Friday, November 30, 2018

Lead Your Project Team to Victory in Your Obeya “War Room”

By: Roger Tomlinson

Successful projects don’t just happen; they require hard work and collaboration from both project managers and team members to ensure all tasks are completed and goals are met, on time and on budget. However, many projects ultimately fail or are abandoned because the team does not work together to achieve shared goals. Much like how two people in a canoe won’t get anywhere if they’re rowing in opposite directions, projects will be doomed to fail if all members are not working towards the same end product.

To avoid this unfortunate fate, project managers can find help with the Obeya room. Coming from the Japanese term meaning “big room,” Obeya rooms, also known as war rooms, are visual tools used by project teams to improve accountability and management of projects. This involves displaying project plans and actions around the walls of a room to be reviewed on a regular basis by those working on the project. This practice provides visibility to all activities involved in completing project objectives, with the goal of speeding up decision-making through improved communication.

One of the most common challenges faced when trying to complete a project is lack of visibility and transparency of the steps that must be taken to complete the project. Obeya rooms overcome this challenge by enabling team members to clearly see their roles and responsibilities in reaching the end goal and orienting everyone in the same direction towards completing the project.

In addition to improving communication, Obeya rooms provide a dedicated space for coordination and problem solving. Visual management is the key to finding success here, as the Obeya room’s walls are covered with charts, tables, milestones, countermeasures and other data or communications for team members to review and act upon. With information laid out in this way, it becomes much easier for team members to stay on track for success and avoid missteps or failures throughout the project’s duration.

A main idea behind creating an Obeya room is to build a culture where managers and stakeholders understand the data they are placing on the walls and can then reflect on where there are gaps or areas for improvement. This review process creates ownership among team members as well as provides visibility into where the project plan might have been derailed. Deviations can then be addressed in the moment with countermeasures established before the plan is too far off track.

Accountability is further supported through frequent “daily” reviews, which highlight responsibilities involved in executing project tasks and apply more pressure on the implementation of corrective actions. For those looking to analyze and improve their project processes more, this also can be great place to begin your daily gemba walks.

Ideally, anybody in the organization should be able to walk into the Obeya room and instantly understand the project’s status. The Obeya room is not about rehashing everything that happened the previous day. Rather, it is about hitting the highlights of the wins and losses, reviewing any missed targets and outlining measures that will be taken to move the organization closer to its goals.

For project managers struggling to establish teamwork, visibility and accountability on their projects, Obeya may be the solution. With the ultimate goal of breaking down walls between team members and getting everyone working on the same page together, Obeya rooms provide big gains in both collaboration and problem solving, two features that are essential in project management.

Those looking for additional project management tools can learn more in The Center’s Practical Approach to Project Management course, designed for anyone from general managers to engineers to quality personnel.

Roger Tomlinson
Lean Program Manager

Roger has been a Program Manager in The Center’s Lean Business Solutions program for 18 years. He has trained and mentored hundreds of Michigan manufacturers in the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methods (e.g., Kaizen events, Standardized Work, 5S/Workplace Organization, Value Stream Mapping, Total Productive Maintenance, Culture Change, Team Building, operations management and process re-engineering). In addition to his training and consulting work, Roger has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing management.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, November 16, 2018

Want to be a Workplace that Attracts—and Keeps—Staff?

By: Katrina Glowzinski

When our management team learned that the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center made the list of the Detroit Free Press 2018 Top Workplaces, we were very proud. Then we were humbled.

This award not only identified our company’s strengths, but it gave us areas for improvement, based on feedback directly from our staff about what they see as important. Therein lies the true value of programs such as this, particularly in this employment environment where finding and keeping good staff is a challenge for so many businesses. In fact, it’s the biggest issue we hear regularly from our manufacturing clients.

