that we have some skill sets that we can assist in trying to tackle some of these big challenges.
Back in 2013, our division helped organize a beach cleanup at the San Juan conference. That was the first service project that we put together and so, prior to each annual conference since then, we’ve been organizing a project or a community project to work with a local group or a nonprofit and volunteering, usually in the morning of the Saturday prior to the start of the conference. We’ll work with the organization ahead of time, a couple of months in advance, and tell them, “Here’s what we can bring to the table. We’re here to volunteer, but we’re also here to provide some help and assistance beyond just doing the work that day.” We would like to actually sit and talk about what we saw, what our professional opinion is of the process, and what ideas we can suggest to them to make their processes will run a little more smoothly, more effectively.
We’ve continued that from 2013 up to the current year, so for anyone who’s interested in volunteering in Orlando and is attending the conference, we have two opportunities this year because we’ve gotten quite a good turnout but we didn’t want to turn people away like we might have done in the past, so now we’ve looked for a second option so we have two groups going. One is the Habitat for Humanity at a construction site and the other one is Rise Against Hunger that is going to be a meal preparation kit process that we’ll go through and look at how they set up and prepare for these volunteer events. If you’re interested in that, you can go to the annual conference page on the IISE website and you can express interest there and we’ll be in touch and give you details. If you have a preference of which one of those to you would like, then you can mention that there.
That’s been going pretty well and, each year, we get a little better at how do we provide some value to the organization. The other thing we’ve been trying to do is what happens the rest of the year. When we leave, they might have a lot of good ideas, but who’s going to help them maybe implement some of those ideas? So we’ve been trying to connect in with the local chapters of each location and trying to leave somebody as a contact point for that organization and maybe trying to get that local chapter to continue the work we started and work with them throughout the year. That’s something we’ve been trying to do so this is more of a sustainable solution instead of they’ve got a lot of great ideas and then we’ve disappeared, which is the challenge when you’re just going in for one day out of a year to help them out.
It’s been a really great networking event. We’ve learned a lot about other conference attendees. You just meet some other great people who are there to help volunteer, and so this service project has been really fun and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to get involved and join.
I’m based in Portland and, back in about 2010, there actually was a group that had done some work and it was set up by some people who had been involved with IISE in the past. Informally, they reached out and worked with one or two different organizations and then, around 2015, there was an effort to try to take that group and go to the next level. They had one group that they worked with and it really hadn’t had a lot of activity recently. We were starting to build up a pretty good list of people on the LinkedIn group that we had going. The idea with that there was a lot of interest but there wasn’t a lot of activity happening, and so around 2015, we got together and had a little conference and said what do we want to do with this group and what’s our goals and is there opportunity here and a lot of people were excited to reengage and, potentially, reach out to more nonprofits.
Over the last few years, from 2015 to the present, there’s been six main nonprofits that we worked with and a couple of other ones that we’ve done some one-off work with. A couple of the organizations have a reuse element to what they’re doing, so they’re taking in donations and then they’re cleaning or fixing or repairing something and then reselling it back to the public and they’re taking those proceeds and that money goes to a greater mission and the actual goal that they’re trying to accomplish. The selling of the goods and the processing of the goods is what funds a lot of their efforts. Some of the organizations take in reclaimed lumber out of homes, they resell that, and then they use that money to provide homes for people who can’t afford it or it needs repairs done at their home.
Another group sells mobile devices, so they take in an older version of an iPhone and they process that and fix it and resell it, and then that goes to offer technology to people who don’t have the ability to afford it or training and technology that they can’t access or have the money to learn. That’s been going really good. We’ve learned a lot on how to engage with nonprofits through that effort and, each year, we get a little bit better at doing that.
We also did some free workshops to the public, so that was a way to expose people to some of these skills. A lot of the training we’ve done is around just basically Lean concepts of looking for waste and understanding that your processes are part of a system, that we’re trying to find the bottlenecks in the system, and here are some techniques like 5S or workplace organization that you can use to visualize the work, make it simpler for people. Especially for a nonprofit with volunteers, we want the process to be simple, easy to follow, something that doesn’t require a lot of training, which is taking valuable staff time away from the mission work so that they’re training up volunteers. The longer it takes to train the volunteers, the longer it takes to get in and actually do meaningful work. Their experience seems to go down the longer they have to sit in training, so the more we can simplify and visualize the process for them, for the volunteers, then the nonprofit gest a big benefit out of that – less training time, less staff involvement, and the volunteers have a better experience.
