Lean is a set of principles and practices derived from the Toyota Production System developed by the Toyota Motor Company to establish operational excellence as a strategic cornerstone. The "Toyota Way"(Liker, 2004), emphasized continuous improvement and respect for employees as key to strategic business philosophy to enhance product quality and productivity across the business. Lean in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have enabled these institutions to seek process improvements and meet demands of the Higher Education (HE) marketplace: exceeding the expectations of students, faculty members, industry and government bodies, reducing operational costs in an age of budgetary constraints and even reducing several forms of waste across the institutions.
To date, we have seen the applications of Lean in administrative operations and support services within many universities but virtually nothing yet to academic processes. A few key researchers in Lean Thinking have warned that academic freedom and autonomy in HEIs will continue to challenge Lean implementation. Here the term "Waste" is used in the context of HEIs followed by examples of Waste and finally elucidating how such Waste can be reduced using Lean Thinking (LT).Before waste can be reduced or eliminated, it must be recognized and this is the biggest challenge for any organization, in particular, HEIs where processes are not very or less transparent. Once recognized, its causes must be understood and addressed if they are to be permanently removed. The following are the most common forms of waste in HEIs:
To date, we have seen the applications of Lean in administrative operations and support services within many universities but virtually nothing yet to academic processes.
Waiting- This refers to time waiting for the next step in a process to be executed. In an HE context, this may include: waiting for documents to be approved, IT systems downtime, searching for files, books, and documents, the time is taken to respond to student queries, the time taken to mark course works, etc.
Inventory-This refers to keeping more supplies or items than required. Records and documents held longer than usefully required. In an HE setting, typical examples may include too many marketing brochures, too many photocopies of class notes, too many stationery items in stock, unnecessary number of e-mails, etc.
Transportation-This refers to the unnecessary movement of products and materials resulting in wasted efforts and energy and adds no value to customers.Typical examples in an HE context may include multiple approvals for conference attendance, excessive e-mail attachments, movement of paper works between departments and schools across the university, etc.
Motion- This refers to any excess movement by people that do not add value to the product, service or process. Examples in an HE environment may include moving staff and students between classrooms or from one campus site to another, photocopy machines installed away from the office and in some cases in a different building, etc.
The recommended solution to the above types of waste:
5S practice-The full-form of 5S is: Seiri - sorting, Seito - straightening out, Seiso - Shining, Seiketsu - Standardizing and Shitsuke - Self- disciplining, which aims for spontaneous and continuous improvement of working environment and working conditions.
Value Stream Mapping (VSM)-A powerful tool which is used to map the end-to-end process to identify the various forms of waste and bottlenecks in various steps or sub-processes and devise strategies to minimize them.
Level Scheduling -The level schedule is actually a smoothed forecast of demand and its purpose is to remove the fluctuations in "true" customer demand from day to day and so create a stable flow.
Point-of-Use-Storage (POUS)-POUS is used to reduce unnecessary movement of material and people and is applicable to both academic and administrative staff in an HE sector.
Lean concepts need to be applied, initially to recognize waste in current processes and then to eliminate that waste thus allowing the realization of "the gold in the mine" of reduced costs, improved performance and increased customer satisfaction. This will not be easy given the culture of HEIs but education and training senior executives should recognize the value of lean at a strategic level and its potential impact at the operations level.
Prof. Jiju Antony:
Jiju Antony is the Professor of Quality Management in the School of Management and Languages at the Heriot-Watt University. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and has been a leading practitioner and academic on Lean Six Sigma topic for the past 10 years. He has trained more than 1000 delegates on Six Sigma and Lean related topics over the past 11 years. Professor Antony has published over 250 Journal and Conference papers and 6 books on Six Sigma and Quality Management/Engineering related topics.