With that in mind, let’s look at some strategies that can improve the overall work atmosphere:
  1. Create an environment that workers won’t want to leave behind. Workers are becoming less and less loyal to their employers, a trend that is especially strong among millennials. In fact, 48% of millennials report that they will likely look for a new job in the next three months. How can you keep these workers from leaving? Offering more competitive benefits is one of the most proven ways to keep employees around. Rather than desiring higher pay, employees now are more likely to stay at a company that understands work-life balance, ideally providing opportunities for schedule flexibility, as well as comprehensive health insurance. Including a few of these aspects in your benefits package might make the difference between an employee staying or leaving.
  2. Start with leadership. Bad managers are the number one reason employees leave their jobs. Instead of unintentionally driving workers away with ineffective leadership strategies, invest time in learning more about the differing leadership styles and decide which is best for managing your individual employees. By making supervision more personal and unique to each employee, workers will feel more welcome, valued and motivated to perform their best. With this in place, an improved workplace culture will follow suit.
  3. Establish proper communication and transparency with employees. The top factor in determining employee engagement is transparency. While most managers assume workers are not interested in what’s going on with the organization, the opposite is true. The more information that is shared, the more invested employees become in performing their responsibilities. Additionally, employees cannot complete tasks effectively if goals and expectations are not communicated to them. This lack of communication can lead to disengagement and disinterest at work, resulting in poor performance. These issues can be avoided by communicating more openly with workers and in ways that connect with them.
  4. Prioritize innovation. The industry is changing, with Industry 4.0 technologies now being implemented by manufacturers of all types and sizes, and employees don’t want to work for a company that is falling behind. Bringing in updated equipment or using new ways of thinking, rather than sticking to the mantra of, “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” can generate extra motivation and interest among workers and get them more excited to come to work each day.
  5. Invest in your employees. Studies show that employees who receive outside training are more loyal to their employer and less likely to look for a job elsewhere. Helping workers further their training and education can show them they are valued within your organization, while equipping employees with additional skills to bring to their jobs. This essentially is a win-win situation, as workers are more capable of handling different job responsibilities in addition to feeling more loyal to the organization.
As the workforce continues to evolve, workplaces need to change as well or risk having talented employees leave to find something better. Our experts at The Center can provide extra assistance with improving your work environment, from leadership strategies to technological implementations. For more information, visit or call 888.414.6682.

Katrina Glowzinski
Human Resources Manager

Katrina has been with The Center for 21 years. She is responsible for all aspects of HR for the organization, including recruitment, orientation, and benefits administration. Katrina also oversees  staff performance, performance evaluations, and progressive discipline within the organization. Prior to joining The Center, Katrina worked as an HR consultant at HR Strategies and an HR associate at Market Strategies.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, November 9, 2018

Getting to the Bottom of Your Bottom Line Issues

By: George Singos and Rob Stauffer

Do you really know how profitable your business is? Do you find that revenue is going up, but profits are going down or staying the same? Or maybe your business is successfully gaining new customers, but your bottom line isn’t showing the same growth?

To keep your business operating into the future, it is essential to understand why this is happening and how it can be fixed. Since there are so many potential reasons a business could be struggling to increase profits, it is important to approach this question from a number of perspectives to identify all issues present in operations.

For example, it can be helpful to view these issues through both costing and sales lenses, combining these approaches to make impactful changes to profits. In practice, this might involve the following techniques:
  • Eliminate work that is not profitable. The first step to getting rid of work that is not profitable is to identify which products aren’t making as much money. This can be accomplished by performing an activity-based cost analysis on current activities. Activity-based costing identifies and assigns costs to activities in an organization according to their actual consumption. This method of costing often is used when organizations are looking to eliminate products that are unprofitable and focus on those that are more lucrative. For example, let’s say a company makes three products, Products A, B and C. Product A makes up 20% of gross margin, B is 40% of gross margin and C is 12% of gross margin. Taking into account Selling, General & Administrative (SG&A) expenses at 15% added cost on each, Product A now provides 5% margin, B is 25% and C is -3%. When looking at the products this way, it is clear that Product C should be eliminated as it is essentially costing the organization money. Or, the company might decide to pursue additional business with customers that require more of Product C to increase its share of revenue.  This process of breaking down costs and identifying the products that are not making money often is referred to as “finding the dogs,” or bad products, within your business. While in reality there might be hundreds of products or machines or materials at a facility that need to be evaluated using this model, the benefits of “finding the dogs” are worth the time invested. 
  • Sell to open capacity. In a similar vein, an organization should strive to identify and fill any open capacity within operations. For this example, let’s look at three pieces of equipment in a facility, Machines 1, 2 and 3. Machine 1 is 50% utilized, with Machine 2 being 90% utilized and Machine 3 being 10% utilized. Knowing this, the organization should aim to sell more of the products that are made on Machine 3, as it has a lot of open capacity to fill. It is important to note that manufacturers should not invest in any new capital if they have open capacity existing in the plant they need to fill.
Using costing models to inform sales decisions enables organizations to identify which products to focus on in both production and sales, ultimately boosting profits down the line. While it can be difficult to master these skills at first, manufacturers don’t need to go it alone. The Center’s experts are here to help Michigan manufacturers with any sales or costing challenges they might have. To learn more about how The Center can help you become more profitable and successful, visit or call 888.414.6682.

George Singos
Business Leader Advisor

George Singos is the Business Leader Advisor for the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. He has accumulated more than 30 years of manufacturing experience in Business Development, Sales & Marketing Management, Project Planning, Quality Management, Costing and Scheduling. Prior to joining The Center, George worked in International Business Development, where his primary focus was growing International Sales in Europe and East Asia while supporting North American, South American and ASEAN operations.

