LEANing toward change

Oct. 1, 2010

I f last New Year's Day anyone had told me that this month I would get “lean,” I would have laughed. My diet has not worked that fast! But when a decision was made to relocate MLO employees to newer on-site office space, I began to see the true LEAN concept. MLO is now ensconced in a second-floor corner of the newest building on company property. I now sit in my new office with Denise DiRamio and Carol Vovcsko a door or two away (and Lora Harrell temporarily working from home as she tends to newborn twins and a toddler): We have all become “LEAN.”

We set about saving, donating, recycling, or discarding some dozen years' worth of files, magazines, and diskettes, as well as reference manuals and books. We then started packing what was left and moving. I began to wonder: honestly, just how many sticky notes did I need? Was it necessary to horde more than 1,000 colored push-pins? How many markers of a half-dozen colors do I use in a day, a week, a month? Were three boxes of paper clips necessary when my promise to myself is to become “paperless”? Believe me, little things do count because they take up lots of space!

Since other company publications reside on this property, too, a great clean-up ensued. Envelopes; notepads and mouse pads; pencils and pens; paper clips of all sizes, shapes, and colors — and calendars of every shape, size, and design; file holders, sorting trays, and clipboards; desk-size trash and recycle containers — little things we had taken for granted as we worked throughout a day — had to be recycled, sold, or used by someone somewhere in the new design. To witness the abundance of “things” was amazing, and weeding out many unused “things” helped us get LEANer.

At times, I thought of Woodrow Wilson's comment: “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” But as I watched everyone pitch in to help each other, I was reminded of Howard Zinn's sentiment: “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of (or a couple dozen, even) people, can transform the world” (or an office campus). We all had to change something: an office to a cubicle, private to shared space, window with a view to no window, door to close to no door, big fridge to a small one, the “recipe” for the perfect pot of coffee exchanged for someone else's version.

Carol Vovcsko, who rearranged her new office four times in one week to get it workable and comfortable (and attractive), set the standard for “getting it right.” The staff of one of our sister publications already housed in the new space compacted the contents of a long row of bookshelves in the common space outside of our private offices for the common good — filling five or six recycle or donation bins with magazines and books — and set the standard for “sharing with others.” In using what furnishings existed in our new space, no one hogged a single piece of the collection, we did with less, and we all ended up well matched and happy — thereby setting the standard for “playing well with others.”

It strikes me that changing a “traditional” laboratory into a more modern environment must be very similar to our experience, except that our consolidation was a one-time change, and none of us had to learn anything new about how to operate any equipment or how to use new software. Many MLO readers are continuously learning how to “LEAN” their space; using new automated equipment, tests, and methods, and training newly minted lab techs who are young or from other countries or both … while meeting ongoing, sometimes unannounced, strict inspection requirements and other daily challenges. My takeaway lesson this year is that while change often seems ominous, change can bring new friends — and often an exciting adventure! My comprehension has grown about the always-changing, ever-learning environments in which lab pros work! Now that I am clean, LEAN, and mean, I can go back to that rowing machine …