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Lean 101

Authors: Kerstin Ly & Victoria Stefoglo

Table of Contents

This page is both an informational resource and a documentation of CORE team’s lean implementation efforts in the summer of 2021. Each section begins with introductory information on a concept and follows with our experiences implementing them at the lab.

  1. What is Lean?
  2. Implementing Lean at HYPER
  3. Week 1: HYPER-Kata
  4. Week 2: Improvement Kata
  5. Week 3: Waste
  6. Week 4: 6S
  7. Week 5: Kanban
  8. Week 6: Flow
  9. Week 7: Poka yoke
  10. Kaizen
  11. Week 8: Coaching Kata

What is Lean?

Lean is a philosophy centered around continuous improvement and the removal of waste.

A lean organization is one whose processes are streamlined, containing minimal waste.

Mike Rother, in his investigative book Toyota Kata, revealed that engrained in each worker at Toyota is a continuous improvement mindset. A mindset that manifests itself as an acute awareness of one’s surroundings and a reflexive reaction to amend anything that inhibits optimal efficiency.

This practice, the lean practice, has brought Toyota to its impeccable state as one of the top global car manufacturers today.

Lean (methodology): a philosophy centered around continuous improvement and the removal of waste

Waste: any excess action, feature, or outcome that does not directly add value to the end product.

Implementing Lean at HYPER

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand why implementing lean will help the HYPER lab achieve excellence
  • Be able to identify the different methods used to implement lean and their effectiveness

Why lean?

We are applying lean to strive for excellence in our profession. We hope for streamlined processes and optimal efficiency in everything we do, whether it be in the structure of our community meetings or in the layout of our tools space.

How lean leads to engineering excellence. Continuous improvement can be a hard concept to grasp in the context of a research lab where most tasks are done once and never repeated again.

So this begs the question, “How do you continuously improve at a research lab where most of the processes aren’t repeated?”

By improving our ability to adapt.

Because of the unpredictable nature of the engineering profession, excellence is largely determined by the ability to adapt. Adaptability is the capacity to identify inefficiencies and having the skills to correct them.

The practice of lean (continuous improvement) inherently cultivates adaptability, and as a result engineering excellence. Improvements could not be made if not for the keen awareness and skills necessary to make corrections.

Reversing Entropy. When left alone, entropy increases over time. It is a fundamental law of the universe. The remedy is not to maintain what is already established, but to continuously improve. If the lab does not make continuous improvement a routine practice, it will devolve into chaos under which performance suffers.

Tools for Success

To develop awareness and the corrective skillset, we taught the following lean principles to the HYPER community: HYPER-Kata, Improvement Kata, 8 Wastes, 6S, Kanban, Flow, Poka Yoke, and Coaching Kata.*

*Some other lean concepts include: jidoka, just-in-time, takt-time, gemba walk, heijunka, six sigma

The Execution

Trial #1: Worksheet Practice

Each week, we taught a lean principle at an hour long community event and provided lab members with an accompanying practice worksheet that was to be completed routinely (a HYPER-Kata). The intention was to develop lean thought patterns; to get them to ‘think lean’ by means of repetitive worksheet practice.

We quickly found that worksheets did not encourage routine practice and lean was not being implemented. By week 3 we discovered another strategy for implementation.

Trial #2: Exposure, Context, Application Method

  1. Expose lab members to an applied example of a lean principle without giving them context.

    In practice: Start community event with a 3-5 minute warmup challenge.

    Purpose: Develop a conceptual understanding of the lean principle by directly experiencing it.

  2. Give lab members context.

    In practice: Define the lean principle and describe its utility in a 5-8 minute slideshow presentation.

    Purpose: Strengthen the conceptual understanding by providing lab members the vocabulary to identify and describe the lean principle previously encountered.

  3. Discuss the experience having received context.

    In practice: Have a 5-15 minute group discussion about the warmup challenge, their experiences, and how it relates to the content of the slideshow.

    Purpose: Strengthen the conceptual understanding by using the newly attained lean vocabulary.

  4. Practice.

    In practice: Participating in an engaging and collaborative activity to exercise their newly learned skills and knowledge.

    Purpose: Strengthen both the conceptual and linguistic understanding of the topic by putting in a practice rep.

By getting lab members to engage with valuable lean principles at community events, an association is created between a problem and an effective lean solution. This method has resulted in lab members remembering the lean principles they learned and using them in their individual workdays.

Key Points: HYPER lab members will practice lean by continuously improving upon their ability to adapt. Honing adaptability leads to engineering excellence.

Week 1: HYPER-Kata

Learning Objectives:

  • Be able to define Kata and HYPER-Kata
  • Understand why we are implementing HYPER-Kata as a means to continuously improve

Kata are practice routines that help us master and maintain new skills. Just like the musician routinely practices their scales or the basketball player their ball handling drills, engineers must also engage in practice routines that result in excellence. The practice routine for an engineer is what we have defined as a HYPER-Kata. A HYPER-Kata is a practice routine that helps us master the continuous improvement mindset (lean), and therefore achieve engineering excellence.

Repetitively performing HYPER-Kata will build and strengthen new neural pathways until the continuous improvement mindset becomes habitual.