Rob Stauffer
Senior Lean, Costing & Project Management Consultant

Rob Stauffer has been a Program Manager in The Center's Lean Business Solutions program for 10 years. He has trained and mentored Michigan companies in the entire portfolio of Lean Sigma strategies and methods specializing in financial analysis, costing, strategic planning and Lean applied to the healthcare industry. He also works with clients on product development, product launches, transactional office processes and sales of technical programs.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, November 2, 2018

Open Wide! It’s Time for a Dose of MedAccred

By: Andy Nichols

The medical device industry is ill! According to the FDA’s medical device recall data, this year alone there have been 22 recalls, tarnishing thousands of medical products. Research also has shown that most of these recalls came from manufacturing-related defects, making this a critical issue for medical device manufacturers to tackle. Recalls like these are costing the industry between $1.3 and $5 billion each year and cause patients much frustration, time and pain. These defects are not like normal manufacturing defects as any mistake in production could lead to serious, and even life-threatening, issues for patients. Imagine having to replace a defective knee joint two or even three times!

Clearly, something must be done to improve the industry’s performance. A solution is now available through a recently launched accreditation program called MedAccred. Similar to traditional Quality Management Systems audits but much more focused in scope, MedAccred aims to eliminate defects at the source by improving manufacturing processes to ensure patient safety. A MedAccred “Critical Process Assessment” involves a deep dive on processes where normal, non-destructive inspection and testing cannot be used to determine quality. Currently, MedAccred offers accreditation programs for the following critical processes:
  • Cable & Wire Harness
  • Heat Treating
  • Plastics Extrusion
  • Plastics Injection Molding
  • Printed Circuit Board Assembly
  • Sterilization
  • Welding
  • Printed Boards
Creating the Cure
Organized by the Performance Review Institute (PRI), MedAccred closely mirrors the well-established NADCAP program used in the aerospace and defense manufacturing sector. Each program takes an in-depth look at processes to ultimately identify and eliminate sources of error in production. Evidence of the effectiveness of this method has already been seen in companies that achieved NADCAP accreditation. For example, in 2010 the DuPuy Synthes division of Johnson & Johnson observed a more consistent and higher quality result of heat treatment services from a supplier that held NADCAP accreditation. At about the same time, the FDA took an increased interest in the performance of medical device manufacturing quality and identified MedAccred as the ideal program approach to support.

Since then, Stryker, Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Baxter and Philips Healthcare have joined Johnson & Johnson in flowing down the MedAccred requirements as part of their procurement criteria when awarding new/repeat business, making MedAccred accreditation essential for both minimizing defects and maintaining a competitive edge.

As the NADCAP experience has proven valuable, it is expected that the MedAccred program will make a substantial in-road to improving medical device quality. After all, we rarely hear of an aircraft falling from the sky, and modern jet engines are now so reliable that it is common for intercontinental aircraft to have only two engines, rather than the norm of four. With the importance of medical device quality reaching critical heights, manufacturers now can strive to achieve this same level of dependability and safety in products through MedAccred accreditation.

A Spoonful of Sugar
Unlike an ISO-type Management Systems audit, the MedAccred assessment is carried out using a highly detailed checklist and is performed by a Subject Matter Expert, fully familiar with the target process. Following a two-step procedure, the assessor first takes a look at the process documentation (organizations must be ISO 9001/ISO 13485 Certified as a prerequisite) then observes the actual practices on the manufacturing shop floor. During this observation, a number of employees are interviewed to gain a perspective on their knowledge of the process, its controls and likely defects. In addition, the controls on products supplied to the organizations, such as raw materials and components, are closely reviewed. The results of the assessment are then reported to a PRI technical committee for review/action.

Schedule Your Physical
Once an organization decides to pursue MedAccred accreditation, some preparation will be necessary. A Gap Assessment and Plan of Action is a good place to begin, and The Center can assist with this step. Our PRI-trained and MEP Certified SMEs are available to walk an organization through the complexities of the assessment checklist and help identify any areas that require work, advise as needed on closure of the gaps and perform the required internal assessment before the PRI assessor arrives.

With patient safety and future contracts at risk, the time is now to gain accreditation. For further details on how The Center’s SMEs can assist with preparing for MedAccred accreditation, visit or call 888.414.6682.

Andy Nichols
Quality Program Manager

Andy has 40 years of expertise in a wide variety of roles and industries, with a focus on quality management systems in manufacturing organizations. In addition to his ISO 9000 Management Systems experience, he has worked extensively with ISO/TS16949, ISO/IEC 17024 and ISO/IEC 17025. His broad practical knowledge of ‘Quality Tools’ includes: SPC, FMEA, Quality Circles, Problem Solving, Internal Auditing and Process Mapping. He also has been an IRCA and RABQSA accredited Lead Auditor.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at