Alex McCulloch, Head of Circulation Services, describes the Library's experience using Lean.
How long have you been using Lean in the Library?
We did our first Kaizen circle about 3 years ago and have done two more since.
What is a Kaizen?
A Kaizen is a series of 8 steps that provide a structured approach to solving a problem or making an improvement. The steps are done as a group to improve a process that involves two or more areas of the organization. The 8 steps are:
- Clarify the Problem – this is done at a fairly high level but it also includes having data to quantify the size of the problem, if the problem can reasonably be quantified
- Break Down the Problem – into who, when, where, how, in order to come up with a statement of the main problem – this is the problem that, if solved, would solve most of the related issues
- Target Setting – it’s important to set a target before considering the root cause or discussing solutions – in this way your target will be more ambitious – more geared to what you really want to see happen and not qualified by your awareness of the limitations that already exist
- Root Cause Analysis – this is where you keeping asking ‘why’ until you get to the root of the cause
- Brainstorm Solutions – then you work through a process to analyze which solution will be most effective
- See your preferred Solutions Through
- Monitor your Results and Processes to see how successful they are, tweaking as needed
- Standardize the Successful Processes
What problems have you addressed so far?
The first one investigated if we could come up with a different approach to the problem of students saving study space in the Davis library when they aren’t physically in the building; the second Kaizen looked at improving our internal process for how staff book time off; and the current one is looking at how we can divert the recyclables that are thrown into trash bins in the libraries from ending up in the landfill.
What have been the benefits of your Kaizen circles?
It has helped develop within our department a shared expectation of the steps that are important to work through when solving a problem that affects several staff. It has also given staff an opportunity to try out new roles, to apply their creativity, and to take shared ownership over shared issues.
What recommendations do you have for others interested in getting started with Lean?
Start small. It’s an excellent tool but it can be time-consuming. Once you’re comfortable with the process you’ll have a feel for how to move more quickly through some steps, and for what kinds of issues you want to solve using kaizen.