Detroit enlists help of WMU teams to boost city operational efficiency

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Photo of Detroit skyline.

City of Detroit

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Two teams of Western Michigan University business students and professionals are helping the city of Detroit devise lean systems that will improve the city's overall efficiency—and its bottom line.

The volunteer teams are from WMU's celebrated integrated supply management program, which is ranked 12th in the nation. They are working on a citywide maintenance and stores facility as well as the maintenance and stores facility for the city's bus system. The teams are identifying both opportunities and liabilities and making recommendations to the city to optimize the facilities for the future.

Students, alumni and staff part of effort

Students, alumni and staff are leading the projects. They include recent graduates Hanna Downs of Novi, and Tom Monette of Sterling Heights; current student Leo Bieniek of Warren; alumnus Joe Fleck of Oakland, a retired senior leader from General Motors; and Ken Jones, director of executive education and instructor of integrated supply management at WMU's Haworth College of Business. The teams are applying the best practices in lean systems to the projects, with the goals of eliminating waste, reducing expenditures, and providing the structure, scale and flexibility for maximum efficiency for the city storage facilities.

WMU's integrated supply management program became involved with the city's focus initiatives after several months of conversation about needs and goals. City officials expressed a general interest as well in the Bronco Force Solutions Team concept, which is designed to provide consulting assistance to entities with broad-based student/professional teams like the one assembled for this effort.

"When the call for expertise in the area of lean consulting came from the city of Detroit, we knew that our students and alumni could provide the necessary talent and teamwork to help the city," says Jones. "The culture of our program and of Western Michigan University is to take on complex challenges for the right reasons and work hard to accomplish goals. When Michigan's largest city needs help, in an area where we can provide value, we need to answer that call."

The idea of being able to aid the city by applying lean tools and models appealed greatly to recent graduate Hanna Downs, one of the ISM program's national scholarship recipients.

"I could not be more excited to be involved in this project," says Downs. "Growing up on the east side of the state and now returning back to work for General Motors, my pride in Detroit is only growing stronger. I look forward to being a part of these efforts to turn our city around and restore it to the place it once was. I know that the WMU students, alumni and staff involved in this project are going to bring a lot of hard work and creativity to the table. We have been taught to ask questions and keep digging until the root cause of a problem is found, and we all bring relevant experience to the projects at hand."

The teams will be working on the projects throughout the coming weeks, delivering a comprehensive list of recommendations and implementation practices. The implementation will be managed by city employees in consultation with Deloitte, the consultant on all the focus initiatives for the city, as well as a team of project managers experienced in process improvement.

WMU's integrated supply management program

Ranked No. 12 in undergraduate supply chain education by Gartner, WMU's ISM program has been recognized nationally by several organizations and publications for its leadership in preparing students for careers in supply chain management. WMU's curriculum combines engineering, information technology, supply chain and business education. The program also includes Bronco Force consulting teams, which give students experience in business consulting with companies on their supply chain challenges. The WMU Center for Integrated Supply Management was established in 2014 by the Haworth College of Business.