That’s a really fun part that we’ve seen is that a lot of the nonprofit organizations are really concerned about, obviously, raising funds and being effective at their job, but they also want to make sure that people are having a good time and a good experience so they come back again because that’s what they’re very dependent on is making sure that volunteers aren’t just one-time participants but they have a good experience and they come back again and again and again, which is really where the big impact that they can have. Just like in a for-profit organization, you want low turnover and that’s the same thing, they want low turnover in their volunteer group.
Our experiences have been, so far, really good. They’re very excited about learning about these techniques, they haven’t had anybody approach them or haven’t had the background or exposure to that. We find that a lot of people don’t have that strong of maybe a business background and the engineering background is limited as well for the people in the organization, so any exposure to these types of techniques has been well received and so they’re very eager to learn more and get some help. They know that things maybe don’t run as efficiently as they could be.
We’ve also had a lot of great interest from volunteers who have stepped forward and said, “Yeah, I’d like to help out and volunteer my time. If it works out to my schedule, then I would love to give back and see how my skills can be implied in a new setting and a new environment.” We have about 40 people that are on a waitlist for any new opportunities that come up, which is great and we meet them through some of our networking events. We usually go once a month happy hour and then we do the free workshops or just giving education and teaching people about some of these concepts to get them an interest. That is not just for nonprofits; it’s open to anybody, so sometimes it’s people who work at for-profit companies that attend and want to learn more.
Some of the opportunities or the improvement opportunities we found with this is just scheduling with nonprofits where trying to coordinate our schedule and our volunteers. A lot of our volunteers have 9-to-5 jobs and it’s hard for them to come at noon for a meeting or a morning session or an afternoon session. We’ve had some success with later in the afternoon meetings or later in the day, like even after work hours meetings, but those are difficult because a lot of the nonprofits aren’t working at those times. Saturdays seem to work the best in terms of having some activities, but again, that depends on the nonprofit and what they do. If they do have time open and they work on the weekends, then it works out okay but not all of them have that; some are just 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, so there are some challenges with coordinating our volunteers with the nonprofit itself.
We’ve also experienced a lot of turnover with the nonprofit organizations. There have been changes in the leadership, either the executive director leaves or the board changes or the manager we were working with takes a different role or leaves. That churn has been a little bit more than we were expecting to see and so it’s caused some hiccups in our efforts because we have to start over or back up a little bit. Luckily, a lot of the people who come in have been just as interested and eager to learn and get the help so we’ve been able to continue that work through some turnover, but it does create some challenges, and so I guess my recommendation would be that those would be probably ongoing things you’ll be dealing with and so that’s why we want to have a broader perspective and not to have just one main contact at the organization you’re working with, but have multiple contacts so that if people do turn over, there is less chance of a complete stoppage in the work, you can continue to transition through that time period.
And then the schedule alignment is always a challenge that we’re running into, but usually, we can find some times that work out where, if we plan it well enough in advance, people can move their work schedule around to better align with the nonprofit and the nonprofit can move some staffing around to bring them in at a different time and let them leave early or come in later on certain days, so we’ve been able to work through that a little bit but it does create some challenges.
The other thing I’ll add, the upper right picture there is an interview we conducted with Norman Bodek, who is a really well-known publisher of Lean books. He did a lot of the translation of the Japanese books into English back in the early 80s, which brought a lot of attention to some of the techniques that were being used. He lives here locally in Portland and we set up an event to have him talk about his experiences and some of his research and work he had done in the past. That one, we involved the IISE, the local Portland chapter, in cosponsoring that particular event. Two of us are in this Lean Portland group are IISE members and then the other chapter has been heavily involved in cosponsoring our events with them. So although not, I would say, led by the Portland chapter, they’re heavily involved in a lot of our work and have been helping with the volunteering as well.
