Business Practicies

Lean and Six Sigma in Education

Nearly every school district strives to operate more efficiently, direct more resources to the classroom and meet or exceed state or community expectations. Rising costs, revenues that don’t keep up with costs, and constantly changing standards are making these outcomes difficult to achieve.

The traditional tools and methods that have been used for decades are inadequate to meet these growing challenges.

Many leaders don’t realize that their districts are full of opportunities to reduce waste and raise efficiency.

Our experience with Lean and Six Sigma has shown that these methods can be highly effective for achieving efficiency gains and operating excellence in educational organizations.

Lean and Six Sigma

Lean and Six Sigma are two concepts that share a similar philosophy, system and tools and are used by organizations to solve problems and improve operations. Lean focuses on reducing the amount of time required to complete a work process by eliminating waste in the process. Six Sigma identifies and eliminates the defects in a service, product or process. Lean and Six Sigma methods can be used separately or together.

The literature abounds with case histories of how Lean and Six Sigma have helped organizations as diverse as automotive, aerospace, healthcare, the U.S. Air Force and school districts streamline and simplify their processes, eliminate waste and achieve operational excellence and customer satisfaction. Lean practitioners see improvements of up to 35 percent and 70 percent.

We have used Lean and Six Sigma methods with similar results in education. Using the Lean mindset and methods in educational organizations has identified opportunities that range from savings of $140 per student to more than $350 per student.

Lean: The Link Between Data and Improvement

Use of data to make decisions and improve organizations in the fields of business, healthcare, sports and nearly every other field of human endeavor is expanding at an accelerated rate. Successful data use for improvement, however, requires three elements: (1) time and trained staff, (2) relevant data and measures, and (3) a system and methodology for using data to solve problems and improve. Unfortunately, these three factors are often lacking in school district business and operations offices.

Lean Objective: Reduce Time by Eliminating Waste

Lean’s focus is to reduce the time required to perform work by eliminating the waste and number of steps in a process. Lean methods examine the inputs and quality of outputs of a process.

More 50 years of experience in improvement across a wide range of industries has led to a large body of knowledge on common sources of waste that add to the cost and time of the process or operation.

An important note on work: Work, from a Lean perspective, has three components: (1) work that is necessary to provide a service, (2) incidental work that is needed but doesn’t add any value, and (3) work or time that does not add any value. This third category can often involve as much as 30 percent of the time spent on a task or process. Think about what can be done to reduce the no-value added time?

Lean and Lean Six Sigma in Education

The objective of Six Sigma is to reduce variation, reduce the cost of poor quality and errors and achieve operational excellence. Lean Six Sigma, developed by Motorola in the 1980s to improve the quality of its pagers, refers to a statistical standard of 99.966 percent error-free product or service. At first glance, one may conclude that such a standard cannot be applied in education. Schools, however, are full of opportunities to apply Six Sigma, including on-time arrival time for buses, hiring lead times, check accuracy, forecasting accuracy, cleaning quality, safety and more.

Creating Transparency

Waste reduction and elimination start with transparency or visibility into the sources of the waste. Lean and Six Sigma methodologies, which rely heavily on the scientific method and data, are designed to create visibility and then identify and remove wastes.

Spotlight on Education Case Histories

By making use of the Lean and Six Sigma techniques, districts can become more efficient in areas like: custodial staffing; labor processing administrative tasks like student absenteeism and processes for the purchase of textbooks and other inventory; lost time due to safety issues; reduction of custodial supply costs and energy costs; and even be useful analyzing instruction techniques.

The Lean mindset and application will help you make everyone around you perform better, even the skeptics.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Authors

Steven C. Pereus, former COO of a large city district, is the founder of Enlīt. Email: scpereus@enlit10.com.

Nathan Rohan is the coordinator for organizational excellence for Dublin City Schools in Dublin, Ohio.

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