James Hardin – Chapter Twenty-Three

James Hardin

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE:
Challenges for the Future: Introducing Education to Lean Six Sigma

Overview

State and federal budgets are struggling to cope with the current economic crisis across the board. Foreclosure rates and home devaluation have undermined property tax revenues throughout the United States. Public elementary and secondary school expenditures are expected to increase 36% by the end of the decade.1 Meanwhile, federal funding for targeted education programs is expected to drop by 5% from FY 2010 to FY 2011.2

Per-pupil expenditures continue to rise despite shrinking budgets. Total costs per pupil increased over 56% between the 1997-1998 school year and the 2006-2007 school year.3 Figures show that while overall salary expenditures are increasing, they continually represent less of the overall education budget. Expenditures on employee benefits have increased, along with purchased services and supplies. Interest on school debt has also increased over 76%.4 These figures don’t even take into account the economic recession that began in December 2007.

The current economic situation has made it even more imperative for schools, like businesses, to operate at a higher level of efficiency to make their budgets stretch farther. We have seen throughout this book how applying Lean, Six Sigma, Operational Excellence and other strategies and methodologies has driven amazing improvement in businesses across industries, including non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, education lags behind the times in implementing organizational excellence systems and strategies. There is still a dearth of literature even available on the topic, let alone recommending application of these strategies.

This chapter will challenge you to:

  • Drive your efforts toward making organizational excellence methodologies in education a part of your practice.
  • Push educational systems in your area and across the nation to see the need to implement such strategies in their systems.
  • See the need to implement such systems in education and become part of the future solution to the educational institution crisis.

Seeing the Future of Education through an LSS Lens

From my experience and the research I have conducted, more and more practitioners of Six Sigma believe the combined effort of Lean and Six Sigma increase the opportunity for larger gains while reducing the challenges of developing sustainable change. Businesses can expect a 10 to 30 percent improvement in their production when properly utilizing Lean Six Sigma. How would you like that much improvement in school climate, test scores, attendance or graduation rates? Probably, most of you would be astounded at a mere five percent increase in test scores across the spectrum in a single school term. Is this possible? Yes; however, this will never happen consistently unless there is total
implementation of Lean Six Sigma system wide.

Education has a lot of stakeholders – more than the average business. The obvious customer is the student, who graduates with a diploma or degree from some institution and goes off into the workforce to live a wonderful life, assuming all of his or her requirements have been met. There are also the parents, who expect their children to graduate, leave the house and become financially self-sufficient so they, the parents, can enjoy their middle and retirement years without worry or further financial outlays. Colleges and graduate programs are also customers – they obtain their own customer base from students who graduate from high school and want obtain Bachelor’s degrees. Further down the line are the businesses that depend upon educational institutions to provide a well-educated, intelligent workforce to employ in their organizations.

School boards and state, local and federal governments are also clients whose needs an educational institution must consider. Educational bodies count on government for budgetary allocations. No Child Left Behind requires demonstrated adequacy in student knowledge and performance and carries with it a host of requirements schools must follow that may or may not consist of value-added activities. Finally, the public in general can be considered a client of education. The degree to which the workforce is educated affects the overall economic performance of a nation.

With so many stakeholders and so much riding on how our educational institutions perform, it still amazes me to see education turning a blind eye to the improvements that can be realized by initiating Lean Six Sigma or Operational Excellence programs. In the following sections, I will outline how LSS can be applied to education to improve efficiency and outcomes (graduation rates, test scores, etc.) and decrease waste in operations.

Let’s Talk about Lean and Six Sigma

As we’ve previously discussed, Lean is about eliminating waste in business processes. Lean was originally applied to manufacturing in a method known as Just-in-Time (JIT). In short, JIT turned manufacturing from a push process into a pull system where production is linked to customer demand and material replenishment requirements. JIT is a demand-supply model as opposed to supply-demand. As outlined in Chapter 14, Lean focuses on eliminating the 7M’s of waste. These wastes are largely identified through Value Stream Mapping, as discussed in Chapter 17.

Six Sigma, on the other hand, is a set of specific improvement strategy tools and processes. The focus is upon identifying and removing defects. Six Sigma came out of Motorola Corporation in the 1980s, when one of the company’s engineers, Bill Smith explained that an acceptable level of imperfection [for his company] was six sigma, which equates to producing a yield of products that are 99.99966% error free.5 Today, Six Sigma has become so much more than an operating philosophy; it has become a goal, a metric, a methodology and a set of tools for eliminating defects. At its heart, Six Sigma embodies a methodology of improving quality (defect ratio) by gathering data, identifying then controlling variation, and improving predictability of business processes. Despite its focus on eliminating variation, many people forget that Six Sigma places a strong emphasis on value in waste reduction. Built into the philosophy is the recognition that there is some level of acceptable imperfection because there is a point at which the cost to fix a particular variation or waste becomes more costly than simply accepting it.

In education (as in any business) these practices have multiple implications and challenges. In Six Sigma, a defect is considered anything that causes customer dissatisfaction (See Chapter 16 on Voice of the Customer). The customers in education, as we have seen, are everyone from the student all the way up to the federal government. We are the only country in the world focused on educating everyone. Equal
footing and opportunity for all, from top to bottom and bottom to top, is a necessary goal in order to improve, grow, learn, and enter that eternal journey toward success: the American Dream. Yet the variety of needs required by the overwhelming number of stakeholders often complicates and confuses the implementation of improvement initiatives. It is often easier to stay with the status quo than to figure out where to start and
which customer to please first.

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