Integrating Lean Six Sigma and Project Management Skills! Part II (of III series this week) – Academic Institutions – Students, Faculty and Management!

Academic Institutions:

In part I, we dwelled on the relevance, meaning and value of LSS and PM professionals in the industry. In part II of this series, our scope relates to how LSS and PM skills are applicable in the academic area for an institution toward their 21st century goals and objectives.

Several institutions across the world have been following the industry in different areas as to what the next best thing is. It began with initiatives such as ISO, Total Quality Management (TQM), LSS, PMP, however, they being academic in nature restricted the audience customer from being able to apply them in a real world to witness benefits for their customers, career, and personal.

A lack of real world application in such skills can also lead to a skill that cannot be sustained over a long period in time. Additionally, the institutions also started this as a revenue generating stream resulting in certification benefits for their audience customer and once the certification was issued (whether is certified knowledge or certified application capability) the drive to sustain this behavior faded away over time. Regardless of whether a person is certified PMP or LSS what matters for the customer is the success for the latter through its sustained application to solve problems or create opportunities.

In the industry we have the following areas that lead to a direct benefit toward the EBITDA of an organization:

Process Delays – Reduction in processing cycle time leads to increased capacity

o Increased capacity leads to higher revenue when sales-to-capacity ratio is > 1.0
o This means cycle time reduction benefits can be realized in the short or long term
o If sales-to-capacity ratio is > 1.0 then the benefits are realized in the short term
o If this ratio is expected increase over time then the benefits are purely strategic

Product and/Service Defects – Defect reduction leads to savings in materials and time

o Material savings can come from:

 Minimizing or eliminating waste, and rework of finished products or
 Consuming less raw materials for the same finished product or
 Converting by-products into something of value or
 Designing the product to make it greener (reusable)

Product and/or Process Deviations

o Deviations could result in delays and/or defects
o Reducing and/or eliminating deviations results in materials and time savings.

In an academic institution, 3Ds (Delays, Defects, and Deviations) are similar but interpreted in a different manner. Let us assess a few examples and understand their impact:

a) Process Delays

• Infrequent grade reporting – Student/Parent cannot be proactive
• Manual delays in accessing grades and academic status of students

b) Product and/or Service Defects

• Student course or assignment failures
• Effectiveness of Teachers
• Physical burden of carrying books to school
• Nutrition of institution’s lunches

c) Product and/or Process Deviations

• Inconsistency between teacher’s efforts to prepare for standardized testing
• Non Compliance of teacher with institution’s policy
• Misuse of institution’s funds

Applicability of LSS and PM in an Academic Institution:

Most institutions refuse to acknowledge and act on who the real customer is. When management in academic institutions thinks of success, they relate to an increase in the profitability, growth, and revenue to the coffers of the institution. This seems to be brutal for the student and/or parent who being the real customers coming in with an expectation prior to registering with the institution.

In schools (as in high schools), the focus is on the standardized test scores achieved rather than anything else. A higher average score on the standardized tests allows the school to claim more government funds to become better in delivering the goods for the customers. Secondly, a drive to pay teachers based on performance was initiated in one of the western countries and one extreme situation that resulted was some teachers manipulating the response answers on the tests to boost the scores. Apparently this was investigated and the people found in violation of this accordance were punished duly. This tells us that the pay for performance and increasing the revenue of an institution is all fine and obviously there is everything meaningful in running an academic institution like a commercial operation so long as the focus is narrowed on the customer and none else.

The totem poles for the customers are students, parents, teachers, staff, and community, and not any other way or order. However, most institutions are heaven bent on focusing on their needs as opposed to the student/parent needs.

LSS and PM can be applied in amending the operational behavior of the institution’s management to document the customer’s needs as in “Voice of the Student/Parent” and accordingly create an action plan to meet, let alone exceeding them. In my past decade of experience with corporations, a high percentage of projects when closed revealed that the defects, delays, and deviations were caused by:

1. Lack of a policy or procedure to execute some activity
2. A complex policy hard to interpret by most of the people using it
3. A voluntary action on part of the team to violate the policy/procedure
4. An involuntary action on part of team to violate the policy/procedure
5. Absence of a consequence for those who violate the policy/procedure

Of the 5 causes listed below, the one that occurred with an unusually high frequency was point #5 where there weren’t any consequence to a policy/procedure violation. In an institution where several processes cannot be automated as human capital is vital (when compared to industries where machinery can overshadow human capital to some extent), policies and procedures, especially when manual are prone to a high risk for violation.