I just want to show a couple of examples of some of the work that’s been done. The group I was talking about that does the mobile device reuse, we decided we should just pick an area and just try to do some simple improvement work. And so the area on the left was their repair center for fixing phones. These would be the mobile devices, like old iPhones, iPads, even iPods. Underneath the table was also boxes full of just a box full of donated phones. What the team would do is they would rummage through the box and look for phones that looked like they were worth something and they would decide to work on those. As you can see, there’s a lot of disorganization there, and for someone who was new coming in and wanting to help out, it would take them a long time to figure out where everything was at and what cord went where and where were the repair parts at. After we talked through the process they go through and then we also showed them some stuff around 5S and organizing the workplace and visualizing the work a little bit better, the upper picture was what they did after about a week or so of working on their own, cleaning up what we see on the left side, so huge progress in getting rid of things they didn’t want in that area just simplifying the workspace a little bit.
During that session, and this is just a couple of hour session, towards the end, we decided what we can get done today is we can at least figure out what we have in stock and visualize that and put it on a shelf and organize it by the phone type. And so each of those little boxes represent a different type of phone, so there’s an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 5 and iPhone 2. The nice thing is that it allowed the salesperson to come in and go to each area and say, “Give me two of these, three of these, one of those, four of those. I see this one is empty. Whenever you see one of those come in there, work on those.” So instead of it being a process of just letting the technicians pick and choose what they wanted, the salesperson, who was actually seeing what the market was looking for in terms of reused phones, they could connect those two together so you actually bring in the voice of the customer back into the process. And they could actually see what they had on hand, so it wasn’t so unclear or unknown in terms of what was actually available. It wasn’t super complex what we helped them with, but just being able to give them some guidance on that I think was really effective and I feel like they had a really good experience with that and they’ve continued to carry that idea forward. Again, just a couple of ideas of work in one specific area saw some really good results there.
Another group we worked with does building material reuse and one of the challenges that we identified… We did quite a bit of work with them over a year or two and what got brought up a lot was the checkout area is hard to find and people don’t know where to go and they don’t know our process very well of what to do when you have large items and if you have questions, where to go. And so on the left is this old checkout area. It’s off to the right, so if you see that sign with the yellow border and the red in the middle, to the left of that is a little window where you’d check out and so it wasn’t that obvious, if you were walking around, that that’s where you go to take your items to pay for them. There was a lot of visual blockage in this area, you can see that, so you had to be on this one hallway to be able to notice that.
We went through a series of exercises with the staff to say what would you like in a new checkout area? what are the things that you would like to see? we had them brainstorm and come up with many different versions of the new checkout area and then, based on their input and their brainstorming and their ideas and some of the feedback we gave about some of the problems we noticed as outsiders, they came up with a new checkout area on the right, and you see it’s a lot more open, it’s a larger space, but it actually serves multiple purposes that weren’t available before they opened it up, so they could actually have two people taking people that were backed up, which would help process people through faster and give them a better customer experience.
You see they found the arrow that was flashing lights and it’s pointing down and so it brings attention to the area. If people have questions, they know that that’s probably the place I’ll start, it’s welcoming, it’s made of the materials that they collect in so it’s got the reuse element to it, and it just livens up the area and the staff like it better. They can actually heat the space and contain the heat in there because they don’t have a heating system for the building and it does get cold there during the winter. For people who are standing there, it’s just really, really cold and so, now, they can actually put a heater in there and it actually works properly because it’s contained better and it’s set up for that. And so again, it wasn’t super complex what we were able to help them with, but just being there to bounce ideas off and guide them through some thought process and make sure everybody was engaged and giving input onto it was effective.
If you have other questions about that, Portland and what we’re doing, I’m happy to answer those too.
One of the other chapters that really have been doing this for much longer is the Los Angeles chapter. Ted and Stella have been working with a group called AbilityFirst since about 2014. That group was helping individuals who have barriers to employment or have struggles with regular jobs. What they do is they find work that they are able to handle and they provide the job opportunities for them and then they take the revenues from that and that helps fund their programs.
One of the challenges that they were running into was the paper shredding operation that was not as profitable as they would like it to be. Ted was a lead person on this and he did quite a bit of analysis and determined what their capacity was based on the data observations he made and the flow of the process and the staffing that they had and showed that they had a lot more ability to produce more items and gave them some potential solutions that they could look at to increase the capacity and improve the profitability of the mission so that they could use those funds, again, to further the mission they had – either hire more staff, which is part of their mission, or take those funds and funnel it back into their programs.
There was a webinar done, back in 2015, that they talked about that, and so there are some slides available at that link that you guys can check out. I’m trying to see if we can get a hold of the recording and see if we can find that still. If we can find that, we’ll make that available too. If you have any other questions about that, I would ask you to reach out. Check out the slides first, I think it gives a pretty good description of their project work, and then reach out to Ted or Stella at the LA chapter.