The CORE team began with implementing practice routines in the form of template worksheets, but found that it was ineffective. The worksheets were not relevant or of direct value to lab members’ work.

We were searching for relevant ways for engineers to practice routinely, but have now found the solution: the Improvement Kata, a practice routine for continuous improvement, is to be practiced under the guidance of a coach. Every day, lab members will meet with a coach who will ensure we are continuously improving each day (aka exercising the Improvement Kata). The daily routine practice of meeting with a coach is the Coaching Kata.

More on the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata further into the page.

Community Event

The first community event was designed to set an expectation for the summer and present our plans in terms of lean implementation. We were going to follow each lean theme with an accompanying practice routine in the form of a worksheet.

Warm-Up. We began our first community event with a paper airplane competition to see who’s airplane could fly the furthest. We learned quickly that the lack of boundaries in the directions would result in a throwing contest with some planes and some papers crumpled up into balls.

Presentation. Following the warmup was a 15 minute presentation on Kata, HYPER-Kata, and our plans for the summer. We also included a generic outline for how the future events would run.

Activity. For the activity, each team completed a worksheet (HYPER-Kata worksheet) which brought them along for a ride in analyzing the lab’s current state and how each team already practices their own routines for improvement.

Personal Developments

For our “Sprint Retrospective” after each event, the Core Team would complete what is called an “SII” to reflect on our Strengths, Improvements for next time, and Insights.

Here is our SII for the HYPER-Kata event:


  • Good presentation energy
  • Engagement from community when we asked questions


  • Arrange the sequence of slides for better transitions/flow during presentation
  • Make the material more short, concise and digestible so that it’s easier to retain
  • Rather than preparing a script for the presentation, have a loose plan with key points to hit
  • Make more eye contact during presentations to engage the audience
  • Create an itinerary to stay on track
  • Instead of providing a worksheet for the activity, design a hands-on, competitive activity


  • Engage the community in more discussion rather than just presenting to them
  • Worksheets is not the most effective means of engagements and participation

Key Points: Implementing HYPER-Kata will foster the continuous improvement mindset the HYPER Lab is aiming for. After finding that daily worksheets is not the answer, we now have a new development for HYPER-Kata’s…refer to “Coaching Kata.”

The term ‘kata’ is derived from martial arts, meaning a structured practice drill performed repetitively to master a movement

Week 2: Improvement Kata

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand what the Improvement Kata is
  • Know the 4 steps of the Improvement Kata
  • Understand how rapid experimentation and iteration cycles benefit personal learning

What is the Improvement Kata?

The improvement kata (IK) is two things:

  1. A daily practice routine for continuous improvement, a HYPER-Kata
  2. A systematic method that guides the process of achieving a goal or solving a problem

See the source image

Rother, Mike. The Improvement Kata Pattern. May 2013, PowerPoint Presentation.

In summary, the IK process is determining a general direction, and experimenting towards a series of intermediate goals in line with that direction.

The Improvement Kata:

  1. Understanding the direction or challenge. What is the final vision or ultimate goal?
  2. Grasping the current condition. Before moving forward, you must understand where you are. What is your current condition?
  3. Establishing the next target condition. Based on where you’re at, you can now more effectively assess where you want to go. Describe your next desired condition, the intermediate goal toward the ultimate goal.
  4. Experimenting towards the next target condition. Experiment with methods or processes that will get you to your target condition. Use rapid PDCA cycles (Plan, Do, Check, Act).
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you’ve completed the ultimate challenge. When you’ve successfully attained a target condition, revaluate where you are, set a new target condition, and experiment toward it again.

Here is a template designed to guide the use of the Improvement Kata: Daily HYPER-Kata Template

Navigating Uncertainty. Because uncertainty is inevitable, detailed plans that are created before a project begins will almost always get derailed. There is simply not enough known in the beginning to make an accurate assessment. All that time and energy that went into creating the detailed plan goes to waste.

Practicing the IK shifts the emphasis on when and how much planning takes place. The Improvement Kata encourages establishing a general direction and taking small steps toward it. With each step the plan is adjusted based on what was learned. The more steps taken, the more things learned, the less uncertain things become, and the closer you get to attaining your goals.

Rother, Mike. Figure 1-2. Toyota Kata, by Mike Rother, McGraw Hill Education, 2009, p. 8.

The Most Direct Path. We often get distracted from doing what must be done, and find ourselves doing extra tasks that bring us no closer to our end goals. By setting intermediate goals, you are only focused on the obstacles between you and that short term goal. You are not spending time preparing for obstacles that aren’t immediately relevant.

Community Event

Warm-Up. To begin the community event, we asked the group to solve a simple problem and map out their problem-solving process. The idea was to have their own problem solving process fresh in their thoughts, ready to compare it to the IK. However, it did not have the intended effect as lab members were confused with directions.

Presentation. We gave a presentation about the basics of the improvement kata, its utility, and provided an example.

Activity. We asked lab members to exercise the improvement kata by designing a paper airplane in 20 minutes. The challenge was to design an airplane that could hit a target when released from a certain distance.

