Falling in Love with Continuous Improvement

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Anne Trollen

At two o’clock every day last summer, you could find Anne Trollen sampling ice cream. While this might sound like par for the course in the heat of a Minnesota summer, Anne would argue that the ice cream tasting was a necessary quality control measure, not to mention standard operating procedure at the Kemps plant in Rochester, MN. She was just doing her job.

Anne’s title at the time was Operations Management Intern, and she spent her summer learning the ropes of what it took to be a plant manager at Kemps. The internship was required for her Manufacturing Operations Management (MM) major, but with her genuine interest in operations, Anne would have pursued the internship with no academic credits attached. 

“From the moment I took my first operations course, I was hooked,” Anne says. “I fell in love with 5S, lean principles, Six Sigma—all the continuous improvement methodologies.”

 

The Beauty of Continuous Improvement

 

Anne transferred to the Twin Cities campus from the University of Minnesota Duluth with the hope of discovering a fitting academic path. What she found was somewhat of a surprise—the path she chose was less academic theory and more applied, real-world knowledge. She’d enrolled in an operations course and felt that magical “click”—this was the subject matter for her. 

“From the moment I took my first operations course, I was hooked. I fell in love with 5S, lean principles, Six Sigma—all the continuous improvement methodologies.”

“I loved learning about processes. I thought, ‘Okay, I truly love this.’ And soon after that class, I found a Green Belt Training course and got certified as a green belt,” she says with excitement. 

Not to be confused with the colorful hierarchy of karate belts, six sigma green belt certification is something professionals may earn to demonstrate a proficiency in leadership for process improvement. In the manufacturing industry at large, continuous improvement is the name of the game. And that’s the game Anne loves playing. She is driven to discover ways to produce goods in less time, with less waste, thereby saving money along the way. It’s classic problem solving, and Anne loves everything about it.

 

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Through the MM program, she took course after course that opened her eyes to new aspects of operations. The course on regulations and safety, for example, taught her the supreme importance of ensuring the manufacturing of products like food or medical devices happens correctly to ensure customer safety. This course in particular was useful during her internships with Kemps and Hormel, where she was working directly on the floor in both plants. 

She stresses, though, that every MM course was packed with real-world value. Anne advises others to “take every course seriously because they all tie together in the end.” She goes on, “You learn from instructors who work full-time in their field and teach as adjuncts. Don’t slack off—every class is very important.”

 

Applying the MM Degree in the Real World

 

“All the courses I took in the MM degree directly translated into operations,” Anne says. “Especially working in a plant, where I’ve been the last two summers. I’ve learned everything from being able to make processes more efficient to improving OEE [Overall Equipment Effectiveness].”

During her internship at Kemps, she had the opportunity to take on a number of projects for the plant manager. Anne was also able to step into a leadership role, ensuring that the lines were up and running, employees were clocked in and on the job, and problems that arose were dealt with quickly. She spent a significant amount of time improving the standard operating procedure (SOP) on the ice cream sandwich line and for other various job functions as well—work that earned her many accolades. 

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While she learned a lot in that internship, Anne was hungry for more. The following summer, she landed an internship in production management at Hormel Foods, based in Austin, MN. This internship, Anne says, gave her insight into life as a department supervisor, a role she could realistically expect to have after graduation.

“After my summer interning for Kemps, I was used to working in a plant. Although, the Hormel plant was huge and learning where everything was definitely a challenge,” Anne says. “Right away, I was put on a project to improve a bottleneck on one of the injector lines. Ham season is coming up, and they wanted the issue taken care of. I was able to solve that problem, and from there, I went on to learn everything else about being a department supervisor.” 

“I just love seeing change and improvement. Being able to be on the floor where the action is happening and learn how the product comes together—that’s something I love.”

With her knowledge and experience, Anne is set up for success when she graduates in the spring. And what does she want to pursue after she tosses her graduation cap in the air? Anne says she will definitely check back in with Kemps and Hormel Foods, as she had a great experience at each. She also mentions that she’s interested in the medical field. Whatever she does, she will be taking her passion for process improvement with her.

“I just love seeing change and improvement,” Anne says. “Being able to be on the floor where the action is happening and learn how the product comes together—that’s something I love.”