For Puget Sound in the Seattle area, there’s been some discussion. At the last event we had, we had three or four people, I think, from the Seattle area that were in the Orlando service project and what came out of that event was a discussion that we should try to set up something in their local chapter to reach out to local nonprofits there. I travel to Seattle every once in a while for work, and so I was able to attend the kickoff meeting for this team and attend one of their chapter meetings where we talked about what would this look like and how do we get this going. The group set up something called the PICC, the Process Improvements Community Consultation group, as part of the chapter and they had some IISE members but also some people in the community that were interested in learning more about these skills and getting involved. One person actually worked for the local EPA.
What they put together was a volunteering client application to try to formalize that a little bit more. They figured out what would we want to learn about the nonprofit and then what do we want to know about our potential volunteers and so then this really determined what interest is there out there for the help and how many people would be interested in being involved in volunteering. Obviously, if no nonprofit is interested, that’s a challenge and if there’s no volunteers, that’s going to be another challenge too. But some of the scheduling and resourcing alignment has been a difficulty they run across. The government shutdown actually caused them problems with some of the team members and they were not able to access their emails and continue some of the discussions that were started and then some people have moved.
And so I think one of the takeaways that Tiff mentioned was just making sure that you have multiple people involved on both ends, both on the nonprofit end and on the chapter end so not all the communication is going through a single point. We’ve tried out a lot with the lead and co-lead example where one person is a primary contract but we have at least one other person who’s the backup, and so if one person can’t make it, the other person, hopefully, can. There’s always emails back and forth and, if someone happens to leave or they have a challenge at work that comes up or a family issue that they have to deal with, we can keep the ball rolling without a stoppage there, and then the same thing on the nonprofit side. I mentioned the turnover that was happening a lot with the nonprofits where we would lose a contact and so we had to restart again.
They did find a lot of interested volunteers. They built a good framework and a groundwork and they identified a not-for-profit organization that they wanted to reach out to. Then through some recent exit activity, that kind of stalled, and that’s what we’ve noticed a lot as well is that there will be stoppages and delays in the process and that’s normal and so not to be discouraged about that but just know that it’s part of coordinating a nonprofit that has a lot of their plate and a volunteer group that also has their own work-life balance they’re working through. It won’t always go smoothly and that’s okay and that’s typical; you just want to keep moving forward and sticking with it. And so they’ve made some good connections and they’re really excited about what potential opportunities are coming forward.
The availability and aligning with the staffing and the hours of work and all that, the same challenges that I mentioned earlier that were happening in Portland has come up with for them. The resource connections with the not-for-profit or nonprofit group has been a challenge, and then the volunteer turnover and changes. So, again, she was recommending having more than one group, and especially for the chapter itself to have a team of people working on it, so four to five people that are pushing the bigger program forward and then each nonprofit having a one to two person group, or at least two people, helping be the focal point with that nonprofit, but at least having four or five people that are moving the whole initiative forward and looking for the next nonprofit and finding volunteers and connecting them into the work.
The multiple leads she mentioned and then being realistic about how much time it takes and what is reasonable and what people can take on. Sometimes you get really excited about helping out and you want to do everything and that just, sometimes, may not be possible and we might try to bite off more than we can actually handle, so just being realistic about that time.
That was some of the feedback they’ve come across so far. They’re going to start up some stuff here in the summer and in the fall to reengage with that nonprofit, but they feel like they’ve gotten good progress already, it just has some stumbles and, like I said, that sounds pretty typical of what my experience has been in Portland as well.
With that, I’m going to hand over to Greg. He can talk a little bit about recent work going on at the Atlanta chapter.
G: Thanks, Brion. What I wanted to talk a little bit about was where we are at this point in time. We started this back in August of 2018. We’re about eight months old, so this is more of a… Where we are is we’re still in the process of standing up the organization and I’ll get into that in a few minutes.
The idea was to match tasks to talent. What I meant by that is the idea came from a group of us practitioners in Lean Six Sigma that earned our Black Belts at Georgia State. What happens is that, once a month, Georgia State has a Black Belt community team meeting to invite people back in that anybody can attend this, but what happens is some people will show up and make their presentations on their Black Belts in front of the professors in this group. A lot of people in the group that show up will make comments about the presentations and it’s usually a good environment because we get to network and we learn about other people or other organizations.