Most policies and procedures and not documented for their compliance status, and more so their negative impact is also far down the road making traceability very cumbersome. This is why the medical field in many ways is subject to high compliance in procedures as the life of the patient is highly valued in some countries while not respected in others.

PMs can bring a lot of value in skills in managing the timelines and budget control for institutions in different parts of the world. LSS professionals can use their expertise in assisting institutions reduce their variation and eliminating the NVA (Negative Value Add) aspects of their business processes without investing significant funds or monies.

Utilizing the principles of PM and LSS, institutions can go green and demonstrate a sustainable corporate social responsibility in this decade. My younger son’s elementary school converts wasted paper into pencils with a fragrance which people in the community buy and sponsor. The highs school that my older one attends is fraught with a high absence rate at their guest seminar event. They are unable to attract students to attend such seminars relating to career and growth or choosing their field of study for college.

A charter high school in my neighborhood has converted to e_books and are going green on books by being digital. This means the burden of carrying books and papers is eliminated as well as a significant savings for everyone.

Benefits of ILSS:

ILSS in educational institutions can be implemented with a fine set of LSS and PM skills. The PM expert can ensure budget and stringent timelines are met while the LSS Black Belt or Green Belt can simplify processes, increase speed, reduce waste and help run the institution on a profitable basis while creating a high degree of focus on students and interests of their parents than anything else.

Such benefits can also be extended to energy, water, consumables where significant reduction in their consumption leads to a greener environment. One of the main aspects of an efficient ILLS initiative is resources that are dedicated.

In an institution we have students who are very dedicated and show a cause for their community and will volunteer to come forward and lead these projects that the PMs can support and mentor. Thus the inadequacy of resources faced by an industry while deploying LSS can be overcome much easily in an academic institution when done right.

Working with the principal and a pilot team of teachers and students can bring rapid success to the institution. By looking at the success and understanding what worked and what needs to be improved, the institution can leap into the 3rd decade of the century with an edge that will soon become a crowd puller when it comes to students and parents vying to be part of an institution not because of their scores on tests or job offers they take up, but merely because of their character that is developed at a very supple age.

1. Critical organizational components that have to involve and contribute in parallel could be:

a. Fund and Budget leadership

b. Website and Information technology leadership

c. Hiring Staff from the school district (for public schools)

d. Hiring department in a college type institution

     Project Charters with the assistance of PMs can be designed and shared for approval before execution:

Define the problem or opportunity in any area of the academic institution.
Measure their performance for the past year (s) in the area chosen for improvement.
Analyze root causes for the 3Ds in the process area of interest.
Improve the process by showing a breakthrough that can be sustained for a long time.
Control process to sustain benefits and delight to the students and parents in the community.

     PMs can contribute in the following ways:

1. Maintain current student demographic and assess areas for improvements:

2. Regain lost incoming student talent levels by revisiting the school mission and vision statements:

3. Gain new talent of student and parents from the community by engaging at social levels:

Some Conclusions:

While the world is getting competitive and institutions are tilting toward a commercial intent, profitability, delight to parents and students can still be achieved when the management at these institutions can stick to their “main thing” which is the future of students and the delight of parents who pay the property taxes or tuition to keep the faculty and staff going.

Industry professionals can contribute in several ways by offering a mentoring program to guide the students toward a successful career path based on lessons learned from the past and a sound understanding of the direction the world is taking. When academic scores and feats are important to some, character building and work ethic creation to become competitive can be achieved in institutions just as much as how corporation have used PM and LSS principles to woo their customers.

Since change takes time, it is wiser to apply piloted programs and assess the plusses and gaps before going on a whole scale approach across the entire institution. Even today in my process excellence business operations with customers on a global level, I offer a piloted effort to help the institution or corporation justify the investment, effort, and benefits via the success of a pilot program to allow the culture to reorient its beliefs against the past paradigms and myths.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top