Matt Hrivnak

Kaizen: There's always another future state

Hi, my name is Matt Hrivnak (pron: Riv-Nack).  I’m a process driven, classically trained operational excellence professional with a deep commitment to personal kaizen, lean education, and improving the landscape of American business through relentless implementation of lean manufacturing and six sigma principles.  Over the past 10 18 years (updated for 2016!), I’ve been fortunate enough to study and learn from some of the greatest lean thinkers.  There is always something to learn from everyone I encounter, and I can only hope that I give back to them as much as they pass on to me.

Beginning in late 2005, I decided that I needed to address the deficiencies present in my daily life by applying all that I knew from lean.  I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that I was able to lose a lot of weight that I had gained after college, while getting my finances in order, and put my life on an improvement track that I could stay committed to from that point forward (and I have!). At that time, I called it The Lean Lifestyle, and recorded many of my practices in a book by the same name that I shared with close friends and family.  It was a very positive first step, as I found the words that I had written were taken to heart by some.  This brought improvement to their lives and a bigger meaning to mine.  Spreading the power of The Lean Lifestyle to all that I can is now a main driver in my life, and a central theme to all that I do on a daily basis.  Before I get to deep, here’s a little more about my background.

At the age of 16, I began college at the University of Pittsburgh (UP), taking summer classes, studying American History and Engineering.  It was during this time that I was first introduced to lean manufacturing while working in the dietary department of a hospital that was in beginning phases of a lean transformation.  After two years at the hospital and two summers at UP, I attended the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and earned a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering with program concentrations in Advanced Manufacturing Practices (Lean), Statistical Quality Control (Six Sigma), and Ergonomics, Health & Safety (EH&S), and an elective concentration in Economics.  As part of the program, I was lucky enough to complete 5 co-ops which allowed me to work for several organizations, all at various levels of Lean implementation, as well as performing work in a consulting role for RIT’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies (CIMS) for EH&S through a federal grant from the Department of Labor (DoL).

While at RIT, and under the tutelage of Coach Wayne Wilson, I played on the men’s varsity ice hockey team which provided me with growth opportunities in team development, leadership, and most importantly, the power of poise.  During those years, the team enjoyed some of its greatest success in the history of the program including 3 ECAC West Championships, 3 NCAA Tournament appearances, 1 NCAA Final Four appearance, and 1 NCAA National Championship game appearance.  Playing on that team drove home a lot of the continuous improvement aspects of lean and gave me a better understanding of the worth of kaizen and kata; better opposition is always around the corner, working harder and smarter, but often times, the biggest competition we face isn’t with them, it’s against ourselves.  I knew I wasn’t going to play professional hockey like many of my teammates, but at the same time, that wasn’t going to keep me from improving each and every day.  I’d set a target condition, investigate what was causing me from reaching it and work on improving it.  Once it was achieved, I’d set a new one.

After graduating, I began my professional career at a very strong lean sigma manufacturing company as a process engineer responsible for several value streams.  While there, my role was to oversee the creation and daily improvements of multiple manufacturing cells; performing all kaizen events, blackbelt projects and lean sigma training to the areas.  As opportunities arose, I continued to perform lean work in other organizations that were just beginning their lean journeys.

Many times, the leader of the organization knew what lean was about and supported it, but at the same time, they were not always fully understanding of how the more important cultural piece fit in with all of the tools they had experienced at other companies where they had seen lean, but not really lived it.  I learned first hand the disdain that many managers and associates have for the very basics of the Toyota Production System, mostly due to the typical misalignment of key metrics and the general lack of customer-focused mentalities.  Problem-solving, learning and continuous improvement were treated as distractions that were keeping each department from reaching its absorption or %-utilization goals.  Over time, I learned how to disassemble those anti-lean stances and obtain the desired outcome by working with associates and showing them how lean would improve their daily lives; something anyone can understand and get behind.

The same could be said for the supervisors and managers as they too would eventually buy into everything that we were doing once they realized how much easier it made their lives.  Of course, they’d have to alter their way of measuring each process as well, but that was always a minor point compared to getting them to ‘flip the switch’ and start thinking lean in everything they did.  Successes then, were dependent on the buy-in from the leadership and the alignment of shared goals to allow each company to focus on the customer and growth instead of internal metrics that had led them down the wrong path years before.

A dedication to teaching the lean and an unrelenting ambition for personal improvement, led to advancements and expanded responsibilities in the form of lean champion roles for which I will always be grateful.  At the heart of every I do is a passion that lies in the daily interactions with associates (at all levels) as they slowly unravel the lean tools and principles into a cultural experience that no only affects their work lives, but that also frequently improves their personal lives as well.

I live my life around lean, incorporating many of the principles into my daily life.  Continuous improvement drives everything that I do.  It’s satisfying to reach a goal, but the journey doesn’t end at that point; there’s always another future state.

I’m constantly working on other lean related projects that you may not see or hear about on this site.  If you have any opportunities and wish to get in contact, please feel free to send me a note:

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