One of the things that I saw, over time, that there was a lot of people in transition that had gone through the class but were looking for projects and didn’t necessarily have a project. My history is, most of my life, I’ve been involved in volunteer work, anywhere from cleaning up trash to working on nonprofit boards. I had an idea about applying a Lean Six Sigma project to a nonprofit. It so happens that one of the professors had done a project years before that and got very excited when I started talking with him. When I made a presentation in front of this group, I had a lot of people that were interested in volunteering and had volunteer work in their background. Initially, about 40 people signed up; there are only five that are active right now. We started holding meetings twice a month and, at the same time, because we were thinking two things, is that we need to start to develop a body of work and, at the same time, develop the organization. So we identified several clients, people that we’d been having engagements with, and we started our first engagement in November.
Part of the process in this is that I looked on the Internet and I reached out and I got in touch and I networked, benchmarked, and found Brion and Lean Portland. That was how I got involved with him because I was trying to get some ideas. I knew I didn’t want to start from scratch with this and I felt like there had to be other people out there that were doing this and, sure enough, I found Brion.
The first engagement, one of the things we’ve done is the volunteering that we have… The organization we’ve worked with so far is an organization called StandUp For Kids and it is a group of people… It’s a nonprofit that has two areas that they work on, they have a school mentoring program and they have a street outreach. When we laid out our project and we realized that, in our problem statement, what they’re wanting to do is beef up the street outreach where we actually go out… They actually go out and find homeless kids and point them to housing, medical attention, some of these need identification papers, things like that, so they work with them. That was one of the organizations or the parts of the organization that they wanted help with.
One thing we’ve been doing is that we’ve actually gone to the gemba. Last night, I spent from 6 till 10 o’clock out on the street with them walking through downtown Atlanta and helping to find these homeless kids and look at the problem from that standpoint. It started out as a classical Lean Six Sigma, putting an A3 together, done a value stream map, a SIPOC, and trying to do what we finally realized that was in onboarding… The problem is we want to work on volunteer retention. Actually, that is what our problem statement is. It’s volunteer retention or onboarding and we’ve done some more on… In my corporate life, I did an onboarding project with HR that reduced the time it takes to bring in people into our organization, so there were some similarities to what I’d done in the past.
Just from our high points, we have about three dedicated members, at this point in time, that have stuck with us, including our sponsor, who was one of the professors that I was talking about. He was a vice president at Coca-Cola, he knows a lot of people in town, so one of the things he wants to do is to help get us go in and make calls on nonprofits that we identify. I have had a lot of… Put together a good slide deck and made presentations at multiple Lean coffee meetings at the American Society of Equality, at several organizations, and every time that I do, I get very good response, so it’s easy to get… When I look at it, I see this is a problem like a business problem of supply and demand. The supply seems like it’s out there, now it’s up to us to identify the demand, the nonprofits themselves, and get out and make these calls.
We wanted to get a body of work going, so one of the things we’ve done is we’ve developed some of the organizational tools – a confidentiality agreement, marketing tools, several things like that. It took us months and months to finally settle on a name and we came up with… We actually went with the one that we had heard about, the Lean Portland, so we’ve called it LeanAtlanta.org. It finally took us a while to… We got the .org domain name and you’d be surprised how many meetings we spent on just that one issue.
Our first engagement is going well, but along the way, we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons. I think it was Thomas Edison who said that he didn’t fail 1000 times; he found 1000 things that didn’t work, and it seems like that’s what we have done. We’ve been very resilient and worked very hard on trying to put the organization together. Our conversations center around our why, I think that was on another slide that somebody put in was what their why was. That’s a common theme as volunteer retention and onboarding, so we think that if we can get this project that we’re working on now put to bed or at least have some good process in that, that it would tell a story when we go to other nonprofits.
So lessons learned. As you might notice already, data is scarce when you’re dealing with nonprofits. They spend more time on trying to provide value to their clients than they do on trying to keep up with data. As we all know, you’ve probably dealt with that yourself in your business a lot, and most of it, in many cases, data is dirty so we spend a lot of time trying to just go through and take the data that we’ve got and, sometimes, you have to make some inferences on it. A lot of times, the data we’ve got comes from hard copies, so it’s a lot of work to try to pull this information together and dump it into a database that we’ve got. They’ve got multiple databases, so trying to do that work has been a bit of a challenge.
