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Efficiency and Effectiveness in Higher Education

May 25, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 200

1. Introduction

Higher education has seen increasing pressure on funding since the Gershon Report in 2004. This has been accelerated by the new, more market-focused environment created by the current government. Responding to the new funding environment has become a key priority for all higher education establishments, something highlighted in the recommendations of the 2011 Diamond Report. These recommendations state that the way forward is through the adoption of LEAN, increasing and improving collaborative arrangements and putting the effective flow of information at the heart of transitional arrangements. This paper provides an overview of the key concepts that underpin the recommendations within the Diamond Report.

2. Integrated Improvement & LEAN

LEAN is a concept with a long-pedigree. Many people associate it with the transformation of the automotive manufacturer Toyota over the last 50 years but its history extends much further back in time. The concepts that we now associate with LEAN, such as Value Stream Analysis, Standard Working, Flow, Pull and Continuous Improvement can be found in use in the private sector since the 14th Century where they were used by the Venice Arsenal to produce warships in as little as an hour. It later found use in further military applications such as reducing the time taken for British warships to fire broadsides and the inter-changeability of parts used in weapons by the French and Americans.

Over the last 20 years LEAN concepts have taken hold in the public sector and is at the heart of the transformation of many central and local government organisations, healthcare and the armed forces. The adoption of LEAN requires organisations to create defined and effective processes, share knowledge and create a strategy for improvement. LEAN also drives the need for collaborative projects between departments and across entire organisations.

Creating effective processes, delivering efficiency and driving up the value realised within higher education will be achieved through this integrated approach to improvement.

In this article we will outline the key aspects of LEAN and Collaborative Working that will enable higher education organisations to respond to the recommendations within the Diamond Report and realise significant efficiencies.

3. A Strategic Approach to Improvement

The Diamond Report recommends the development of a long-term vision for the organisation and improve the access to management data about day to day performance. Coupled with these two points is the need to consider a strategic approach to the introduction of LEAN and the actions required to deliver a strategic approach to improvement are detailed in the following sections.

  • Create an integrated improvement plan

The creation of a long-term vision and the implementation plan required to support the introduction will be key to realise the larger benefits available to the higher education sector. One approach available to higher education organisations will be the creation of a strategic plan that provides an overview of the vision, objectives and strategic tasks required to deliver the improvements required, as well as avoiding the use of LEAN just being seen as 'something else to do'.

  • Develop your management dashboard

The need for better management information was highlighted in the Diamond Report. The creation of an organisational dashboard that provides 'at a glance' performance data will provide leaders at all levels with the required information to enable them to plan improvements and track the changes achieved.

  • Develop an 'improve every day' culture

The third arm of a strategic approach to improvement is to foster a culture that supports continuous daily improvements. Within LEAN this is referred to as 'Managing for Daily Improvement' and we will review this later in this paper. However, at a strategic level there is a need to define the values and behaviours that will create a culture that supports an 'improve every day' culture. There is also a need to establish the management and communication processes and develop systems to support continuous improvement.

4. Building your knowledge base

Whilst there may be a need to utilise external support during the early stages of a LEAN implementation, the objective should always be to bring the expertise in house and to develop your own team to enable them to lead your LEAN activities.

Building your knowledge base is concerned with creating an organisation capable of self-sustaining LEAN and consists of a number of activities that we will discuss below.

  • Creating a cadre of expertise

Your cadre of expertise might need to include a lead body, such as a LEAN Team, who are responsible for training others and initiating major projects. These are your 'Black Belts', 'Senseis' or whatever else you choose to call them. Other people, called Practitioners, will normally have LEAN as a topic to do alongside their day jobs. Widespread communication of LEAN principles will support the 'improve every day' culture and ensure that the implementation of specific improvement projects can be achieved.

  • Creating an improvement knowledge bank

You will need to collate lots of improvement information including information on LEAN tools, case studies, processes, guides, checklists and operating procedures. There is a need to create and maintain a repository for this information and provide a place for people to access best practice guidance, share experiences and develop new processes.

  • Best practice sharing

Wherever possible you should share useful articles with your colleagues, take advantage of visits to see other organisations participating in LEAN and attend conferences to hear the experiences from a wide range of people. In addition, there will be an opportunity for every member of your team to contribute to the development of best practice within your organisation through the sharing of ideas and experiences.

5. Delivering LEAN successfully

Of course, the whole purpose of having an improvement strategy and adopting LEAN is to deliver improved performance. Delivering LEAN successfully means husbanding your resources, making the best use of your team, focusing on delivery and then following up after you have made changes. Some of the issues that will ensure you deliver LEAN successfully are covered in the following sections.

  • Find a LEAN partner

LEAN concepts can appear to be simple, but the implementation of them is significantly harder. You should seek out a LEAN partner who can provide the practical guidance, support and training required to enable you to become self-sufficient in LEAN.

  • Implement pilot projects quickly, and then learn from them

Part of the focus of creating an improvement strategy will be to identify some pilot projects that can be used to create pathfinders for the organisation and a template for further, larger and even more beneficial projects. The initial projects need to meet four criteria;

1. Be capable of providing a good return on investment

2. Be aligned with the objectives of the organisation

3. Be capable of realising benefits within a limited period

4. Have the support of local management staff

  • Managing for Daily Improvement

As already mentioned, to help create an 'improve every day' culture relies on the LEAN concept of Managing for Daily Improvement (MDI). MDI supports the embedding of changes following your 'big ticket' projects as well as helping to engage staff in the identification, and improvement, of processes day to day.

MDI relies on four main concepts;

  • Visual and virtual 'Information Centres' containing details of performance, projects and other team related information.
  • MBWA (Management By Walking About) and get your leaders at all levels to show an active interest in the challenges faced by front-line staff.
  • Holding regular team meetings to discuss performance, issues and objectives.
  • Creating a process to enable people to log issues and concerns and have them dealt with on a regular basis.

6. Robust processes are more important than tools

It is more important to the overall success of improvement within higher education to have a robust process than it is to worry about the individual 'tools'. Scoping, Value Stream Mapping, Rapid Improvement Events and Managing for Daily Improvement are the key to a LEAN process, whilst Transformation Maps and Leader Standard Work are the keys to the strategic aspects to improvement.

7. Working collaboratively

The Diamond Report is also extremely positive about the need for enhanced collaborative working in higher education.

Collaborative working means more than one organisation (or department) working together to realise benefits for all parties. It recognises that for successful collaborations there must be some form of win-win for everyone involved.

The reluctance felt by organisations in working collaboratively often comes about because they have not considered such things as the 'fixed points' (things that cannot change), mutual objectives, the collaborative processes and how information will be shared and how disputes will be managed.

Collaborative working is essential to the successful adoption of LEAN and a structure is provided in the form of BS11000, the Collaborative Working standard.

Mark Eaton is Director of Operations at Amnis, a performance improvement consultancy. For more information visit the Amnis website at

Source: EzineArticles
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