The process looked something like this:

  1. Understand the challenge. Hit the target from measured distance.
  2. Grasp current condition. My plane is flying straight but not far enough.
  3. Establish next target condition. I need my plane to fly further.
  4. Experiment toward target condition. I will lengthen the wingspan of the plane to see if it will fly further.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4. My plane is flying further, but now it doesn’t fly straight. I need it to do both. I will build planes with various wingspans to try to find the appropriate design.

The more successful groups rapidly tested and adjusted their designs (Do, Check, Act) as they went. The less successful groups spent the majority of their time in the initial (Plan) designing and building phase.

Discussion. Upon a group discussion of the paper airplane-building exercise, we collectively concluded that rapid testing, adjustment, and iteration was the key to success. Further, the group agreed that the most important part of the IK was the experimentation. It is where the most progress is made, and the most learning is done.

Proposed Worksheet. At the end of the meeting, we introduced a worksheet guiding the use of the IK as a warm-up and cooldown to each work day. The warm-up was establishing the current condition, setting a target condition, and planning an experiment. This acted as determining a focus for the day. The cooldown was the retrospective of the experiment.

We found that the worksheet did not work as a warm-up because of the deep thinking it required. Warm-ups should be an easy exercise that aids in the transition to more challenging work.

In response to the unsuccessful attempt, we restructured our community events as outlined in Trial #2.

Personal Developments


  • Great energy and enthusiasm in leading the activities and discussion
  • Spoke louder and clearer than in week 1
  • Activity had enthusiastic participation
  • Activity successfully illustrated the benefits of rapid PDCA cyclers in the improvement kata
  • Closed with a one strong takeaway
  • Better recoveries and improvisations after unplanned occurrences


  • We should streamline presentations to keep it as simple as possible and have one key takeaway. This week we quickly unloaded too much information, none of which was retained.
  • Practice run the presentation before presenting
  • Plan the activity together
  • Limit research time
  • Move Jake’s meetings to Tuesdays


  • Things are often different in action than on paper
  • Planning parts of the event separately leads to a disconnect between our individual ideas and the team’s execution
  • Spending too much time researching the finer details of a concept is not a valuable use of time. Research enough to know the general concept to teach it. Teaching the general concept is more effective for retention than teaching excess details.
  • Having one day to prepare before presenting our event outline to Jake might make our meetings more productive
  • The warmup could be used to prime the community for understanding the main concept
  • We’re often closer to being ready than we realize. We were going to push this meeting back one week because we felt unprepared, but ultimately went forward with the event. The event wasn’t perfect, but we learned from everything that didn’t work out.
  • We can learn faster by trying and failing rather than strenuously preparing for something we are unfamiliar with.

Key Points: The Improvement Kata is a practice routine for continuous improvement and serves as a guide to solving problems. The defining characteristic that makes the Improvement Kata effective is that it encourages rapid experimentation toward intermediate goals, which is where the most learning/growth happens.


  • Plan: Design a measurable experiment. Write out what you expect to happen.
  • Do: Run the experiment.
  • Check: What happened? Compile the facts and data.
  • Act: What did you learn? What will be done differently in the future?

Week 3: Waste

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the value in identifying and eliminating waste
  • Know the eight types of waste

To be lean means to be without waste. Waste is as any action, feature, or outcome that does not directly add value to the end product. We have defined eight types of waste. While these categories were derived from manufacturing, they can be applied to any process.

  • Idle Inventory – excess inventory not being used and taking up space
  • Motion – unnecessary movement of people or materials to accomplish a task
  • Time – waiting, searching, setup time, delays
  • Complexity – excess features of a system that make it harder to use, create, and manage
  • Scrap – unusable, scrap or trim created from the conversion of raw material to product
  • Overproduction – producing more or faster than what is necessary
  • Over processing – spending an unnecessary amount of time on something
  • Defects – errors during developmental process that must be inspected and corrected

Notice: Many wastes are interconnected. One leads to another. For example, defects lead to time waste because they must be inspected and corrected.

The elimination of these wastes results in smoother, more efficient processes. The application of lean, the practice of seeking continuous improvement, results in the reduction of waste.

Before you can eliminate waste, you first have to see it. Learning about the different types of wastes  develops the language needed to identify it in your surroundings creating an overall keener awareness of inefficiencies.

Community Event

Warm-Up. The lab split into six teams and were given instructions to complete a challenge. All six teams had a different challenge.

The intention was for lab members to encounter different types of waste in completing their task.

For example, one group had to go to another building to retrieve a tool, a scenario that happens fairly frequently at HYPER. What they encountered was motion waste, but they were not given any context to classify the action as waste.

Here is the printout that was used for the warmup.

Presentation. Following the warmup, we gave a brief slideshow presentation on waste, its different types, and discussed some examples. It was important that the community recognized not only where waste accumulates at the lab, but also why it harms us overall.

Discussion. Discussion of the warm-up consisted of different teams describing what they encountered and how they would frame it as waste. Having been provided the context of the 7 types of waste and how they’re all interconnected, the community was able to recognize waste in many aspects of the lab.

Activity. The lab split back up into their warm-up teams and were given an A3 template that guides the process of eliminating waste. Each team came up with a problem they encountered at the lab, and came out the other end with steps to eliminate the wastes associated.

