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The Importance of the Process: Student project working with local Community Kitchen

Nov 25, 2013

Walking into a classroom on the first day, Lauren Reed, an Operations Management and Marketing Major had no unusual expectations for P355 Lean Six Sigma last spring.

“I don’t think any of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into when we signed up for this class. We certainly understood that it wasn’t going to be easy, but we knew that it was going to help in some way,” remembers Reed.

P355 Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma has two parts. Six Sigma, a manufacturing methodology made famous from its use by General Electric, is a set of strategies to improve processes. Lean describes the philosophy of how to proceed with Six Sigma. Practicing a lean production ensures that all expenditures for process improvements add value for the end customer.

Clinical Associate Professor Carl Briggs and Lecturer Scott Dobos, both faculty in the Department of Operations and Decision Technology, teach the P355 Lean Six Sigma course at the Kelley School of Business. Coursework and exams provide training and certification for students in Lean Six Sigma.

Photo of Original packing process at the Community Kitchen

Original packing process at the Community Kitchen

Photo of Revised packing process by P355 Student Group

Revised packing process by P355 Student Group

The last project in the class pushes students to use the tools of Lean Six Sigma to improve a process at a local company. Briggs contacted companies and asked for them to evaluate a program that the students may work to improve. The Community Kitchen of Monroe County accepted this offer.

Nate Delong, Operations Manager at the Community Kitchen of Monroe County and a Kelley supply chain alumnus, appreciates the ways in which hands-on coursework enable supply chain students to grow and organizations to improve.

“The supply chain coursework at Kelley is infinitely scalable to the scope of any organization’s operations. Small businesses and organizations have great opportunities for improvement through the creative use of this coursework,” says Delong. “I enjoy the challenge and excitement in the application of industry’s best practices to small organizations like ours.”

“Backpack Buddies”
Students analyzed Community Kitchen’s “Backpack Buddies” program that provides food for children from low-income families on the weekend. School social workers select grade-school students in need based on a variety of factors, including the inability of students to focus in the classroom. 

“One of the main reasons why we chose the Community Kitchen of Monroe County wasn’t because we saw a big problem, but because we wanted to do something in which we could actually see our work making some sort of difference in the local community. We wanted it to mean more than a grade on a page,” said Reed.

Packing the backpacks requires multiple volunteers for a few hours one morning a week. Constraints of the packing process include uncertain attendance of volunteers, ability to communicate the process effectively to volunteers, and limited space. Reed and her group decided the packing process could move quicker, opening up more volunteer time for other projects. The group members observed the current process at the Community Kitchen and systematically reconstructed the elements theoretically and physically. 

“Not only was the project a great way to utilize… skills we were learning in class, but to also understand how the business of the process works and what Nate deals with in terms of supply, volunteers, logistics on a regular basis,” commented Reed.

Their imperative was to save the Community Kitchen fifteen minutes with their improved process. Fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like much, but for four volunteers, a whole hour can be reassigned to other projects.

The Extra Mile
In Six Sigma, levels of proficiency are rated in belt colors. Students in P355 earn “Greenbelt” certification at the end of the course, but Reed’s group decided to go a step further.

“In terms of the project itself, I know I was certainly lucky to work with such a great group of people. We did way more than was required of us and at any point people could have drug their feet in the dirt and said, ‘but the directions only say we have to do the first three steps of the DMAIC framework,’ but no one ever did,” states Reed. “We were receiving Greenbelt training in class, but ended up with nearly a black belt level project because of our design of experiment and statistics.”