5 Steps to Implementing Lean Education: Saving Schools Time and Money

I was visiting with my SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives) mentor a few months ago and we were discussing the Lean Concept, and its application as Lean Education.

For those unfamiliar with Lean, it means to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Lean means to create more value for customers with fewer resources.

Lean is a program that was first described in the book The Machine That Changed the World (1990) by James P. Womack, Daniel Roos, and Daniel T. Jones. James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones then wrote Lean Thinking (1996) which made the phrase part of the vernacular. The Lean Concept was initially designed for manufacturing, it is now a huge series available in different industries. Lean Management, Lean Accounting, Lean Dentistry are just a few examples.

Taken from Lean Enterprise Institute, Lean can be further described as:

Eliminating waste along entire value streams, instead of at isolated points, creates processes that need less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to make products and services at far less costs and with much fewer defects, compared with traditional business systems. Companies are able to respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times. Also, information management becomes much simpler and more accurate.

Frequently when we hear about something new, it “pops” up again in another conversation. I was so excited when Lean was mentioned by a member of the LinkedIn group Principals, School Directors, Deans & Educational Leaders. He was excited by the thought of Lean Education and wanted to share it with the 67 some-odd thousand members.

He was immediately met with criticism and negativity. As happens so often with the internet, this was from (educated) people who had no idea what they were talking about. Because the Lean Concept is associated with manufacturing, they assumed it was some type of bizarre assembly line approach to education. Totally incorrect.

Implementing Lean Education

1. Specify the value desired by the customer.

Our student’s families want the best quality of care and education for their students regardless of if we are part of the private or public education system.

2. Identify the value stream for each product providing that value and challenge all of the wasted steps (generally nine out of ten) currently necessary to provide it.

This is the hard part. Programs need to assess every area in which waste (both waste of time and waste of resources) is taking place. The best way to begin is to visit with staff and get their feedback. Where do they find waste in their day? Do they have certain paperwork they do every day that could be done once a month? Are you sending home paper daily reports of each child’s day when you could have an online database that parents could access? Do lead teachers need to delegate more to assistant teachers so they aren’t planning projects on overtime or taking work home?

3. Make the product flow continuously through the remaining value-added steps.

Create a step by step process for everything you do and consistently train new staff to follow these steps. Find ways to divide labor to save everyone’s time.

4. Introduce pull between all steps where continuous flow is possible.

Review to be sure that all steps created make sense and progress naturally. For example, have new hire paperwork organized according to its destination, one pack stapled that goes in the file onsite, one pack stapled that goes to the accountant/director/administrative office.

5. Manage toward perfection so that the number of steps and the amount of time and information needed to serve the customer continually falls.

This calls on training and supervision from managers. All processes must be monitored and evaluated. The managers must also remain open to the continuing feedback from assistants, cooks, bus drivers, teachers, and students themselves for what is working and what is not.

Several of the examples I’ve listed come from an administrative point of view, but we should be utilizing Lean Education in the classroom and with our students also. Identify difficult transition times and what steps can be implemented to make them more organized and less stressful for staff and students. Look at a project and identify if this is something parents will most likely keep, utilize a high quality paper. If it is a process project that the parents are likely to throw away, utilize paper that was donated from a print shop.

The Lean process eliminates wasted time and resources. For staff this helps alleviate the stress of wondering why they are doing something a certain way when it can be done more efficiently, and also gives them more investment because they are in an environment where they can give their feedback. Approaching education with Lean Thinking improves the classroom for students, and will also lower costs while giving children a quality learning environment.

For more information about Lean or Lean Education, visit the Lean Enterprise Institute, or refer to Lean Process Improvement In Education.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, US Department of Education.

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