Waste elimination was not successfully developed as a habitual thought pattern, at least not in this worksheet format. The A3 Template was a result of our Trial #1 efforts, but in later weeks we restructured our community events and activities (Trial #2).

Personal Developments


  • The warmup set up the possibility for deeper understanding after discussion, the presentation, and activity
  • All components of the workshop built off of one another and lead to a full conceptual and linguistic understanding of the lean topic
  • The presentation was clear and concise, easy to digest
  • Having everyone sit around the community table during the event felt more collaborative than sitting auditorium-style


  • Facilitate the event together instead of allocating certain sections of the workshop to an individual
  • Prepare closing remarks


  • As observed in Week 2’s and Week 3’s workshop, worksheet activities can help with engagement but are sometimes seen as a chore and are not completed. Therefore, there may be a more effective alternative.
  • Short and concise presentations are effective

Key Points: There are eight main types of waste. Knowing the context behind the types of waste improves your ability to identify it in real situations before moving on to eliminate it.

Week 4: 6S

Learning Objectives:

  • Know each of the six S’s in relation to each other
  • Understand how 6S can be an effective first step to eliminating waste
  • Understand that applying 5S to a space results in the 6th S, Safety

6S is a systematic approach to organization and waste elimination. Applying 6S makes continuous improvement easier, as inefficiencies are more easily spotted when the surroundings are in order. For example, it would be hard to tell if a box of staples is on the wrong shelf when it is buried behind a clutter of materials. After decluttering, the specific placement of the box of staples could more purposefully selected. The 6S method is a great way to start leaning out a system.

The 6 S’s:

  1. Sort – Removing nonessential items from the space. This is done by taking everything out and sorting it into three piles: put back, place elsewhere, trash.
  2. Sweep – Tidying the entire workstation or space (cleaning, dusting, polishing, sweeping, vacuuming)
  3. Systemize – Putting back essential items in an organized and efficient layout. Disposing of trash and finding a new place for other items.
  4. Standardize – Setting a clear expectation to ensure everyone knows how the system works.

    Expectations can be set in three different ways: verbally, written, or visually.

    Verbal: training new members on our systems

    Written: written manuals, procedures, and guides

    Visual: labels, outlining, kaizen foam, etc.

  5. Sustain – Taking all the previous steps and transforming them into ongoing habits.
  6. Safety – Consider how the previous steps each contribute to safety.

    Example: Sorting a tools shelf revealed loose circular saw blades. There was a poor system in place, which resulted in the danger of cutting oneself on a blade. The systemization must be improved to increase safety.

Safety. The combination of the first five S’s all lead to the sixth S, Safety. Notice how by Sorting a space, any dangerous loose blades, defective materials, etc., can be found and dealt with accordingly. Then when the time comes to Sweep, the space and tools get cleaned up, which protects their longevity. Systemizing ensures there is a designated place for everything, including those hypothetical loose blades found back during the Sorting phase. Now fewer injuries are possible because the blades are no longer lost in a mess. Next, utilizing the three methods to Standardize the new system will provide a solid understanding on where things go. Finally, sustaining the space will result in less misplaced blades in the future, or other cases where danger arises. This is one example of how 6S keeps on cycling back to a safer space.

Community Event

Warm-Up. Divided into four teams, the lab members were given the hypothetical situation of being a pitstop crew for NASCAR. Each team, or pitstop crew, was given a few minutes to quickly assemble the most efficient tool station for making repairs on racecars as they roll in for pitstops.

To our surprise, teams organized their tools and fasteners with labeled sticky notes and tape. One even color coded their system. Even with our vague instructions, the HYPER Lab pitstop crews were sorting, systemizing, and standardizing all on their own.

Discussion. Ironically, during the follow-up discussion, lab members agreed that the HYPER Lab as a whole currently does safety the best, which is supposed to be a result of practicing the other five S’s. This reveals that we may not practice safety as well as we thought. We must perform the first five S’s better to achieve safety.

The community also believed that our strongest form of standardization was the written form, but agreed that the visual form is most efficient. If the visual form is most efficient, then why isn’t it the most practiced? To become more lean, we will be focusing our future efforts more on visual standards, like templates, kaizen foam boards, and shadow boards.

Activity. The activity involved 6S’ing a power tools shelf in the lab. Split into four teams, each team was assigned one of the first four S’s. Team 1 sorted, Team 2 swept, Team 3 systemized, and Team 4 standardized. Like a relay race, Team 1 went first and sorted the power tools shelf. Then the baton was passed over to Team 2 for sweeping. The flow kept going until Team 4, the standardizers, had finished their part.

Every team was given two minutes to complete their task, however most teams took more than two minutes mostly out of confusion with the task at hand. They found that 6S can be hard to perform quickly if you’re lacking in practice. Nonetheless, the shelf was sorted, swept, systemized, and standardized (with labels) by the end of the activity. Now, all that is left is to sustain it by actively following the set standard.

Personal Developments


  • The warmup successfully illustrated the utility of 6S
  • Clear and concise presentation
  • After practicing the first four S’s in the activity, the community was left with a clear understanding of how to use 6S


  • Try to quickly modify the event plan when a component of the workshop doesn’t go to plan


  • Sustaining is the hardest part for everyone…we know lab members prefer an organized space (as shown in the warmup), but also understand they have a hard time sustaining them. This information will help us build a more sustainable lean system in the new lab space.

