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Deploying Lean Thinking to Improve Graduate Quality and Service Delivery in Higher Education. Rodger L. NKUMBWA Copperbelt University 2010. Paper Presented at the National Symposium on Research & Innovation in Education, University of Zambia - 2010. Introduction .

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deploying lean thinking to improve graduate quality and service delivery in higher education

Deploying Lean Thinking to Improve Graduate Quality and Service Delivery in Higher Education


Copperbelt University


Paper Presented at the National Symposium on Research & Innovation in Education, University of Zambia - 2010

  • Governments in general and higher education sector in particular face a productivity imperative.
  • Growth in new national priorities and citizens’ demand for improved higher education service delivery requires government to do more and do it better.
  • The need to increase productivity in higher education sector is obvious to all and critical.
  • If higher education service delivery is to improve, valuable insights could be gained by looking at what is driving the corporate sector and global world class organizations.
  • This is mainly innovative management practices such as Quality Management, LeanThinking and Six-Sigma Strategies.
  • While significant progress has been made in quest to make higher education better, the motivation to change the current model lies in the number of challenges that need to be addressed today including;
    • Education financial deficit in most countries i.e. Zambia
    • Capacity Constraints
    • Political Concerns about Operational Costs
    • Less Motivated Workface
    • Staff Shortages and
    • Low Quality of Graduates
examples of lean thinking deployment in higher education environments
Examples of Lean Thinking Deployment in Higher Education Environments
  • Lean Thinking has been deployed at various institutions around the world including;
    • Cardiff University, Wales
    • Coventry University, England
    • Park University, US
    • Michigan State University, US
    • University of New Orleans, US
    • University of Iowa, US
    • Colorado Public Schools and
    • Malaysian Schools

Source: Reed and Berry [2], Inozu et al. [3], Cermak [4].

globalized competitive market environment
Globalized Competitive Market Environment
  • The needs of the customers are constantly and rapidly changing,
  • The choice ever increasing
  • The need of higher quality graduates and services ever rising,
  • Strategic higher learning organizations can no longer afford the lost profit opportunities, less customer satisfaction and delayed graduates.
regional and international competition pressure
Regional and International Competition Pressure
  • The driving force for improved graduate quality and service delivery is the regional and international competition pressure
  • Gish [5] of Delloitte Consulting suggests that,

"By applying Lean principles, routine business operations could be simplified, more rational procedures established, and repetition reduced (if not eliminated), thereby accelerating core business processes and responding more quickly to customer needs."

exploring lean thinking for higher education quality improvement
Exploring Lean Thinking for Higher Education Quality Improvement
  • Lean Thinking Impression
    • Lean is a way of thinking that was introduced by Toyota in the 1960’s as a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating institution process waste or non-value-adding operations through continuous improvement with the goal of creating value for all the stakeholders.
exploring lean thinking for higher education quality improvement9
Exploring Lean Thinking for Higher Education Quality Improvement
  • According to research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),Sloan School of Management and Lean Enterprise Initiave it is reported that Lean Business uses less of everything compared to traditional production or operations system.
  • MIT Lean Research further outlines that, lean operations does the following:
    • It optimizes human resources effort
    • Space is optimized leading to savings
    • Need for capital investment is minimized
    • Decreases the amount of supplies consumed and
    • Uses less time to produce and deliver the required services or products
  • It can be seen that, the key principles of lean are based on identifying “wastes” from the customer perspective and eliminating them.
lean thinking in education
Lean Thinking in Education
  • Lean Thinking focuses on:
    • Eliminating waste in organization processes,
    • Lean is not about eliminating people but considering them as team associates and educating them as value creators for the stakeholders.
    • Lean is about expanding organization capacity by reducing costs and shortening production or service delivery cycle times.
    • It is also about understanding what is important to the customer experience and delivering it on the right time in the right amount all the time.
quality strategy for higher education business
Quality Strategy for Higher Education Business
  • The business of higher education today has received greater competition owing to rapid changes in the past decades.
  • The focus now is on the bottom-line and the need to get the competitive edge for all its clients throughout the value chain.
quality strategy for higher education business12
Quality Strategy for Higher Education Business
  • Now is the better time for institution of higher education to demonstrate that they can offer what other can not.
  • As Rozsnyai [7] puts it that,

"…the quality of the University is similarly to love: intangible, but existent; perceptible, but not quantifiable, transient, so that one has to endeavour to it."

quality strategy for higher education business13
Quality Strategy for Higher Education Business
  • Emilian [8] President of Centre for Lean Business suggests that, among the challenges to be faced by higher education institutionsadministrators in few years to come will include:
    • Oversupply of capable higher education institutions,
    • Study programs (degrees) that are not differentiated from the competitors,
    • Growth of for-profit education institutions and
    • Competition based on the pricing.
    • In addition, education standards will become standardised around the globe because of the ever rising quality assurance and monitoring bodies within regions and international.
what is quality in higher education
What is Quality in Higher Education?
  • Quality is a relative subject related to the extent of the business processes results and the desired outcomes.
  • It may be stated as, 'exceptional or excellence', 'perfection or consistence' (zero defect), 'fitness for purpose', 'value for money' and 'transformational'.
what is quality in higher education15
What is Quality in Higher Education?
  • The focus of education quality should be on:
    • What students have learnt,
    • What they know,
    • What they can do and
    • What their attitudes are, as a consequence of their interactions with their teachers, departments and higher education institutions.
what is quality in higher education16
What is Quality in Higher Education?
  • Emilian [8], President of Centre for Lean Business, a Management Consulting firm clearly puts it that,

