Lean HE Americas

How to get involved: Getting involved is easy – send along your contact information and we’ll start building a network of lean practitioners. You will receive a confirmation with a short questionnaire.
Important Links: Our goal is to connect you with others in the higher education field that are considering how lean can be used to improve service. Here are 2 organizations where you will find great resources: www.ncci-cu.orgwww.cupahr.org
Contact Information: Contact info: Ruth Archer, Director of Continuous Improvement, Michigan Technological University, Michigan, USA  raarcher@mtu.edu

University of Waterloo: 2018 CI Year in Review

posted 21 Feb 2019, 11:49 by Melanie Scott

During 2018, the University of Waterloo began to ramp up continuous improvement (CI) initiatives which began in 2015 when Waterloo hosted the international Lean in Higher Education Conference.

More than 850 employees attended CI events on campus in 2018, with representation across 54 departments. Throughout the year, employees were introduced to CI tools and methodologies, such as process mapping and Kanban Boards. They were given practical advice on how to tackle problems and improve processes within their own departments.

February: Lean in Higher Education Seminar

In February, the University of Waterloo hosted a Lean in higher education seminar with representatives from other Canadian universities, including McMaster, Wilfrid Laurier, Ryerson and York. During this seminar, there were continuous-improvement themed discussions, presentations from Waterloo CI leaders, and a guest speaker, Dr. Justyna Maciag, a researcher from the Institute of Public Affairs at Jagiellonian University, Poland who is evaluating Lean culture in higher education.

April: Waterloo Staff Conference Problem Solving Workshop

The Staff Conference workshop, led by Kimberley Snage, Director HR Projects, Technology & Analytics and Scott Smith from High Performance Solutions and Consortium, provided an introduction to CI methodologies, including the benefits to higher education. Staff who attended were led through a practical exercise that allowed them to work in small groups and use Lean tools to assess and solve a problem.

May: Lean Seminar and Projects Fair

In May, Human Resources hosted a Lean seminar, led by Karyn Ross, co-author of The Toyota Way to Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations. There was also a projects fair attended by more than 100 employees who viewed information and discussed CI initiatives across different departments on campus, including the Sustainability Office, Plant Operations, Housing and Residence, Office of the Provost, Human Resources, IST, Registrar’s Office, St. Jerome’s, and the Library.

June: Lean Process Map Workshop

The Lean process map workshop, led by Shona Dunseith, HR Process Manager, took employees through practical steps that would allow them to improve processes and reduce inefficiencies in their own departments. Processes were mapped out visually, so that it became easier to see discrepancies and identify inefficiencies or wastes. 

October: Kanban Workshop

The Kanban Workshop held for employees in October, was one of the most popular CI events of the year. Human Resources partnered with Kierra Cali, Operations Project Manager at St. Jerome’s University to teach over 70 employees how to build and use a personal Kanban board to organize their work and improve efficiency. 

November: Risk Mitigation Through Lean Presentation

Representatives from the University of Waterloo (Kimberley Snage, Director of HR Projects, Technology and Analytics and Kim Gingerich, Executive Officer, Academic – Provost Office) led a plenary session on using lean to address institutional risk at the 2018 Lean in Higher Education Conference in Norway. The session focused on processes that can help organizations identify risks and plan for the future.

The 2018 events and workshops contributed to the University’s over-arching goal of nurturing a continuous improvement culture across campus. Plans to provide further opportunities for continuous improvement to Waterloo employees throughout 2019 are currently underway. If you have any questions about Lean at Waterloo, please contact Marilyn Thompson, Associate Provost, Human Resources, Kenton Needham, Executive Director, Human Resources, or Kimberley Snage, Director, HR Projects, Technology & Analytics. 

