Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lean Volunteerism – Go Make a Difference

The number of people who understand lean concepts well enough to help others improve a process has grown exponentially the last few years. Most not-for-profit businesses, which rely on volunteers to complete their mission, could use the help of a process focused lean thinker.

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about a group of friends and I who volunteered to purchase, prepare and serve a meal at a homeless shelter. By applying some “lean thinking” we reduced the cycle time to feed our customers. In October we will be back at the same shelter intent on improving the process flow yet again. Our goal is to reduce the embarrassment time - the time an individual has to wait in line for their meal.

Earlier this year a group of lean thinkers, who make up the Midwestern AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) regional board, volunteered to work at a facility operated by the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB). It was a rewarding, and for some, a tiring experience. Job requirements included a lot of physical movements associated with the sorting, labeling and the re-packaging of donated frozen food items. While working the board members, because they are “lean thinkers,” observed many opportunities to improve the work processes. To follow up on the opportunity to make a difference AME will be sponsoring a Safety Kaizen Blitz event as this NIFB site in mid-January of 2012. This 1-day event will allow the attendees to perform the same work process steps and then immediately brainstorm and implement changes that will improve the safety of the work performed. By doing so, they will enhance the volunteer experience thus helping this non-profit attract and retain future volunteers due to the process improvements that will remain after the improvement team departs. I volunteered to facilitate this event because I think my lean skills will allow me to make a difference as I guide the team on their improvement journey.

Recently I helped move my 90 year old mother into an assisted living facility. It was time and she is doing just great in her new environment. Today, after a short visit, I was walking past the receptionist who was shredding paper using a small shredder located on the floor. Because I am a lean thinker, who observes processes with an eye for safety improvement, I stopped to watch. I observed her bending and reaching to operate the shredder controls, insert paper to be shredded and removing the collection bin to either push down the bulky shredded paper or empty the bin. She was working from a sitting position and had her back “out of neutral” while performing her work tasks. Because I cannot help myself I pointed out the fact that we might be able to improve the work process to reduce the possibility of a back injury. She immediately stated that the task was indeed difficult and did make her back sore. I observed a plastic mail collection tub on the floor near her. I suggested we turn the bin upside down and put the shredder on top of it to reduce the bending required to perform the task. We made the changes and she tested the concept. She quickly noted, while smiling broadly, that I could stop by anytime. That made this lean thinker’s day for I firmly believe lean is about making jobs easier and I was able to practice what I preach.

So how are you making a difference with your lean skills? Opportunities to use them as a volunteer are endless. Schools, governments and non-profits are full of process waste and waiting for you to step up and volunteer. I am challenging each of you to go out and make a difference – help lean up your community and then the world – it could use it.