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.

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