University of Waterloo hosts Lean in higher education seminar

posted 21 Feb 2018, 12:50 by Melanie Scott

UWaterloo Lean leaders

On February 1st, the University of Waterloo hosted a Lean in higher education seminar. Representatives from other Canadian universities, including McMaster, Wilfrid Laurier, Ryerson and York attended to learn and share Lean experiences. University of Waterloo Associate Provost of Human Resources, Dr. Marilyn Thompson, realized the importance of collaboration across universities when she attended the international 2016 Lean in Higher Education Conference in Stirling, Scotland. “Because of their close proximity, universities in the UK could easily collaborate and share Lean ideas and practices,” she said at the beginning of the Lean seminar at Waterloo. “The strength behind what they were learning came from their shared knowledge. Working across institutions, there is huge potential for the development of world-class Lean processes for higher education.”

At the 2016 Lean in Higher Education Conference, Dr. Thompson connected with Dr. Justyna Maciag, a researcher from Poland who was evaluating Lean culture in Polish universities. Dr. Maciag expressed interest in expanding her research internationally. She contacted Dr. Thompson late last year with plans to visit Waterloo and continue her research.

Dr. Maciag’s visit to the University of Waterloo was an opportunity to kick-start cross-institutional conversations on Lean. During the Waterloo Lean seminar, Justyna presented her research, which sought to define the notion and maturity of Lean culture in higher education institutions, create a model of Lean culture and build a tool for evaluating Lean culture. She discovered that organizational culture needed to be considered, and developed a methodology that would take into consideration a university’s unique culture before assessing its Lean readiness. The assessment includes collecting information through in-depth interviews with university employees and an on-line questionnaire that is tailored specifically to each university. Dr. Maciag will be completing a Lean culture assessment of the University of Waterloo and continuing her research at other universities.

During the February 1st seminar, UWaterloo Lean leaders led continuous-improvement-themed discussions. Shona Dunseith presented on improvements made to the approval to recruit process for filling a position at the University. After a Lean review and analysis was completed and changes were made to make the process more efficient, the time to get approval to hire went from taking an average of 99 days to an average of about 7 days. There was also a panel led by Kimberley Snage and David Kibble on project management and the University of Waterloo’s vision for developing a culture of continuous improvement through teaching, learning and mentoring.

The Waterloo Lean seminar provided several opportunities for idea sharing and collaboration, including a round-table session where attendees broke into groups and came up with solutions to common Lean barriers, such as resistance to change, and the challenge of finding time to analyze current processes and identify wastes. Ultimately Lean methods lead to savings in time and resources, but it can be hard to find time for the initial review and analysis while performing everyday duties.

Another question discussed during the seminar was: who takes on the responsibility of improving processes at a university? Dr. Thompson emphasized that initiative may not always come from the top down. “We can all think about ways to be more efficient in our jobs,” she stated. At Waterloo an employee from Plant Operations took it upon himself to reorganize a custodial closet, following the 5S method. He’d had Lean training through a previous position in manufacturing. Applying 5S to what was previously a chaotic and inefficient janitor’s room, ensured tools and cleaning supplies were always placed in the same spot and could be easily located, saving employees time and frustration. The employee, Randy Dicknoether, had the opportunity to be part of a Lean panel discussion at the 2016 University of Waterloo Staff Conference.

As Lean initiatives are further developed at the University of Waterloo, collaboration across institutions will provide insights and lead to the development of continuous improvement practices that can be applied to higher education. UWaterloo Lean leaders will continue to seek out these opportunities throughout the year as they pilot a Lean consortium across eight departments on campus.

If you have questions about Lean at the University of Waterloo, please contact Marilyn Thompson, Associate Provost, Human Resources or Kimberley Snage, Director HR Projects, Technology & Analytics.

University of Waterloo Lean leaders win 2017 Share Showcase

posted 8 Jan 2018, 11:12 by Melanie Scott

Lean leaders at Share Showcase

In the 2017 Share Showcase, put on by High Performance Solutions & Consortium (HPSC), University of Waterloo Lean leaders took home first place, winning the Best Practice award. The Share Showcase is an all-day-event featuring presentations from 18 cross-organizational teams across 4 consortiums who have implemented Lean methodologies to improve processes. The University of Waterloo team presented improvements made to the staff approval to recruit process at Waterloo, using a Star Wars theme to add flare to their presentation. The Lean team illustrated the lengthy approval to recruit process that required several levels of approval and manual signatures, and significantly delayed hiring.