Key Points: The 6S cycle is a systemized process of organization that leads to waste elimination. While each ‘S’ seamlessly leads to the next, they all come together to create a safer work environment. Once a space is 6S’ed, a plan can be developed to eliminate the waste found in the process.

Kaizen Foam Board

Shadow Board

Week 5: Kanban

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand what a Kanban system is and how it works
  • Understand the relationship between Kanban and pull systems
  • Be able to identify the two main styles of Kanban and their uses
  • Recognize the benefits of a Kanban inventory

What is Kanban?

You open your refrigerator, and you see that you are running dangerously low on milk, so you buy more. This is an example of a simple Kanban system. Kanban is a visual signaling system that authorizes subsequent action. In this case, it was the low volume of milk signaled the need for replenishment.

Few things are more efficient at quick communication than a visual signal. For this reason, Kanban is a key part of establishing lean processes.

Pull vs. Push. Only replenishing when there is an immediate demand is known as a pull system. Pull systems ensure that all supplies are being used and none go to waste. Kanban, a tool that signals a demand, helps to establish pull and eliminate waste.

On the flip side, push systems do not use the signaling of current conditions, but rely on forecasts. In the case of milk, a push system looks like buying three cartons of milk at the beginning of the week in anticipation of rapid consumption.

Push systems are prone to waste as future conditions are often unpredictable. What if you don’t end up consuming as much as you think? Then some milk goes to waste, and all throughout the week the space could have been used for something of more immediate value.

Types of Kanban Systems

There are two main types of Kanban systems in lean: Kanban boards and Kanban inventory.

Kanban Boards. Kanban boards establish pull by using work-in-progress limits as visual signals to authorize the addition of more tasks to the workload. More on Kanban Boards.

Kanban Inventories. Kanban inventories usually have two components:

  1. A visual indicator that shows when supplies are running low, usually a min-max or two-bin system. The indicator signals for replenishment before supplies are completely gone.

    Two-bin system. The emptiness of the main supply bin signals replenishment.

                 Min/max system. Supplies reaching the minimum level signal replenishment.

  2. A tag, known as a Kanban card, with all the information needed to reorder quickly and easily. The Kanban card is placed on or near the bin of supplies

Kanban at HYPER

At a lab-wide scale, it is our goal to implement a Kanban inventory.

A Kanban inventory reduce the following waste:

  1. Reduce time spent waiting on parts to come in.
  2. Reduce amount of idle inventory.
  3. Reduce time spent browsing the web for the specific part.
  4. Reduce the likelihood of error (ordering the wrong part, ordering too much or too little, ordering from the wrong vendor). This allows anyone to contribute to keeping supplies in stock.

Community Event

Warm-Up. The community event opened with a quick challenge between two teams. They were tasked to replenish their low supply of six different materials. Team 1 was given the advantage of Kanban inventory cards that showed them exactly what materials to get, where to find them, and how much to get. Team 2 had no information but the name of the six different materials needed. Team 1 finished much sooner than Team 2, which proved the advantages of implementing a Kanban system to optimize the restocking process at the lab.

Discussion. After a brief presentation on Kanban and its benefits, lab members engaged in a discussion about the warm-up and its relevance to the lab. Seeing how Team 2 struggled with the task and Team 1 restock with ease, everyone agreed that implementing a Kanban inventory system would reduce waste at the lab. Input was given on what particular materials at the lab would benefit from a Kanban system as well as what information should be on the Kanban cards.

Future Kanban inventory systems will be developed as the lab moves buildings in the Fall of 2021.

Personal Developments


  • Discussion was interactive, everyone contributed
  • Compared to previous weeks, the event was smaller, more personal, and created a comfortable atmosphere for people to share their thoughts
  • The lab worked collaboratively toward improving a lab system
  • Well organized slides
  • Event was quick but productive


  • Connect examples of Kanban with the definition we gave instead of merely giving an example without explanation of how it is a Kanban
  • Prepare a more thorough explanation of how the warm-up connected to the event topic
  • Be more firm in guiding the discussion to avoid side conversations


  • Events don’t need to be action-packed with activities to be productive
  • Less people make for easier discussion-based events
  • It’s better to do a whiteboard activity as community rather than split off into doing individual worksheets
  • It’s okay to make the community event feel more casual, but as leaders of the discussion, we can’t let ourselves feel too casual to keep the discussion productive
  • Discussion-based activities invites new ideas, hands-on activities help build conceptual understandings of new content

Key Points: Kanban is a visual signaling system that reduces waste by inducing a pull system. There are two main applications of Kanban: Kanban Boards and Kanban Inventory. A Kanban inventory will be implemented at HYPER to reduce time, idle inventory, and defect waste.

Week 6: Flow

Learning Objectives:

  • Be able to define flow
  • Be able to describe the relationship between flow and waste

Flow, how work progresses through a system, is another fundamental concept of lean. The concept of flow is applied to all processes including manufacturing, team meetings, and floor plans.Waste inhibits flow; therefore, the elimination of waste induces flow.

