Resource constrained colleges are looking for ways to do more with less. The topic of process improvement and ways to increase efficiencies had our audience’s attention at the February 2018 Collegis Enrollment Growth Summit.

Janyce B. Fadden, director of strategic engagement at University of North Alabama’s College of Business, presented on the process improvement philosophy called Lean Higher Ed.

Which type of process improvement is right for you?
Process improvement, or business process redesign, may call to mind Design Thinking, Six Sigma or other philosophical approaches. Explore further, and you’ll soon find articles on how Design Thinking and Lean process improvement work hand-in-hand.

Drew Melendres, vice president of strategic partnerships at Collegis Education, described the differences: “Lean Higher Ed is focused on process and reducing waste. Design Thinking focuses on understanding user needs, or for a college, student needs, and the outcomes your college would like to achieve through improving efficiencies. Six Sigma and Lean Higher Ed are similar, but Six Sigma is about reducing variances in the process, and because each student is different, this is not the best method for higher education.

Melendres has several years of experience in leading Lean Higher Ed efforts as the vice president of enrollment management and student affairs at a university in Minnesota, as well as a director of admissions at a large state school in Texas.

“One thing I learned,” continued Melendres, “is that process improvement happens when the focus shifts from tools to process. It’s easy to start with people or tools, but process improvement really begins when you eliminate waiting time, delays, or duplication of effort. Each of those are driven more by process than tools. Whether the tools are cutting edge, or have been in use for several years, it all comes down to how they are used.”

Based on efficiencies developed at Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1930s, the process has been adapted for higher-ed operational process-improvement in recent decades. For higher ed, the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland has been particularly active in teaching and researching Lean process improvement specifically for college environments. Considered one of the leading expert sources in the field, it is rare to find mention of Lean Higher Ed that doesn’t include St. Andrew’s.

Lean Higher Ed’s Emphasis on Empowerment
Crystal Comer, associate director of partner solutions with Collegis, shared that she was trained on Lean Higher Ed and grew to appreciate its emphasis on respecting employees.

“Lean Higher Ed teaches that everyone is doing their best in any given moment said Comer.  “It’s important to remove blame from the conversation. But, I didn’t realize what an impact that would have until after our first project had been completed. From that point on, it seemed that everyone involved was having higher quality conversations about all of our work.”

Comer has also led Lean Higher Ed projects in previous roles; she used the methodology to improve processes while working in enrollment management at a public institution, then at a private college where she was the registrar.

“I also noticed that because the stakeholder employees were empowered to make changes to their daily work processes, they were invested in each Lean Higher Ed project’s success. They took ownership of the projects and that set the stage for a positive work environment.”

When asked what three things a college president would need to launch a Lean Higher Ed project, Comer responded that at the top of her list is having an enthusiastic, executive-level champion.

“An executive level champion signals to the team that they have permission to do the work,” says Comer.

Training is also on Comer’s list as a must-have. She said that the State of Minnesota has an office devoted to continuous improvement resources, and suggested that colleges reach out to their local government agencies. Resources may be housed within state departments of education, economic development or business services. Additional resources are listed below.

Share Success Stories
The third must-have on Comer’s list is that successes should be celebrated.

“The more you lift up the work, the more often people hear stories about it, the outcome is that more staff become interested. Sharing stories of success is empowering. It rewards the team that did the work, and inspires teams from other areas to give it a try.”

We don’t usually highlight our own products and services in our blog articles, but, at Collegis, we do offer business process redesign services. If we’ve got you thinking about how to drive your own Lean Higher Ed processes, we’d love to talk with you about how to begin!

Process Improvement and Lean Higher Ed Resources

1. Collegis Education – Business Process Redesign: info@collegiseducation.com
2. University of St. Andrew’s, Scotland, U.K.
3. Lean Enterprise Institute
4. Minnesota Office of Continuous Improvement