University of Notre Dame (United States)

Contributed by Carol Mullaney

The University of Notre Dame (UND;, an international Catholic university that values religious belief no less than scientific knowledge, is located in North Central Indiana. UND enrolls approximately 12,500 undergraduate, professional, and graduate students and is a major research university known for its strong commitment to rigor and excellence in its undergraduate programs. In response to Fiscal Year 2009 financial challenges brought on by the Great Recession, senior leadership established the foundation for a university-wide continuous improvement initiative: “Helping to Make Notre Dame Better Every Day” would enable better stewardship of resources, improve services to constituents, and help units achieve University goals. The initiative was introduced in four phases.

Phase 1: Get Started. An advisory committee was established. Key leaders were interviewed and UND benchmarked its performance against other organizations. An external consultant was hired who helped establish the Office of Continuous Improvement (OCI) (http:// and Green Belt program using the Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodology. LSS training for leaders and projects teams was begun, and pilot projects were conducted.

Phase 2: Reflect and Refine. Pilot projects were completed, and informal assessment helped refine UNO's approach to continuous improvement. UND hired an experienced continuous improvement expert to lead the OCI. LSS training was revised, including a schedule for delivering the Green Belt program to employees.

Phase 3: Build and Deliver. LSS project successes were communicated and celebrated. The LSS program was enhanced with improved project selection and scoping and the development of LSS project scorecards. The OCI continued to broaden its reach across campus and launched initial Black Belt projects.

Phase 4: Expand and Become the Culture (Ongoing). Problemsolving approaches for continuous improvement were diversified (e.g., 5S, Rapid Process Improvement). Black/Green/Yellow Belt certifications were established. A more strategic approach to project selection was developed, and consulting engagement services were made available to administrative divisions requiring help with implementing continuous improvement.

The OCI continues to build, deliver, and expand LSS across the campus to meet the University’s strategic goal to “Create a sustainable culture of continuous improvement and service excellence to support the University’s mission.” Over 100 employees have earned Green Belt certification, and four completed the rigorous work for Black Belt certification. The average annual financial impact of LSS projects over the past 5 years is $1.4M.

Four sequential projects tell the story of how the Office of Information Technologies (OIT) transformed itself to better address campus customer needs. In 2010, OIT began a journey of transformation. Customers were unhappy as evidenced by feedback from the biennial ImproveND survey, and projects were often not finished in a timely manner due to a lack of formalized process. OIT launched a series of incremental LSS Green Belt projects to address the issues. Project #1 focused on resolving the all-time high demand for technology projects that overburdened OIT staff, created too much work in process, and resulted in dissatisfied customers. The project team identified and addressed root causes (e.g., suboptimal prioritization of projects, non-value-added activities such as inefficient meetings and unnecessary steps), resulting in the formation of campus guidance councils that empowered customers to prioritize their requests and better balancing capacity and demand by establishing standards and guidelines. Project #2 focused on the on-time delivery of projects, because OIT completed only

18% of projects per the initial estimated timeline. The team uncovered several root causes (e.g., initial planning did not allow for changes in scope, a lack of focus on closing out projects) and implemented solutions to resolve them. Project #3 worked on reducing project backlog, recognizing that simply prioritizing projects was not enough with the growing demand for “more and better” technology. The project team learned that OIT invested half of their time on projects that did not deliver the business value as expected. Eliminating low payoff projects using increased business analysis and better vetting of projects would reduce the backlog and focus OIT efforts on the remaining higher payoff projects. Finally, Project #4 looked for additional continuous improvements in closing technology projects on time, building on the earlier work of Project #2. Additional process improvement gains helped OIT move more quickly from project start to final closeout. Together the four LSS projects resulted in significant improvements:

■ Thirty percent increase in the number of IT projects completed.

■ On-time IT project completion increased from 18% to 50%, with further continuous improvement resulting in an additional 40% increase in on-time project completion.

■ IT project backlog was reduced by greater than 50%.

■ Customer satisfaction scores on the ImproveND survey increased from 45% to 50% to over 90%.

■ Greater engagement and professional development of IT staff.

Other successful LSS Projects at UND include:

■ The Development division processes and acknowledges more than 100,000 donations or gifts each calendar year. Two LSS projects focused on sequential processes, cutting the time in half to process and acknowledge each gift, reducing the average response from 8 to 4 days and adjustments decreased from 20% to 1.5%. Approximately 1,400 hours of staff time was saved, allowing the unit to not replace one open full-time position.

■ Campus residence halls house more than 18,000 guests for more than 45 different types of groups during the summer months, creating tremendous pain points for a wide number of campus partners and the Housing Office (who own the process). The LSS project resulted in the equivalent of 13 weeks of restored capacity (i.e., reduced time) and internal billing rework was reduced from 64% to 6%.

Overall, the OCI’s LSS program is well positioned for continued success, which is attributed to a number of factors: high levels of engagement by a stable senior leadership team (including the University President); a primary focus on service excellence rather than cost cutting; publicized celebrations of success; and a robust Green Belt certification program to expand LSS engagement across campus. Efforts are underway to reduce the cycle time of LSS projects, the collection and reporting of project metrics (e.g., “capacity restored” tracks the number of hours saved over a 2-month period), and continued professional development and growth opportunities for LSS Green Belts (e.g., facilitating Yellow Belt training and regular “lunch and learn” sessions). As indications of the successful university-wide implementation of LSS, interest in LSS is expanding beyond campus operations to include university advancement (which has hired its own LSS Black Belt) and a growing number of projects in academic affairs (e.g., how to design learning spaces as well as more typical administrative processes such as managing faculty files).

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