Carleton University (United States)

Contributed by Melanie Dow

Carleton University ( was founded in 1942 to serve veterans returning from World War II. Located in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, Carleton serves 30,000 students with a community-focused mission and research initiatives that impact the world. Carleton’s “Lean Process Review” initiative began in 2009, when the then VP for Finance and Administration solicited pilot projects to demonstrate the benefits of process improvement. Led by the Office of Quality Initiatives (OQI) (, and with help from an external consultant, the success of the early Lean Process Reviews soon garnered support from other senior leaders across the university. Carleton created a customized version of the Lean Process Review methodology to meet the specific continuous improvement needs of its campus community, including a focus on the end user’s perspective and broad engagement of the right people during the Lean Process Review.

The OQI receives and prioritizes proposals for Lean Process Review projects. A cross-functional Organizational Excellence Steering Committee gives final approval to which Lean Process Review projects proceed. The Quality Advisor facilitates all Lean Process Reviews, provides oversight for the project, and collaborates and supports the associated management group on implementation of the final process improvements. Lean Process Review Teams are provided “just-in-time” training throughout their Lean Process Review journey, which includes Discovery, Scoping and Planning, and a Sponsor and Team Launch. Lessons learned along the way demonstrate that it is vital to the team’s success to include this training before the mapping begins. Finding the time to dedicate 6 days to mapping (3days for mapping the current process, a week break, and 3days for mapping the “future state” process) is often challenging, but after completing the “future state” map, the teams always comment on how worthwhile the time was in understanding the impact of their work on others. OQI follows the team through the transition to the future state and facilitates the 6-month check in to monitor success.

Since 2009, Carleton has completed over 30 Lean Process Review projects, including the Lost and Found Process Improvement project. This was a 1-year Lean project sponsored by the Assistant VP of LJniversity Services to improve the lost and found process across campus and to develop a consistent set of guidelines for departments to follow. The existing lost and found process was confusing, with several well-intentioned departments collecting lost items on an ad hoc basis. Most of the individuals who used the lost and found system were students with limited financial resources to replace lost electronics, ID cards, etc. Thus, students who had lost items had to identify which departments may be collecting lost items and then visit each one to see if their lost item was there. The new process established four well-publicized lost and found sites across campus. In addition, a new central database logs all lost and found items, and the database can be accessed at each of the four locations so customers are given accurate information about where their lost item can be picked up. Following implementation in 2015, the new lost and found process doubled the rate of items that were returned to their owners and saved students more than $130,000 in replacement fees (up from $5,500 prior to the Lean project). In addition, the new process reduced the number of lost items donated or destroyed. Overall, the Lost and Found Process Improvement project improved the customer experience for locating a lost item on campus; the process went from confusing and frustrating to providing excellent service.

In contrast to the early days when OQI proactively sought out Lean Process Review opportunities, offices, departments and units on both the academic and the administrative sides of the university now actively seek out its services. The Lean Process Review initiative receives continued support of the President and the current VP of Finance and Administration. Demonstrating its own commitment to continuous improvement, OQI measures the impact of each Lean Process Review in two ways: feedback from the Lean Process Review team about the experience and tracking the tangible impact the Lean Process Review has had on the work of a department/unit.

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