Pull systems are a great way to induce flow, since by nature they reduce waste.

Community Event

The summer of 2021 marks the beginning of HYPER’s move out of its current space and into a new building. A clean slate provides us with a great opportunity to design a new lab layout with good flow. We used the flow event to both teach the concept of flow and receive input on what layouts would allow for the best flow.

Warm-Up. Lab members acted out a written scenario that replicated an everyday lab process. The first scenario replicated a manufacturing process and the second scenario a general process.

Manufacturing Process

  • Start at the main entrance rug and make your way to the machine shop
  • Grab some Bosch (just touch it)
  • Go to table saw and cut it (just touch the machine)
  • Use the drill press for the fasteners (just touch it)
  • Take your parts to the building area (center of TFRB; just walk there)
  • Stop the timer and record the # of steps taken

General Process

  • You have a meeting right now, so begin in the conference room (just touch the table and then start the timer)
  • Go to the bathroom (just touch the door)
  • Come back and get some water (just touch the water jug)
  • You have a pretend package that came in, go get it
  • Stop the timer and record the # of steps taken

To measure relative flow, the number of steps taken and the time spent completing the process were recorded.

Presentation. A brief slideshow presentation was given to define flow, describe its utility, and introduce the floor plans for the new lab.

Discussion. Upon discussion of the warm-up, it was discovered that the manufacturing process had good flow, and the general process did not. For the manufacturing process, all the tasks were in close proximity to each other; therefore, there was less motion waste and a better flow. The components of the general process were not near each other, which led to excess motion waste and reduced flow.

Experiencing and reflecting on the flow of current lab processes primed lab members for the next activity: proposing a layout for the new lab space.

Activity. The community was split into four teams, each with a copy of the new floor plan. Each team was to decide where one component of the lab should go on the floor plan, and after 45 seconds, hand it off to the next team. The teams handed off their floor plans in a circular direction, so it was a continuous cycle of adding one component, then handing it off, and so on. The purpose of mixing up the floor plans between teams was to boost creativity and force paradigm shifts in the flow patterns.

In the end, the teams collectively produced four floor plans that were largely similar. It was interesting to see how great minds really do think alike, even when they’re all on different teams. A big discussion followed the activity, which decided on which of the four floor plans was the most efficient.

This activity was a great first step towards designing an effective, flow-inducing layout for our new space. We will continue innovating the design into Fall 2021.

Personal Developments


  • Good engagement in discussions and activities
  • Warm-up primed lab members to think about flow throughout the lab
  • The event got the lab thinking about the move and contributing ideas on what the new space should look like


  • Pay closer attention to the time to ensure we are not going over time. Prioritize time for awards
  • Take more pictures
  • Set up itineraries with buffer time
  • For community wide discussion, split into groups for preliminary discussion, then one person from each group share out to the community.


  • Group discussions are hard to lead with a large group. The conversation evolves quickly and some peoples’ ideas can be quickly left behind.
  • It may be better not to participate in the activities to observe how other lab members are engaging.
  • For the most part, everyone in the lab is interested in contributing to the layout of the new lab space.
    • Lab members should be given an opportunity to see the space
    • CORE team should develop a systematic way to consider everyone’s ideas

Key Points: Flow is the measure of how efficiently work progresses through a system. Bad flow is the result of waste in the system. The elimination of waste leads to good flow. The flow of operations at the lab will be one of the key considerations when designing the layout of the new lab space in Fall of 2021.

Week 7: Poka Yoke

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand what poka yoke means
  • Be able to delineate between error proofed and error reduced
  • Understand the value of poka yoke

Poka yoke is the Japanese term for ‘error proof’. Poka Yoke, as defined by lean experts, is any mechanism that helps to avoid mistakes. Ideally, engineers would like to see error-proofed systems more than error-reduced, however some situations don’t allow for full error proofing.

Before continuing, here are two preliminary definitions:

  • Error proofed: A system or process that can only be done one way—the right way
    • Example: An orbital tig welder requires that you load in the material, make the necessary adjustments, and then let the machine do the rest of the work for you. In this way, the welding can only be done correctly because it is automated.
  • Error reduced: A system or process that has potential to be done the right way
    • Example: Bosch jigs: When building with Bosch, certain connectors between members are required, and the drilled holes for connectors must be a certain distance from the edge of each piece. A jig helps you find the correct placement of holes before drilling. Here’s the catch: the jig must be used correctly to get the right holes drilled. Because there is a possibility of using it wrong, this jig is an example of error reducing.

In everyday life, error-proofed systems might look like microwaves that don’t turn on unless the door is shut, car doors that don’t lock when the keys are inside, or filing cabinets that only allow one drawer to open at a time to avoid tipping.

Why Poka Yoke?

A key idea, articulated best by Dr. Leachman, is that there is increased value in machinery that can be used in many ways. The drawback, however, is that the more ways something can be used, the more it can be used wrong. So how can we harness the value of a multiuse system and minimize its drawbacks at the same time? The answer is to create jigs, a form of error-proofing, for specific tasks on the multiuse system.

