Evidence Supporting the Successful Application of LHE

Lean has been successfully applied across the full spectrum of businesses and industries: manufacturing, service, health care, aerospace, defense, law, banking, construction, government, and many more, attesting to its broad applicability in virtually all work settings.1 Lean has also been successfully applied in higher education. Over the past 20years, examples of the successful application of LHE have continued to grow, providing a substantial body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of LHE across a wide variety of institutions around the world.

This chapter presents brief overviews of 16 universities from around the world that are implementing Lean Higher Education (LHE). These exemplars, curated to represent institutions at all stages of their Lean journey, demonstrate both the breadth of opportunity within higher education as well as benefits to a university and its stakeholders. Each offers some details on the rationale for introducing LHE, how LHE is organized and practices, and insights into the institution’s successes and challenges implementing LHE.2

The Successful Application of LHE: Exemplar Universities

Bowling Green State University (United States)

Contributed by William K. Balzer

Bowling Green State University (BGSU; www.bgsu.edu) is a state-assisted, research-intensive institution with approximately 19,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled on its two campuses in Northwest Ohio. BGSU is committed to undergraduate success inside and outside the classroom, with a wide number of first-year programs to help ensure a smooth transition to college. In 2006, the President and several Vice Presidents (VPs) supported a pilot program to implement LHE in response to reduced state funding (and concomitant expectations from the state that universities use state support more efficiently) and BGSU’s commitment to improve services to students.

As part of its ongoing efforts to improve efficiency and service quality, three initial LHE projects were conducted to improve critical processes in the Counseling Center and Student Health Services prior to the co-location of these offices with the Office of Disability Services in a new comprehensive campus “Health Center." The success of these three projects (the “Counseling Center Project” was presented in Chapter 2) raised senior leadership awareness of the benefits of LHE and demonstrated the transportability of Lean principles and practices to processes in higher education.

LHE initiatives continued without university-wide adoption or centralized support. LHE Champions continued to conduct Rapid Improvement Events (RIEs), 5S workplace improvements, Hoshin planning, and structured problem-solving guided by the use of Lean tools on an ad hoc basis. For example, in response to complaints that the hiring process for salaried non- academic staff was slow and convoluted, leading to the loss of top applicants from the pool, the Office of Human Resources asked an LHE Champion to conduct an RIE to improve the hiring process. The Lean Champion assumed full responsibility for data gathering, designing workshop exercises and just-in-time training, locating temporary meeting space and supplies, facilitation of the RIE, etc. (with modest ad hoc support from the Office of Human Resources). The RIE was conducted over a 5-day period:

Day 1: Day of Learning - LHE Basics; Understand Current Process Day 2: Day of Discovery - Brainstorm and Prioritize Improvement Ideas Day 3: Day of Improvement - Create the New Process Day 4: Day of Finalizing Process Design - Confirm and Document the New Process

Day 5: Day of Planned Implementation -Assign Responsibilities and Accountability.

Key results from the RIE are summarized in Table 3.1.

On average, two to three LHE activities are conducted annually, facilitated by a handful of current faculty and staff with expertise in LHE. These

Table 3.1 Scorecard Performance: Improvements to Hiring Process for Salaried Non-Academic Staff



After (Projected)


Lead time (beginning to end)

«22 weeks

«8 weeks

14weeks (74% less)

Number of steps

87 steps

40 steps

47 steps (54% fewer)

% Value-added steps in the hiring process




Number of forms



1 (33% fewer)

Processing Time for Critical Components of Hiring Process

Create new/updated position description

2CM0 days

2-11 days

20+ fewer days

Applicant review and hiring recommendation

4+ weeks

2-3 weeks

20+ fewer days

facilitation responsibilities are on top of the individual’s formal job responsibilities (and occasionally supplemented with a modest stipend). Other LHE initiatives include:

■ Faculty hiring process: Time from approval of position to extending job offer reduced by 40%, streamlined process for faculty search committees, and improvements in the number and quality of communications with faculty applicants.

■ Student advising: LHE structured problem-solving recommendations (e.g., provide “drop in advising” to address immediate student needs, shift general advising services to professional staff and specialized advising to faculty, establish advising checklists to identify and address student issues that impact academic success) led to 6% increase in Fall-to-Fall semester retention.

■ Fund transfer to international sites: Reduced time to transfer funds to support study abroad sites from 3 weeks to 3days.

■ Strategic plan implementation: Applying Lean policy planning and deployment to create materials and process (e.g., X matrix, 30-60- 90 Plans) to provide regular monitoring of the implementation of the University’s 5-year strategic plan.

Overall, the localized implementation of LHE has been successful at BGSU. More recently, under a new University President, LHE oversight has been added to the job responsibilities of a Lean champion, and LHE was formally identified in the University’s strategic plan as an approach to improve the institution’s efficiency and effectiveness. Current considerations include the broad implementation of LHE within a single division of the University as a “model universe” for others to observe and consider. However, the lack of a clear long-term commitment to LHE among all senior leaders (e.g., immediate financial pressures demands process improvements that demonstrate shortterm financial gains) suggests that leadership practices and workplace climate are not ready at this time for a university-wide implementation of LHE.

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