As a first step towards improvement, a visual representation of the approval to recruit process, listing every step from start to finish (a process map), was documented and issues were identified; including the type and number of approvals required. Opportunities for improvement were identified and metrics were captured; such as the time to complete the entire process and waiting time between steps. With all of this information, a future-state process map was created and eight wastes (inefficiencies or unnecessary tasks) were identified.

A future-state process was defined and has now been implemented. The average time, from the beginning of the approval to recruit process to the end, went from 99 days to an average of 7.39 days. The time to complete actual steps went from an average of 8.4 hours to 6.9 hours. The number of Provost approvals was reduced by 77%, and the number of times a position went through the approval cycle was reduced from 3 times to 1.

If you would like to learn more about Lean at Waterloo, please visit the Lean site. You can also contact Kimberley Snage, Director, HR Projects, Technology & Analytics, internal Lean consortium lead, or Marilyn Thompson, Associate Provost, Human Resources, Executive Sponsor.

DMACC assists Tidewater Community College with Strategic Enrollment Management Overhaul

posted 4 Dec 2017, 07:08 by Melanie Scott   [ updated 4 Dec 2017, 07:11 ]

Established in 1966 Des Moines Area Community College is Iowa’s largest Community College with 2,274 faculty & staff, 252 career, certificate and technical programs and serves 36,938 credit and 22,556 non-credit students across 6 campuses and 5 centers.  DMACC has provided Lean training for business and industry for over 25 years.  In 2006, a new position was added to coordinate and conduct lean activities within the college.  At the same time, a new Office Lean program was developed in cooperation with other Iowa Community Colleges.  DMACC now owns the curriculum known as workplacelean which provides Lean training both internally and externally to government, education, service, medical, non-profit, and manufacturing. workplacelean has assisted several higher education institutions in Lean implementation, including Tidewater Community College, featured in the following case study.


Tidewater Community College (TCC) is one of the largest community colleges in the nation. TCC currently serves 43,000 students each year at its 4 campuses and 7 centers. With over 3,000 employees and 150 academic programs, TCC prides itself on providing students with marketable skills that will help them achieve success. 


Despite its large enrollment and high quality programs and facilities, the College had no integrated Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) system in place that ensured every prospective student had the same enrollment experience regardless of the campus of their attendance. The campuses acted independently and varied in their enrollment practices. It would not be uncommon for a prospective student to receive one set of information on one campus and a different set of information on another. The College had no centralized system for tracking interactions with prospects so there was a lack of understanding about who had been contacted and by whom. Resource duplication was apparent when multiple College staff were unknowingly scheduled to attend the same recruitment events. Roles were inadequately defined and inconsistently followed. In addition, many processes were completely paper-based and included many hand-off steps, resulting in inefficiencies. The lack of effective follow-up with applicants and inconsistent procedures were believed to negatively impact enrollment numbers. 


DMACC Business Resources workplacelean consultants worked with TCC leadership to develop the first phase of a new four phase SEM process. Together, the group created standardized processes across campuses for more accurate tracking, reporting and better service to the applicant. This process would ensure efficient identification, targeting, tracking and communication with prospects from first contact through successful completion of an application. To accomplish this, workplacelean consultants used its Launch program to map the current process and helped TCC staff determine which steps could be eliminated or combined to decrease overlap, improve resource allocation and create a streamlined process which was not only faster, but more accurate and that provided a better experience for the student prospect. 


