The Rebuilding Center – Day 2 – Action Planning and Experimentation

Our intent with The Rebuilding Center is to help out this wonderful organization in any way that we can. Their mission is awesome, the staff are wonderful, and there is so much more to what it does for the community than meets the eye. The other goal of the engagement is to set up a long-term plan, where we can establish a cadence of Lean-related activities to provide experience to Junior consultants who are interested in learning more about Lean and contributing to nonprofit development.

Last Saturday, we concluded the second day (see Day 1 results) of an Integrated Design Event, to outline a series of projects to tackle within a one year timeline. This was Day 2, which started out with an exploration of the types of customers they serve.

We decided to stratify them into two main categories, the ‘newbie’ and the ‘experienced’ customer. We had a discussion about waste from the guests’ perspective, by using an analogy of going to a hamburger joint and all of the things that happen that aren’t involved in you eating your hot meal. We then set out to observe guests’ experiences (of obtaining information) to identify different opportunities to streamline the experience, so that guests can get to the next step.

Through a root cause activity, we nailed down a hypothesis as to why guests weren’t able to get the information they needed. From there, we took existing materials within the store, and built a temporary information kiosk with the data and tools that guests would use.

It took us about 45 minutes to gather up what we needed for a rough draft, set it in place, and then watch guests come into the warehouse and see whether they interacted with the new information. It was a lot of fun, and we saw about half the people pause and read the sign – some even taking tape measures (a key tool) with them as they went to go shopping. It was a great example of getting real-time feedback on something, without spending a lot of time planning to make it perfect. Our follow-up was that the team decided to continue to get feedback on the kiosk, and possibly create two additional kiosks for the additional entrances.

Our next step is to go back and look at the long-term planning again, since there are a lot of opportunities with improving the donation and checkout processes. They would still like to develop a long-term plan to increase capacity while creating a more satisfying environment for their employees and their guests.

Please do visit the store and ask one of the wonderful people who work there what hand they had in creating these improvements.

The Rebuilding Center – Day 1 – Current and Future State

We wanted to go into more detail about our first event with The Rebuilding Center.

It included two main activities; the first was a secret shopping experience. We had five Lean Portland volunteers and five Rebuilding Center employees. The Executive Director and Manager were working the floor, so the staff could work to improve the organization. We paired up and went off to go shopping for the materials for typical DIY projects, like building a dog house, or replacing an exterior door. This allowed the staff and volunteers to gain a first-hand experience about what it is like to be a customer.

The second activity was to set a vision of that customer experience. They acted out a newscast interview of an employee and a customer, based in the year 2020. It was a lot of fun, and we were able to work through current state and future state activities without the burden of doing technical process mapping.

Here is a video of Steve interviewing an employee and a customer, as if he was a news anchor.

At the end of day one, we had a dozen ‘Just Do Its’ – small activities (about an hour worth of work each) that the team was going to work on in the next month, along with four big opportunity areas.

At this point, our intent for day two was to flush out the four big opportunities, and figure out how we could make progress on the first one, and test the ideas that we have for a solution during the day. This would bring the spirit of Kaizen to the team.

We met the team for an hour after work, which was one week before the full-day Saturday event. During that time, we uncovered the fact that they were really keenly interested in working on improving the “getting information to guests” opportunity. The other big opportunities that were of high interest are the donation process and the checkout process.

Update from Event #2 at The Rebuilding Center

I had the unique opportunity this past weekend to spend my Saturday with Lean Portland at The Rebuilding Center. This is a distinctive concept, with a wonderful mission and a passionate crew of employees that want to see it grow and succeed.

Since my previous exposure to Lean/Six Sigma has occurred only within the confines of employment in the healthcare industry, this was an eye-opening experience in the most positive of ways. Working with a group of employees that were truly invested in their organization and its mission was refreshing. Participating in an effort to further what is already an impressive and admirable cause was inspiring.

By nature, community non-profits are often grassroots organizations that have cobbled together resources and processes over time. Growth is not always expected, leading to a non-standardized approach to this expansion when it does occur. In the case of the Rebuilding Center, this haphazard growth has led to an endearing and quirky concept that both drives and inhibits its success.

How can they hold onto what makes it different while minimizing the drawbacks?


New welcome sign will hopefully help customers better understand the process


Thanks to the committed staff and our talented team leaders, it was possible to identify the areas in greatest need of improvement. Each one of these needs stood to benefit the staff, the customers, and the mission of the organization itself. The fact that these needs are so tightly interwoven speaks to the fulfillment that can be had from aiding a non-profit in quality and process improvement.

It will be exciting to watch the changes unfold at The Rebuilding Center throughout this coming year, and I personally cannot wait for my next opportunity to get involved.

– Chelsey McIntyre