Something we’ve seen, though, is that one project does lead to another. As we talk with the nonprofits, and we talk with several, there are multiple ideas that come up as we’ve been working with them.
One thing that’s very valuable that I found is that we were trying to develop the organization, put a lot of time and effort into that, and most volunteers are not interested in the organizational development; they just want to be in the engagement. So if you put… Right now, we have heard a podcast recently on hedge fund managers who said that, before he built the organization, he built the product and that rang true to me, that now we have things on our heads, so we’re spending more time or having more discussions about getting involved with more nonprofits that are out there.
We found that it takes time to develop the credibility with the nonprofit. That’s just the nature of the beast, it takes a little bit of time to build a relationship. The project we are in the middle of has taken a lot more time than we had anticipated, so that’s another thing, as Brion was saying before, you have to be resilient. People are more focused on their mission than giving the support that you need. One thing we’ve done is that we’ve started using Zoom. Just like GoToWebcast, we’ve started using Zoom in our meetings between the organization and it’s made things, since we’re all in different parts of town, it made the process a little more streamlined.
Right now, we do have a list of nonprofits that we are networking into and that’s going to be a key. What we’ve seen so far, from the lessons learned, is we have to build good relationships. It took a little bit of time before StandUp For Kids gave us access to the data because, a lot of it, at times with these organizations, is confidential information, so you have to take the time to develop that network and the relationship. Besides the one organization, there’s been a couple of others we’ve talked to and the projects seem like they focus more around a project management project than a Lean Six Sigma project.
Again, we are in eight months into this. We’ve had some really good wins. We’ve been very resilient about it because we see that it can provide real benefits back to nonprofits. Everybody that’s been involved have been… I haven’t had any real negative – I haven’t had any negative at all – feedback from our efforts, and especially when you present this. But again, we’re going through the learning curve with this and look forward to talking with you more in the future about what this thing looks like further down the road. Anyway, that’s all I have, so I’ll turn it back over to Brion.
B: Thanks, Greg. You guys are making great progress, I can tell already. I think you guys are also hearing some consistent issues that keep coming up, so perseverance and knowing they struggled ahead of time was part of the goal to try to make sure you have a little bit of idea that this is probably normal and that’s okay and not to be discouraged by things that come up. That’s just part of this method and, as we get better at this, we’ll continue to share, maybe you’ll find some ways to overcome some of these issues and you can share that with us in a future webinar.
Here are the groups that I know of right now, at least in the US. There’s a couple of others that I found outside the US, but this is what we’re aware of today that are going on in terms of groups, volunteer groups. These aren’t necessarily all IISE chapters, but if you know of other groups, please let me know. I’d like to keep an eye and track of those. If your chapter has done some work and are continuing to do that or looking to expand that work, let me know; I can add that to the map as well. The goal would be, I think, every city would have its own volunteer group working with nonprofits. The opportunity is definitely there, just building the demand, like Greg mentioned, is really the key. I think the easier part is really finding the volunteers who want to reach out as long as they get coordinate it with their schedules. That really has not been the challenge; it’s really been finding the nonprofits and building that trust and getting things set up so that we can bring in volunteers as needed. If you know of other groups, please let me know.
I’ll just wrap up with a couple of final comments and then we’ll open up for questions. Part of this is how our Lean Portland group got set up, but also I’ve gotten some feedback from some other groups on what’s what worked for them. So how do you set up your own group like this or get your chapter started? we had a LinkedIn group that was generating a list of people who were interested that we didn’t know about. As that list started to grow, that really encouraged us that there’s a lot of people looking at networking and talking about these skills and maybe doing some volunteer work. So that was how we were able to find a lot of people through LinkedIn.
And then inviting people from the chapter, if it’s not set up by the chapter, also any coworkers and friends you know to join the group. They could become potential IISE members in the future. You could have a kickoff meeting for those that are interested, and we ended up having a half-day conference that was called The Un-Conference because we didn’t really have an agenda. We just brought people together and said does anyone have any ideas or interests, topics and we can split up and talk about those further. That really got some momentum going around what interests they had, do you want to be involved in the engagement part, do you want to be involved in the infrastructure. We actually had a whole team of people that wanted to do infrastructure stuff, which was great because that really wasn’t my interest, so they went off and started looking out how do we set up an organization that can support this.
