Lean and Higher Education -- Can It Work?

In August, I had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Yorkstone shortly after the publication of his new book, Global Lean for Higher Education: A Themed Anthology of Case Studies, Approaches, and Tools. Stephen's book reflects the state-of-the-art in the global practical application of Lean for higher education. It demonstrates the diverse applications of Lean in universities inspiring others to deeply engage with Lean thinking in their own unique context and to drive successful, sustainable, Lean work. 

During our conversation, I asked him: "Where is the application of Lean most prevalent in higher education? Where is it most effective?" Here is his complete answer:

Universities are curious places to think about as Lean organizations. They are connected to every industry, while being idiosyncratic all of their own.

Given that, as you might expect, there isn't one clear pattern to the kind of universities that successfully apply Lean. There are institutions with under 10,000 students making a big difference with Lean, and universities with tens of thousands of students equally making advances.

There are clusters of practice however. Where I live in Scotland, a large proportion of the universities have Lean type work going on, there is a growing momentum behind Lean in the United Kingdom higher education, a large and highly influential group of Australian practitioners, and there are examples of great and well established practice in North America and across Europe.

The pattern of growth of Lean in universities seems to spread organically, from a few pioneers outwards. It's fair to say not all activity to embed Lean in higher education is successful, however, and it can be challenging to estimate this. The existence of a named "Lean" team while on the one hand is clear evidence of a deep organizational commitment of one kind, it on the other hand doesn't guarantee that that university is itself highly Lean. Conversely, the absence of such a team doesn't indicate a university is not in fact advanced in applying Lean thinking.

There are a number of maturity models that look to solve this problem and allow institutions to benchmark against each other. However, given the higher education sector is hugely diverse, simplistic comparisons can be unhelpful. "Paralysis by analysis" is a real risk. Perhaps a practical approach is better.

It's a practical approach that is behind the successful Lean applications in universities. We see use of classic lean tools like visual display boards and team huddles, rapid improvement type activity, lean linked with project boards and technology. However, it's not one way of "doing" lean that works in universities, but "being" Lean that works. Lean in higher education works where institutions don't slavishly adhere to one particular tool or product; but rather when they reflect deeply on their purpose, take action to improve, learn, and always do so with respect for people.

And isn't this the right thing to focus on, regardless of the industry we work in?

Lean in higher education is only growing, and it has already been applied both to administrative and academic services. What do you think of Stephen's perspective? Do you feel that Lean can have a significant and measurable impact in higher education?


Can Lean Principles Be Applied to the Process Industries?

Peter King just published a second edition of his groundbreaking book Lean for the Process Industries: Dealing with Complexity this past June -- just about 10 years after the first edition was released. Since the publication of the first edition, Peter has been busy consulting with food, beverage, gasoline additive, and nutraceutical companies -- these new experiences have broadened his perspectives on certain Lean processes and have given him a richer set of examples to discuss in this new edition. I spoke with him this month and asked him: “Why do Lean improvement efforts lag within the process industries?” Here is his complete answer:

That is a question that puzzled me for a long time.  During the last 18 years of my DuPont career, while we were having much success applying Lean concepts to process operations, I saw nothing in the literature and heard nothing at conferences about others in similar industries applying Lean.  So, I decided to do a little research.

What I learned is that there was some Lean activity in process operations, but it was not being talked about. Process companies can tend to be very “camera shy” – That is, secretive about their process details and methods.  Because the companies doing very effective Lean work were having success but being relatively quiet about it, it didn’t spread among other process companies due to lack of role models or documented success stories.

The  success stories that were documented were almost all in discrete parts manufacturing and assembly – automobiles, refrigerators, microwave ovens, computer keyboards, etc., which created the feeling among process companies that “I’m different – my processes just don’t look like that.”  Those differences are real, but it doesn’t mean that the Lean philosophies and concepts don’t apply; it just means that you have to think about them in a different context. 

The latter part of my DuPont career was spent doing just that: understanding Lean concepts and tools and then figuring out how to adapt them to improve chemical, food, fiber, and synthetic rubber processes.

A very pertinent example is cellular manufacturing. Many have concluded that this tool, very useful in parts assembly, has no place in process manufacturing because the equipment is generally too large to be relocated to move into a cellular configuration.  But we proved a long time ago that by thinking beyond physical arrangements to understand the real benefits of cells, cells could provide very significant value without any relocation.

After leaving my 42-year DuPont career, I decided to write Lean for the Process Industries to provide documented examples of Lean success in process operations, with guidance on how to adapt the concepts and tools and a clear roadmap on how to meet the challenges.

The positive reaction that book received has led me to believe I met that objective. 

About a year ago, based on the success of the first edition, I was offered the opportunity to write a second edition.  I enthusiastically seized that opportunity.  The first edition had been written largely based on my Lean experiences with various DuPont processes.  In the intervening 10 years, I have consulted with companies covering a much broader array of process operations: transmission and brake fluids, vitamin tablets, biological materials for human implant, salad dressings, puddings, potato chips and others, and have faced new challenges that have broadened my perspectives on how to apply the concepts, all of which are captured in the new edition.

Thus, I feel that the second edition meets the objectives I had for the first edition even more completely and thoroughly, and will reduce the gap referred to in the initial question.

What do you think of Peter King’s viewpoint? Have any readers who have been using the first edition of the book read this new edition? What are your thoughts?


What Is Missing from the Current Leadership Mindset?

This past June, Payal Nanjiani, published a thought-provoking book entitled Success Is Within: The 21 Ways for Achieving Results, Prosperity, and Fulfillment by Changing Your Leadership Mindset, which argues that success depends on changing one’s mindset in key ways. She essentially encourages business professionals to "mind the mind." 

I spoke with Payal this month and asked her, "What Is missing from the current leadership mindset?" Here is her complete response:

We are in an age where companies struggle to compete in today’s fast-paced, complex global economy where information about leadership, success, and business is right at the tip of our fingers. Resources are bountiful and communication is swift. Despite all of this, when we look around us, we only see a handful of people that reach the top of success in corporations and businesses. These are the people who achieve their goals and progress ahead. They lead fulfilled career lives. They not only survive, but they thrive in this challenging global economy.

The reason for this gap between the “successful few” and the “unsuccessful many” is not a matter of lack of passion, hard work, or training. Rather, the gap exists because the “unsuccessful many” have not applied the wisdom of the right techniques to achieve success. We all possess this wisdom, but we seldom tap into the right insight at the right time and the right place in our work-life. Tapping into the success within our selves makes all the difference in our end results. Wisdom must guide our thinking, our karma (actions), and our mindset. 

"Success Is Within" is my mantra. My new book presents 21 ways to activate this mantra, to achieve the success that is already within our selves. We must all claim the power of this mantra so that we activate wisdom. We must condition our minds to take control over our karmas (actions) so that we achieve our desired results. 

During a time when businesses and brands are being disrupted with great speed, our mindset is the only element that will help us navigate and define our place in a complex corporate world. Mindset is that hidden aspect within ourselves that shows up in our results. If we tap into it, then it gives us an edge over others. I believe that we are all destined to win regardless of our circumstances. We can all become the “successful few."

Whatever comes and goes in our professional lives, we can take strength from within ourselves, trust ourselves, and achieve unstoppable success. Once we take this strength, we achieve what we want and deserve: we achieve results, prosperity, and fulfillment. We become leaders who have changed our mindsets to move from becoming the “unsuccessful many” to become the “successful few.”

What do you think about Payal's ideas on attuning our minds with specific actions?  Do you agree that "success comes from external factors" is a prevailing myth?