"…the time is right for higher education administrators, faculty and staff to begin applying Lean Management to their business. The consequences of not doing so could be fatal.“

what is the difference between traditional education and lean education
What is the difference between Traditional Education and Lean Education?
  • Lean Education believes that degree programmes delivered and education curriculum adopted should be based on the concept that production, which is training of graduates, must be driven by customer or national demand in the upstream of the value chain and not just naïve forecasts.
  • Lets look at the comparison of Traditional Education to Lean Education Approach
what is the higher education product
What is the Higher Education Product?
  • It should be noted that, the student is not really the product; instead,
    • The product is the education of the student.
    • Students need to be considered as a co-workers who are actively participating in the design, execution and creation of the product.
  • Therefore, the student should be involved in the continuous improvement of the institution processes in quest for quality creation of the product, namely the Graduate.
  • The student is the host of the education product.
who are the customers for higher education product
Who are the Customers for Higher Education Product?
  • The customers for Higher Education Product may be segmented as follows:
    • Student– this is the primary customer who is the host of the education product and hence, the co-manager of the education production line and should always be considered first when defining quality in education.
    • Student Sponsors – parents, family members, governments and organisations who pays for the students costs.
    • Potential Employers– these are the secondary customers and are organisations relying on the education of the student upon graduating to achieve their organization goals.
    • Society at Large – pays substantial costs of education through taxes and requires future participation of the student as an educated citizen and expects them to contribute positively to the general welfare of society.
what are the customers expectations from higher education product
What are the Customers Expectations from Higher Education Product?
  • The education customers’ expectations and society at large may be segmented as follows:
    • Knowledge – this is what enables students to continuously learn after graduating in relation to what they already know
    • Know-how – this is what enables students to apply knowledge to work environments and this should be from different areas of learning covered
    • Wisdom– this is the ability to distinguish what is vital from what is a not vital and set priority to resource management.
    • Character– this may be said to be a combination of knowledge, know-how and wisdom coupled with motivation to deliver value for the stakeholders.
ten wastes in higher education environment
Ten Wastes in Higher Education Environment
  • Learning to see what is wrong in higher education environment is the beginning of change.
  • Waste in Quality Management is defined as,
    • Any institution activity or operation performed that does not add any value to the customer satisfactionor experience, ( i.e. student, employer and society).
ten wastes in higher education environment23
Ten Wastes in Higher Education Environment
  • Motion – this involves movement of people (educators, students, technicians, administrators, etc) and/or teaching equipments that does not add value to the student learning experience.
    • Examples are looking for information, forms, materials, educators and equipments located far from the point of operation.
  • Waiting Time – this is the idle time created in the University processes when people, information, equipments or materials are not at hand for use.
    • Examples is when students are waiting for appointments, procedures and expert guidance. Others are invasion of teaching time, class interruptions, poorly scheduled meetings and late arrivals by parties involved.
    • Causes of all these may include poor understanding of the standard time required to do a task and lack of accountability for delivering on time.
  • Uncertainty – this is when educators doing the work are not confident about the best way “best-practice” to perform the tasks.
    • Examples, unclear teaching methodology, unclear course curriculum, unclear laboratory procedures.
    • Causes include lack of standardized specifications of procedures of work.
ten wastes in higher education environment24
Ten Wastes in Higher Education Environment
  • Defects– include University activities that contain errors or lack something of value.
    • Examples include; teaching errors, presentation errors such as at seminars, graduation ceremonies, lectures, etc., documents errors, data entry errors, variation of same task outcomes, service delivery errors, product (graduate) errors and lost records.
    • Causes of these may include lack of understanding of what 'defect-free' University processes are and lack of standardization in work processes and quality management.
  • Processing– this include the activities in the processes of service delivery that do not add value from the customer perspective.
    • Examples include extra unnecessary steps, too many approvals, requirements confusion, charting during working hours, missing procedure requirement and too much regulatory paper work.
    • Causes of these may include poor work area design that does not promote smooth value flow, complex and multiple data forms, as well as use of obsolete procedures and forms.
    • Others include creating reports no one reads unclear roles and responsibilities and repeated manual entry of student data or results.
ten wastes in higher education environment25
Ten Wastes in Higher Education Environment
  • Over-Production– includes redundant work such as duplicate work
    • Examples are multiple forms with same information, re-creating already existing knowledge, teaching previously taught curriculum, creating a new report when the data exist in the different department, creating departmental silos as well as protectionism.
    • Causes include poor communication between departments and staff.
  • High Inventory– this is when there is more material at hand than is required to do the work.