In any case, poka yoke is important because it reduces defects. Less defects results in less time spent fixing problems that could have been avoided in the beginning. Poka yoke also increases safety at the lab because everyone is set up with the same standards for tools and machinery.

Community Event

Warm-Up. We began our poka yoke workshop with a warmup that resembled a relay race. There were two teams and each team was split two groups (Group A and Group B). Team 1 encountered an error-proofed (or poka yoked) situation, whereas Team 2 encountered an absence of error proofing. The end result showed the consequences of a lack of error proofing.

Here’s what happened:

  • Team 1: Group A was tasked with grabbing a few random tools from our kaizen foam toolbox. Then they gave the tools to Group B and instructed them to put the tools back without telling them exactly where.
    • Experience: There was no hesitation as to how and where to put back the tools because there was only one way to do it—the right way. The kaizen foam toolbox was error-proofed since tools physically could not be placed in the wrong spot. Additionally, the drawers in the toolbox were labeled. Group B got the tools back in their places efficiently and with minimal time, motion, and complexity waste.
  • Team 2: Group A grabbed random hardware from Durham drawers that were not error proofed. Handing the fasteners off to Group B, they instructed them to place the hardware pieces back where they belong, similar to Team 1.
    • Experience: Group B had a very difficult time returning the hardware supplies back to their respective places. The drawer system was not error-proofed. Firstly, all the drawers looked the same and were poorly labeled, causing excess time and motion waste looking through opening up multiple drawers. Secondly, in the drawers themselves, many of the neighboring hardware components looked similar causing a hesitation in returning the component to the correct place.

Results: Team 1 won this relay race because the poka yoked tools drawer allowed them to quickly retrieve and return tools. Team 2 struggled against the clock to put their hardware back because of the lack of error-proofing in the Durham drawer system that caused hesitation and contemplation as to where the correct spot for the components were.

Discussion. Interestingly enough, crickets followed our startup questions: “What are some error proofed systems already present in the lab?” and, “What are some ideas of systems that need error proofing at the lab?” Almost no responses. It took some digging to get a couple examples of jigs here and there, but the discussion that followed the community warmup indicated that our lab doesn’t have enough jigs that error proof or error reduce our most general use machinery. Our next step is to continue brainstorming areas of the lab which are subject to user mistakes, and error proofing the relevant systems.

Personal Developments


  • The warmup got the community thinking about the benefits of error-proofing systems without context


  • Could have more clearly connected the warm-up to how it was an example of poka-yoke
  • Make quicker decisions on how to adapt to changing situations
  • Run through the slides once or twice before hand
  • Instead of leaving the event planning to the last second, plan in earlier in the week. Work a little bit every day to allow ideas to come through.
  • More thought should be put into considering personal work limits


  • Having signed up for a summer course and working another job at the university on top of being at the HYPER Lab, Victoria found herself with too much on her plate and her workflow began deteriorating. As a result, she allowed herself to depart from the lab mentally and the work fell on her teammate.
    • In the future, Victoria will know her limits and ensure there’s ample time each day to give her best to the lab.
  • Over the course of the summer, Kerstin had taken on an unsustainable load of work and work style. She didn’t take enough breaks and burnt out. Instead of asking for help, she wrongly pushed through. The result of this was procrastination and progressively poorer community events in the last couple of weeks.
  • Without considering our personal bandwidths, we didn’t know our limits before it was too late

Key Points: Poka yoke is Japanese for ‘error-proof’. In lean application, there are two types of poka yoke, error-proofing and error-reducing. Poka yoke reduces defect waste which in turn reduces more wastes associated with inspecting and correcting errors. Jigs, a form of error proofing, can be utilized to maximize the function of a multiuse system.

Jig: a tool that standardizes a process so that it can be repeated accurately. For example, putting hardware on cabinets is made easier with a jig. A jig allows for accurate and consistent placement of drilled holes.

One drawer of Team 1’s error-proofed toolbox

One of Team 2’s un-error-proofed Durham drawers


Learning Objectives

  • Understand how Kaizen relates to continuous improvement
  • Understand the value of adopting kaizen philosophy

We’ve mentioned continuous improvement frequently over the course of this page. Lean’s core principle is continuous improvement, which is derived from the Japanese word and philosophy “Kaizen”.

Kaizen takes the idea of continuous improvement one step further by emphasizing the importance of consistent, small improvements over time. A tree grows an additional ring every year. The width of a tree ring varies year to year, but it grows nonetheless. Slowly, the incremental growth will accumulate into something grand.

Contrary to common thinking, kaizen asserts that success rarely comes from a big, groundbreaking change, but from the accumulation of small improvements over time.

One of the problems with the failed implementation of lean, addressed in Toyota Kata, was the obsession with immediate gratification. Organizations are always looking to reach the top in the shortest time possible. The problem with the short-term approach is the lack of sustainability. Toyota, proprietors of Kaizen and pioneers of lean, has proven the incremental approach to be effective. No other car manufacturer has been able to match Toyota’s level of consistent improvement and success.

“Top Vehicle Manufacturers in the US Market, 1961-2016.” Knoema, 21 May 2020,

Although GM and Ford have not changed rankings since 1961, they have been declining in terms of market share. Toyota has been slowly obtaining more of the market share over the years, starting at the bottom of the rankings and rising to the third position.