And then we have had regular meetings to continue discussions. We started doing every other week and then we switched because our happy hour was landing the day after or a day before our meeting and that got to be a lot. Now we’re doing every two weeks, but one of those weeks is the happy hour and the other one is a working session for statusing our different clients that we’re working with and talking about events and networking and activities we’re going to put on. I think that regular cadence of the meetings has really helped us keep things moving even though life happens and people get busy.
And then if you have contacts with local nonprofits, I would start there, the ones you like or the ones you frequent or the ones you are aware of or have a relationship with so that you can start to speed up the trust building. That’s where I would start. I also reached out to ones that I really liked. If I’m passionate about their mission, then I know I’m going to find time to volunteer with them and put the effort in, so the combination of what your network has and what your passions are, that’s a good place to start with picking the nonprofits. As volunteers come on, I always ask them, “What is your interest and what groups do you want to work with so I can try to match you up closest to the ones that you’re excited about, not just to put you wherever I want unless you don’t really care.”
The lead and the co-lead is a good recommendation so that you always have two people who are their contact points. In case something happens, the other person can fill in. Because people have work travel, sometimes they’re on vacation, sometimes they have personal issues they want. We’ve had even our volunteers change jobs and they’re like, “I can’t do anything for three to six months until I get up and running with my new job, so I’ve got to drop out for a while.” That’s going to happen and just plan on that happening. Having a backup system like this has worked pretty well.
And then some simple concepts, the 5S organization events. One group just wanted a current state process mapping they were super excited about that. We offered up additional stuff to do a future state map and make an improvement plan and they just were really happy to have a current state map. They never really knew what their process was and how to document it, so that’s they wanted at this time, so great. We can do that for sure.
Like Greg mentioned, we have spent a lot of time with data collection and just providing data or helping our volunteers to come in and help collect data on like how long does it take to receive in and process donations. They haven’t had the time to collect that type of data and our group can come in and do some of that work. A lot of just gemba walks and going to where the work is being done. I think that was a great story, Greg, about going over at night and seeing what is this mission work doing and who are we trying to serve and understanding their actual situation and getting at the heart of the process. I think that’s really powerful and important.
Setting up huddle boards, just, every day, talk about how your group is doing and what your process, how it went yesterday. That feedback loop is very informal in a lot of organizations we’ve seen. Looking at the layout of the area and helping them get different ideas on how to streamline that.
Working on safety issues. In a for-profit, that’s much more rigorous and, sometimes in nonprofit, it’s not as rigorous and so we want to encourage and show how important that is to building trust in the employees and the volunteers. And then stuff like checklists are really important and powerful.
The other thing that I really highly recommend is having recurring meetings with the nonprofits. We really struggled the times when we’ve left the meetings open and said, “Let’s schedule something,” and we’ll go back and forth on email and try to find some time. Usually, that means we’re not going to be for another couple of months. So if you haven’t established time, try and push for that as much as you can to say every other Thursday. We can always cancel and move the meeting, but at least it’s on the calendar and we don’t have to spend time trying to find availability, so that’s really been a barrier.
And then as you get some successes, share those and share that at your meetings, talk about it in your chapter meetings, share it on social media as much as you can and show others that we’re working towards this.
This is our contact information. The only thing I’ll point out, as well, is there’s a really good article from Andrew Parris in this month’s IISE Magazine which you can just check out, it’s called Making Work and the World a Better Place, and some of his work worked before in nonprofits and bringing these skill sets to them, so definitely encourage you to check that out.
With that, we’ll open it up for questions if anyone has any.
C: I’d like to remind the audience again that you have a good question, please type it in the questions box on the webcast interface. Craft the wording of your question as clearly as possible.
B: I’ve got one question, it says, “Any thoughts on helping local government agencies with process improvement, and if so, would this create a conflict with for-profit consulting work with the public sector?” My view of that is we’ve had some government agencies come into our workshops and some have helped volunteer with the nonprofit, but we haven’t done any work directly with the government agencies.
The other thing that we had figure out is what level of nonprofit do we work for free. We struggled a little bit with what that barrier is, but at some point, we just decided that, for certain organizations that are large enough and have the funds, that we wouldn’t just do free pro bono work, that they could afford to bring in some consultants. We’d be happy to teach them, do the workshops, or give them some advice, or maybe do a small event, but if they wanted some ongoing work, they were large enough that they could afford that or they could hire in some consultants.