Through the carefully facilitated lean process improvement programs, TCC developed the beginnings of an integrated SEM process, which unified practices across four campuses, reduced staff effort duplication, and tracked interactions with prospective students. Not only is TCC staff more efficient and effective in their roles, enrollment practices are more clear to students. The goal is to increase enrollment. A few of the results include: 
  • SEM process steps were cut 56% (from 178 inconsistently followed steps to a clean and lean 79) 
  • Implemented the use of Prospect Tracking System to coordinate recruitment events as well as individual applicant communications
  • The number of “handoffs” of application materials were reduced 58% (from 45 to 19)

For more information about the workplacelean program, take a look at the DMACC Lean program video or the DMACC employee testimonial video. If you have any questions about DMACC Lean initiatives or workplacelean, please contact Bonnie Slykhuis.

Lean HE case study from Des Moins Area Community College

posted 1 Nov 2017, 11:05 by Melanie Scott

Established in 1966 Des Moines Area Community College is Iowa’s largest Community College with 2,274 faculty & staff, 252 career, certificate and technical programs and serves 36,938 credit and 22,556 non-credit students across 6 campuses and 5 centers.  DMACC has provided Lean training for business and industry for over 25 years.  In 2006, a new position was added to coordinate and conduct lean activities within the college.  At the same time, a new Office Lean program was developed in cooperation with other Iowa Community Colleges.  DMACC now owns the curriculum known as workplacelean which provides Lean training both internally and externally to government, education, service, medical, non-profit, and manufacturing. workplacelean has assisted several higher education institutions in Lean implementation, including Ivy Tech Community College, featured in the following case study.

Case study: Ivy Tech Community College – Creating a Culture of Process Improvement


Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana’s largest public post-secondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system serving nearly 200,000 students annually. Ivy Tech has 15 regions with 23 campuses throughout Indiana. Over 8,600 employees work for the college system. 


In 2011, Ivy Tech embarked upon a strategic initiative to focus more on student success and to ensure institutional sustainability. Process improvement staff began seeking out programs applicable to higher education. In addition to having difficulty identifying an appropriate program, Ivy Tech recognized that it had no system to share lean project information across regions. 


Ivy Tech visited DMACC where a workplacelean consultant shared how DMACC was using lean to review and improve administrative processes, such as payroll and admissions. Soon thereafter, DBR’s workplacelean consultants were asked to conduct an introductory lean (Pillars) training followed by a process evaluation (Launch) training for Ivy Tech to improve their payroll process. Based on the workplacelean model, Ivy Tech was able to develop an internal methodology to fit their culture and meet their specific needs. As a result, senior leaders established “Continuous Process Improvement” as one Ivy Tech’s four core strategies for success and assigned strategy champions with the task of institutional adoption of the program. The implementation of a consistent methodology and support structure enables regional leadership to manage their needs and enables organic growth in the formation of new and more project teams. DBR consultants also facilitated a session with Ivy Tech senior leaders to prepare for rollout of their lean initiatives statewide. 


Ivy Tech has created a structure to successfully identify, monitor and communicate process improvement activities both within regions and college-wide. As a part of their strategic plan, each region contains a lean team and point person to champion process improvement activities. A centralized office provides additional resources, guidance and direction to the teams to ensure alignment with the strategic plan; communicates best practices; and determines if projects should be expanded to all regions. As more and more staff are trained and begin to see the impact of lean on their own work, Ivy Tech anticipates an increase in employee morale and substantial time and money savings. 

Processes improved to date include:

  • Degree Certification/Graduation process 
  • Grade Processing 
  • Student Enrollment/Intake 
  • Help Desk Ticketing Contract Processing 
  • Procurement
  • Business Analysis
  • Dual Credit
  • Reverse Transfers
  • Payroll 

“DBR’s workplacelean has created a program that is appropriate, effective and palatable for the higher education world. DBR helped us design the best methodology for our culture and process improvement is much more engrained in our school. We are working on a number of process improvement projects thanks to workplacelean.” – Kristen Schunk Moreland, Ivy Tech Community College Director of Process Improvement

For more information about the workplacelean program, take a look at the DMACC Lean program video or the DMACC employee testimonial video. If you have any questions about DMACC Lean initiatives or workplacelean, please contact Bonnie Slykhuis.

