Issues in Education

Lean thinking: a biz school experience

By Gopalakrishnan Narayanamurthy, Anand Gurumurthy and Raju Chockalingam

The Toyota Production System in the name of lean production has been widely studied and documented in the manufacturing sector [1]. In recent years, an adapted version of lean production in the name of lean thinking (LT) has entered the healthcare sector (e.g., Virginia Mason Medical Center, Intermountain Healthcare, Shouldice Hospital, Thedacare, HealthEast Care System, etc.) and software service sector (e.g., Wipro Technologies, etc.). Very recently, studies have anecdotally captured the experience of LT implementation in educational institutes. The authors’ study, outlined below, adds to this limited literature by developing a framework for LT implementation in educational institutes by studying the experience of implementing process improvement in a business school.

Framework for LT Implementation in Educational Institutes

The business school in question, located in India, includes an administrative staff of 66, along with 64 full-time and 26 adjunct faculty members distributed across eight academic areas, and about 750 students spread across various degree programs. The framework we developed for LT implementation consists of five steps:

Step 1. Construct process flow diagram (PFD) for all the degrees offered by the educational institute. Identify key stakeholders from the different degrees areas and involve them in the process of constructing the PFD, which should capture various function areas within a degree and associated processes, as well as interdependency between processes and function areas.

Step 2. Value stream mapping (VSM) of a specific degree to be studied. Select a degree from Step 1 for further analysis [2]. Stakeholders related to the selected degree have to be deeply involved. The selected degree can be further split into divisions based on its complexity, and a suitable division within a degree can be selected for LT application.

Among the five degrees, flagship degree was selected for LT implementation. This degree utilizes the majority of the physical resources of the school and hence contains huge potential for the application of LT to eliminate waste and to establish efficient workflow. Processes in the flagship degree are cyclical in nature and repeat on a term basis every three months. We developed a detailed VSM for a term within the flagship degree.

Step 3. Identify different types of waste and inefficiencies in the chosen degree. In this case, we identified the following six processes: rework, motion, waiting, overprocessing, overproduction and defects. Rework captures the defects that are irreversible. Several problems and associated waste were then identified for the processes within a term, including class scheduling, procurement and distribution, teaching sessions, feedback, assessment and grading. For example, the use of hardcopy forms for the feedback process involved three instances of waste: overprocessing, overproduction and defects.

Step 4. Implement solutions from LT lens to eliminate waste in the degree’s value stream. Lean tools and practices can be selected and suitably adapted for educational institutes to identify potential solutions. Once the solutions are proposed, future-state VSM is constructed. Feasible solutions using the LT lens were proposed by the stakeholders for all the problems. For the “hardcopy forms” problem in the “feedback” process, an online feedback portal ensuring a 100 percent feedback system was deployed by anchoring it to the electronic data interchange (EDI) lean practice.

Step 5. Compare the change in performance measures and pursue continuous improvement. The benefits realized must be compared by evaluating the performance measures before and after the implementation of LT. After comparing the benefits, all of the degrees have to be reanalyzed, and one of them needs to be selected to repeat Steps 2-5 in pursuit of perfection through kaizen. Archived data was collected on student attendance, elective choice and feedback from the business school.  Absenteeism increased across the terms in both batches, but the amount of increase was smaller in Batch 2 (Figure 1a). The number of unfilled seats in an elective course was drastically reduced in Batch 2 (Figure 1b), which can be attributed to the readily available elective course outlines on the online portal. Missed feedback responses were also reduced after LT implementation (Figure 1c).

The proposed framework presented above lacks generalization as it was developed from the experience of a single business school. It needs to be empirically validated by applying it to multiple educational institutes in order to check the long-term impact of lean thinking.

Gopalakrishnan Narayanamurthy, Anand Gurumurthy and Raju Chockalingam are faculty members in the Quantitative Methods & Operations Management (QM & OM) Area at the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, Kerala, India. This article is an abridged version of their manuscript titled, “Applying Lean Thinking in an Educational Institute – An Action Research.”

  1. Holweg, M., 2007, “The genealogy of lean production,” Journal of Operations Management, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 420-437.
  2. Narayanamurthy, G., and Anand, G., 2014, “Process selection for implementing lean thinking: An AHP application, NITIE-POMS International Conference 2014, Dec. 18-21, 2014, NITIE, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.