That has been the case for some of the projects, or they’ve asked for way more than what we can just volunteer and help them with and so we’ve said we have some people who could do that project but not for free or pro bono. There has been a separation there and so some of the public sector work, I think, has been that situation where we probably wouldn’t be able to do much of that just for free, but we can definitely encourage and support and connect them with the right people but they probably have some funds available to bring in some consultants in a lot of these cases. Hopefully, that answers… I don’t know, Greg, if you have any other comments on that one?
G: At this point, it’s only theory, but we feel like that, even in the small nonprofits that we’ll be working with, we intend on charging a flat $100 fee, we’ve said, for 10 hours and it didn’t matter how many people. We wanted to do a face-to-face engagement, we give you 10 hours, but we’ll charge $100. We feel like if they didn’t have any skin in the game, that they might not take this as seriously as they did if it did just put a token amount down. But again, that’s just a theory. We’ve done a lot of brainstorming about some of these things and maybe, a year from now or when we meet again and I talk about this, I’ll have some evidence.
B: They’ve opened up some consulting work for groups for the larger ones as a result of maybe some discussions our group has had with them. Or we’ve helped them a little bit, like one of the groups I helped with, I volunteered my time to help plan the event but they wanted me to attend the actual event itself, which was five days. And so we worked out something where I would come for three of the days and they would pay me a certain amount to attend because that’s a large ask for my time to volunteer that much, so that worked out really well in that case.
A couple of questions came up about student chapters or university chapters. I think this was great as well. We have not connected in that closely with our Oregon State chapter, just probably due to distance a little bit, but there was an event that I helped with a couple of years back, I think it was 2016, where the student chapter was the host conference for the Western region. They took 60 volunteers to the local restore and we broke them up into groups and they all went and observed and made notes presented out their observations and findings. And so it was a very large volunteer group and I wasn’t sure how that was going to go, but it actually turned out really well. There are some opportunities like that through the chapters. I think that is a ripe opportunity; we just haven’t connected that well locally. And then I talked to Tiff today and she mentioned that the University of Washington chapter is fairly close by but they also haven’t been able to connect fully with some of these projects or pull in the students as well as they’d like to, but also agree that there is some opportunity with that.
Also related to that was the question around are there templates or roadmaps or frameworks for student chapters to work with the nonprofits. There are a lot of different… All the groups have slightly different templates and forms, so there isn’t a packaged form that I can just say, “Here’s this link,” and download these templates, but what we can do is definitely send out what we have if you guys reach out. I can share whatever we’ve got and, Greg, you can share maybe what you’ve got so far, and I’m sure Tiff would be able to share what they have and you guys can look at that and see if that’s a good starting point. I’d love to go to the point where we could come up with some generic templates as a starting point for each chapter to work with so that at least you can get started without having to invest as much time as some of the other groups have in the org structure and the infrastructure for the support.
Greg, do you have any other thoughts on those questions with the student chapter templates?
G: I do have a few documents that we put together from the marketing standpoint and the confidentiality agreements, and so I’d love to have conversations with anybody that would like for me to give them what we’ve got.
B: Okay, yeah. So if you guys could email Greg or myself, then we can connect in and share what we have and then we can tie in Tiff as well. You’ve got her email on that slide as well. One thing real quick is there was a question around other professional organizations besides IISE. Greg mentioned he’s talking to ASQ and I’ve done some presentations for ASQ as well. There’s a lot of people who have multiple memberships in organizations; Society of Manufacturing Engineers as well, Association of Manufacturing Excellence, I think that’s what AME stands for.
There’s other organizations that also could be involved and engaged. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with tying those groups it as well and they maybe already have some structure there. I think one of the groups I have listed in Vancouver is an ASQ group. At the end of the day, the goal is to just help the nonprofits and make them improve their mission work, and so I think the collaboration across multiple chapters and different organizations is great as well and we can learn from other organizations and also introduce them to IISE and maybe they’ll be interested in becoming a member of that group as well.
C: On behalf of Sustainability Development Division, I’d like to thank you for joining us today and thank Brion Hurley and Greg Smith for their time in preparing this informative information and hope that you will reach out to your local chapters and volunteer to help in the volunteer program.