Lean update: the University of Waterloo

posted 20 Oct 2017, 08:20 by Melanie Scott

“Lean is a systematic approach of eliminating work that creates no value. It has 3 goals, culture change, effectiveness, efficiency.  Similar to other industries, Higher Education is faced with pressure for greater accountability and transparency, shrinking budgets and increased need for highly skilled talent.  Implementing Lean at Waterloo will support the achievement of a sustainable, continuous improvement culture that encourages simplicity, increases effectiveness and delivers exceptional value to the University community.” --Dr. Marilyn Thompson

Since the University of Waterloo hosted the Lean in Higher Education Conference in 2015, there has been growing interest in learning and applying Lean methodologies across campus. St. Jerome’s University began its Lean journey with its Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) construction process in their campus renewal build. They improved daily operations by identifying inefficiencies and applying Lean methodology to multiple processes, which focused on a shift in team culture and behaviour. Plant Operations encountered similar success when they applied 5S, a way to organize a work-space so that all tools and supplies are identifiable and accessible; and the Library has applied the Kaizen approach, a series of 8 steps that aides with problem solving, three times to improve major processes. Human Resources has also applied Lean principles to improve the staff hiring process by documenting it end to end and redesigning it for better efficiency.  

To keep up this incredible momentum, and further support campus Lean initiatives, a pilot across eight staff groups will be taking place this year at Waterloo. The pilot will provide an opportunity for the core group to showcase continuous improvement projects, such as the ones mentioned above, happening within their departments and encourage a collaborative approach to problem solving and advancement. The pilot’s purpose is to work collectively to achieve a sustainable, continuous improvement culture that encourages simplicity, increases effectiveness and delivers exceptional value to the University community. Meetings will take place six times per year. Staff groups will rotate hosting duties, provide Lean learning opportunities and explore continuous improvement methodologies, such as Kaizen, and their application throughout the year.

The Steering Group, comprised of University leadership members, will define the pilot's strategy and expected outcomes, which may include: achievement of measurable improvements, enabling effective continuous improvement collaboration across departments, raising awareness and interest in Lean efforts across the University; as well as developing a shared understanding of continuous improvement at Waterloo.

If you have any questions about Lean at the University of Waterloo, please contact Marilyn Thompson, Associate Provost Human Resources at marilyn.thompson@uwaterloo.ca or Kimberley Snage, Director HR Projects, Technology & Analytics at kimberley.snage@uwaterloo.ca.

Central Coast Lean is holding a Lean IT business relationship presentation for Lean Leaders

posted 19 Oct 2017, 10:31 by Melanie Scott

Lean Leaders, Please join us as we explore the IT-business relationship from a lean perspective.  Bring your organization’s experience, challenges and solutions to share. MindBody in SLO will be our host.

To register, please visit the event page on the Central Coast Lean site.

Thurs, 26Oct, 4-6pm

Focus Topic:  The Lean IT-Business Relationship

Presentation:  Request-to-Solution

by Jaime Portocarrero, MindBody Business Relationship Mgr

Our tentative agenda is shown below.  Capacity is limited to 30 max.  Please complete this Free Registration to be included:  https://goo.gl/forms/gFLuk6C2cxAFPs2m2
I look forward to seeing you there.
Cheers,  Eric O

Here is the agenda:

     4:00-4:15     Welcome and networking
     4:15-4:45     Focus Topic:  IT-Business Relationship
            Presentation: Request-to-Solution  by Jaime Portocarrero, MB BRM
     4:45-5:15     Review/discussion
     5:15-5:45     Round robin – What’s happening in lean on the Central Coast?
     5:45-6:00     Wrap-up and future events

Post Forum, for those who can join us, all invited to:

6:00pm SLO Brew Rock- https://www.slobrew.com/the-rock/

855 Aerovista Place San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

(Note:  This is where we will be holding the Summit in April 2018)


  1. The Central Coast LEAN IT team collaborates on a common challenge we have across our companies/institutions and leverage our collective talent and lean to create an effective flow/process that we can all plagiarize unscrupulously.
  2. Expose more LEAN to MINDBODY (select set of MB internal IT and business stakeholders will be invited)
  3. Build teamwork and have fun.