    • Examples include overstocked outdated books, poor understanding of supply and demand, obsolete equipments not discarded, unread emails, unfinished projects, files not worked on, unresolved challenges.
    • Others are unnecessary work-in-progress (repeating or part-time students) and finished products beyond what is needed on the normal basis (producing more graduates in degree with less or no demand).
ten wastes in higher education environment26
Ten Wastes in Higher Education Environment
  • Underutilized Resources– this includes organization workforce, time, facilities and equipments available, which are not used to get the optimum benefit.
    • Examples include minimal hours of operation for the library, computer facilities and laboratory for the students. Note that, this is not referring to resource stressing, but just maximizing on the benefits that can be offered by the available resources.
    • Closed University culture to innovation and change, untapped areas of passion for staff and choosing short-term cost reductions that do not motivate staff are among other critical factors in higher learning institutions.
ten wastes in higher education environment27
Ten Wastes in Higher Education Environment
  • Poor Communication– this involves information and data waste.
    • All institutions experience problems nearly every day, which need to be solved by different people in the organization.
    • To solve most of these problems, information is required and now when the information, which is useful to solving the problem at hand, is not available or is difficult to retrieve, inefficiency in problem solving cannot be avoided.
    • Information should be availed to all people in the organization at the earliest possible time, whether positive or negative. Good information practice include; annual audited financial reports which can be posted on websites, annual key performance indicators (KPI's) such as profit margins or losses published to all employees for review and improvement.
  • Misused Resources– this is when alocated resources ior a particular project are diverted owing to some special or personal interests.
    • This in most cases cannot be recovered and is not replaced at all.
    • Best practice is to stick to the annual budget and adopt the long-term philosophy over short-term or personal gains.
deploying lean thinking initiative for higher education excellence
Deploying “Lean Thinking Initiative” for Higher Education Excellence
  • University/College Business Transformation Council
    • This will involve institution wise deployment of the quality improvement strategies that will focus on core University/College business processes.
    • Strategic quality projects should be identified and problem solving teams established including the Project Charter and Quality Leader.
  • Establish “Quality Improvement Charter”
    • Universities should establish a Quality Improvement Charter (QIC) which will act or work as a 'Quality Improvement Centre'. This is where clients like students, staff and employees can report quality issues and make suggestions for improvements. Must be headed by a Quality Professional who will look into the quality issues all round the University/College including training.
  • Establish “Quality Problem Solving Teams”
    • This involves creation of teams for strategic opportunity or operational weakness determination and analysis with focus on the key customers and analysis of the critical business process through the various faculties or departments.
    • Problem solving projects should be established which will be linked to the strategic “Lean Thinking Initiative”. Critical few projects will be identified to highlight the current state of the University performance and establish priority areas where resources may be focused.
  • This paper has presented the quality view of service delivery and graduate quality in higher education environment.
  • The author believes that, better understanding of society expectations from higher education institutions and academic processes is vital for performance re-engineering of most today's higher education institutions, if excellence is to be achieved.
  • It is hoped that, with the areas covered, most education stakeholders are edified about the need for change of the current practice and the new meaning of quality in today and tomorrow higher education institutions.
  • Among the expected benefits of deploying lean thinking in higher education environment include:
    • Simplification of both the academic and administrative processes,
    • Elimination of waste activities or operations
    • Creation of value flow in the institution
    • Reduction of activity cycle time and graduate lead time
    • Reduction of error rates and delays
    • Increased institution bottom-line due to massive savings
    • Improved productivity and efficiency in the value delivery
    • Corporate image and Sustainability are enhanced.
    • All these things with no massive monetary investment required but willingness to adapt and change especially by management, who are vision carriers.
  • Womack, J.P. & Jones, T.D. 2003. Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporations, Simon and Schutter, UK. and
  • Reed, L. & Berry, A.K. n.d. Academia Going Lean, University of Iowa Organization Effectiveness, USA.
  • Inozu, B., Galle, W., Patti, A., Lannes, W. & Trahan, R. 2005. Pioneering Lean Six Sigma Implementation at a Public University, National Consortium for Continous Improvement in Higher Education, University of New Orleans, USA.
  • Cermak, M. n.d. When Education Goes Lean, Career Education – Rockford Public Schools, Illianos, USA.
  • Gish, D. 2005. Making it Lean: The Road to Enterprise Productivity, Delloitte Consulting and Oracle Corporation, USA.
  • Murman, E., Allen, T., Bozdogan, K., Cutcher-Gershenfeld, J., McManus, H., Nightingale, D., et al. 2002 Lean Enterprise Value: Insights from MIT Lean Aerospace Initiative, Palgave New-York USA. and
  • Rozsnyai, C. 2001. The Quality Issues: Challenges and Opprtunity Hungary Higher Education, Sixth Quality in Higher Education Seminar, Birmigham, UK
  • Emilian, M.L. 2005. Using Kaizen to Improve Graduate Bussiness School Degree Programmes, Quality Assurance in Education 13(1), 37 – 52
  • Liker, J.K. & Meier, D. 2006. The Toyota Way Field Book: A practical guide to implementing Toyota 4Ps, McGraw Hill, USA.