Key Points: Kaizen is an extension of ‘continuous improvement’ that emphasizes the importance of consistent small growth over time for sustained, long-term success.

Coaching Kata

Learning Objectives:

  • Be able to describe the relationship between the Improvement Kata and the Coaching Kata
  • Understand what the coaching kata is and how it is being implemented at HYPER

As a reminder, a kata is a practice routine that is performed frequently for the purpose of mastery. The coaching kata, then, is the daily practice of meeting with a coach to better oneself.

The absence of the coach in professionalism. The coach, when performed correctly, provides guidance and expedites success in the mentee. In many disciplines (athletics, performance arts, academia), the coach is highly valued for this reason. Professionalism should follow the same system if efficient growth is desired. To emulate the success found in fields that utilize coaching, a coaching figure will be implemented into the HYPER Lab.

Coaching Kata at HYPER

The Why. We are implementing lean (a continuous improvement mindset) to push our horizons as professionals and as engineers. The Improvement Kata provides the practice routine for continuous improvement, but on its own, it will not encourage frequent practice of this routine. Without frequent practice, continuous improvement will not become a habit.
A coaching figure will be highly beneficial in providing guidance and accountability to ensure the daily practice of the Improvement Kata and the development of habitual continuous improvement.

The How. HYPER has hired a skills manager, PK Northcutt II, who will take on the role of the continuous improvement coach. He will meet with each lab member for a 10-minute lesson every day. In each lesson, lab members will be honing both their professional and engineering skills with his guidance.
Daily 10-minute lessons may not sound like a lot, but it follows Toyota’s main principle for success–Kaizen. Following in Toyota’s footsteps, we understand that small consistent improvements over time will take us to unforeseen heights.

Community Event

Warm-Up. We asked the group to sort these names into two categories.

  • The Karate Kid
  • Professor Charles Xavier
  • Mickey Goldmill
  • Yoda
  • Luke Skywalker
  • The X-Men
  • Obi-Wan
  • Mr. Miyagi
  • Rocky

The intention was to prime the group in thinking about the value of the mentor in these stories.

After sorting, we provided real life examples of some of the world’s greatest athletes, artists, and leaders who had benefited strongly from mentors.

We then asked the group, “To strive for our best selves at HYPER, what could we benefit from?”, to which they responded promptly, a mentor.

Presentation. Having covered the concept of the coaching kata, we introduced our new skills manager, PK Northcutt II. He is to stand in for Dr. Jacob Leachman while he is away on sabbatical shifting the paradigm and moving #hydrogenhills.

The remainder of the meeting was comprised of PK setting new expectations for the lab. Mainly, he noted that lab members will be frequently pushed outside their comfort zones in a way that is necessary for growth.

Personal Developments


  • Warm-up not only provided a fun topic of discussion, but also was successful in priming the group for understanding the value of the mentor
  • Each component of the event added a new layer of understanding until they fully understood the message
  • Smooth transitions


  • Complete plan for event before the day of so teammates have ample time to review work


  • Procrastination affects the people you are working with
  • Perhaps, Kerstin should’ve asked for help, Victoria should’ve delegated more time to the event

Key Points: The coaching kata is the daily practice of meeting with a coach to better oneself. To aid in the implementation of lean (continuous improvement mindset), the HYPER lab will practice the coaching kata. Lab members will be meeting with a professional coach/skills manager everyday for a 10-minute lesson, working incrementally toward a better version of oneself.

Moving Forward

After eight weeks of community events and teaching lean to members across the HYPER community, the Core Team has sparked the beginning of a new, lean lab culture. The small steps taken daily and weekly over the summer of 2021 have accumulated into the largest lean footprint in HYPER history. As early as Week 1 (HYPER-Kata), we already began to see implications of a growing lab culture. One member came up with a fresh, paradigm-shifting idea for developing and practicing daily katas after being inspired by the game Dungeons and Dragons. Later in Week 5 (Kanban), we were able to pile up a list of things that could use Kanban inventory cards as a result of HYPER community recommendations. There has also been a change in how teams communicate with themselves and other teams; lab members have voiced their observations of this higher level of dynamic. All of these small glimpses of a new lean culture reflect the increasing returns that will come as a result of the progress made this summer.

As new hires at the HYPER Lab earlier in 2021, we developed technically, professionally, and personally. Technically, we became experts in lean manufacturing. Professionally, we learned how to lead a community, put together effective presentations, and create engaging and relevant activities. Personally, we learned our strengths and weaknesses as individuals, and can now work off each others strengths to succeed as a team.

Over the course of this page, we introduced fundamental lean concepts and strategies as tools to aid in adaptability. In bettering our ability to adapt, we are enhancing our ability to continuously improve; however, learning tools will not make continuous improvement a habit. Only kata (routine practice) will. Practicing the improvement kata in conjunction with the guidance of a coach will solidify continuous improvement as a habit. As the rising tide lifts all ships, the rise of individuals results in the rise of the collective. The limits of the HYPER lab will continue to extend as long as we pursue our higher potentials.

Check out this link:

Ryan Marten’s Lean/Agile Seminar