Lean in Higher Ed: Service Excellence Really is for Everyone!

posted 10 Oct 2017, 08:02 by Melanie Scott

In this interview, Ruth Archer, Director of Continuous Improvement for Michigan Technological University discusses lean in higher education!                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Karyn: Ruth, can you tell us a little about Michigan Tech, your role, and what you are currently working on?

Ruth: Michigan Technological University is a global technological university of 7,000 students in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I manage the continuous improvement activities for the university, including training people on lean thinking and integrating continuous improvement into the day-to-day activities of students, faculty, and staff. I also teach academic courses on lean principles, teamwork, and communication.
One project we’re working on in the office of continuous improvement is creating a training and development program for our lean facilitators so we have a structured way for them to grow in their thinking and practices.

Karyn: I know that many people many not have thought that lean - and service excellence - was even a consideration in higher education. Can you tell us how using lean has helped Michigan Tech?  
Ruth: At Michigan Tech., using lean principles enables us to improve safety, support students as they focus on their education, and increase the quality of faculty research and teaching, while keeping costs low and morale high. Lean helps us create university programs that are more effective and efficient and enables us to meet university goals on time and within budget.
Since our campus is like a small town, we have a broad range of activities to improve! Some examples are the creation of a standardized process for partner employment relating to new faculty hires in academic areas, improving the project editorial process for university marketing, and the creation of a process to assign and track safety training for our student employees.

Karyn: What are some of the challenges you've found in 'translating' lean into higher education?

Ruth: One challenge has been integrating lean across faculty, students, and staff. We’ve found that engaging faculty requires a different approach than engaging staff, which is different again from engaging students, most of whom have never heard of lean.
Another challenge is that the same label is used to describe these three different communities: First, people, like myself, who are practicing lean with the faculty, staff, and students at the university. Second, faculty who teach lean courses and do lean research. Third are units who provide lean training to organizations outside of the university. From the outside, we all are doing lean in higher education, but internally we have different types of work and face different challenges. This makes it more difficult to find the most appropriate colleagues for a community of practice.

Karyn: What advice do you have for people who want to use lean to focus on customers in 'non-traditional', 'non-manufacturing' industries?

Ruth: We've developed an embedded lean facilitator model that gets our frontline supervisors and employees solving problems and making improvements. In this model, volunteer employees are trained in lean fundamentals and principles, coaching, and facilitating. These facilitators then model coach and teach others. Right from the start their training has them applying lean practices to their immediate work environment, so they develop self-confidence and create useful examples! Then we encourage them to practice in a no-blame environment and provide administrative and subject matter support so that they can improve the university.

Karyn: What strategies have helped you most in learning how to apply lean to higher education? What would you suggest for others who would like to start? 

Ruth: One strategy that we’ve used is to see our vision of a lean university as a picture of what we’re making when we engage in the craft of spreading lean, then follow the pattern to create the vision. It’s like creating an afghan. You see the picture of the finished blanket, then start working on the individual squares. Depending on your time and the availability of yarn, different squares will grow at different rates, but that’s okay! Rather than seeing isolated, unfinished piecework, in our mind’s eye we can see the progress toward the completed afghan. As we continue our work, the squares grow; eventually we’ll knit them together into a beautiful afghan that will blanket the university.
Another strategy that has worked well for us is developing relationships with colleagues who do what we do at other universities. We’ve attended a few lean-university-related conferences, and we’ve also used LinkedIn to identify possible colleagues and then connected with them by phone! We also have invited many speakers to campus, who have become our friends and partners in our lean journey, including Karyn!  

If you'd like to learn more, please feel free to reach out to Ruth at

©Karyn Ross, Karyn Ross Consulting 2017

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