Brodke's 'Simulations' Enhance Lean Training



Lean Management (often referred to as Lean Six Sigma or, simply, Lean) is a leading industry approach pioneered by the Toyota Motor Company. Companies that implement Lean often report significant revenue growth alongside cost reduction. Indeed, 50 percent reduction in customer wait times, inventory, and other costs are typically realized through Lean implementation. 

BGSU Firelands Associate Professor of Business Management Michelle Brodke is an advocate of Lean because of its power to transform companies. Her research is aimed at sustaining the long-term success of Lean by teaching Lean management practices, as well as Lean tools.  

Brodke is a 16 year veteran of the BGSU Firelands faculty and also has extensive business sector experience.  For nearly a decade, Brodke was employed at Ernst & Young LLP and later Capgemini Consulting to implement IT and human resources initiatives both nationally and internationally. Brodke earned a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Doctoral Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from BGSU.

Her research focuses on enabling workers to improve business processes, consistent with the views of Lean gurus like W. Edwards Deming and Akio Toyoda. “The people closest to the work are those best able to improve work processes,” said Brodke.

Drawing from her psychology background, Brodke uses Lean training to overcome judgment errors, enhance teamwork, and keep management practices focused on improving processes, rather than controlling workers. 

Brodke uses process simulations in which people learn Lean tools and management in a fun, non-threatening atmosphere. “Individuals then transfer their first-hand experience with Lean management simulations to transform actual work environments using Lean tools,” said Brodke.

Working with the BGSU Firelands Office for Educational Outreach, Brodke recently led a 12-week training program with a local hospital using one of her custom Lean simulations. Results indicated that the simulation effectively engaged learners, taught Lean tools, and highlighted the management practices needed to sustain Lean initiatives. 

In addition to partnering with the Office for Educational Outreach, Brodke is partnering with BGSU’s Center of Excellence for Developing Effective Businesses and Organizations at the Bowling Green campus to bring Lean Leadership products and services to organizations in both regions.

Thirty-five students in Brodke’s class are also contributing to her research. While some students are focusing on a process simulation for the travel and tourism industry, other students are applying the Lean principles learned in Brodke’s class to their various places of employment.

Racquel Pace, a senior who will earn her Bachelor of Art in Liberal Studies in December, enjoys the class and appreciates what she is learning.

“The simulations provide real insight into work processes and have helped me to understand work-place challenges from various perspectives – management, front-line workers, etc.,” said Pace.

Currently employed in the hotel industry, Pace was also able to contribute her own practical experiences to help refine the travel and tourism industry simulation the class is working on.

“Students benefit by applying their knowledge to improve teamwork and think critically as they develop Lean solutions to real world problems,” said Brodke.

Brodke will focus in the coming year on refining her approach to Lean training and compiling evidence of its effectiveness.

“Although no outcome is assured, people can learn how to detect process problems and engage people to fix those problems. Lean provides the tools, and process simulations enable people to practice implementing those tools successfully,” said Brodke.