A key part of Business Process Management (BPM) is the application of process improvement methods. These methods are a representation of an overall approach toward achievement of efficiency and reduction of waste. Although these methods are often erroneously equated to Business Process Management, the truth is that each method only focuses on a particular aspect within the wider scope of BPM.
We examine four of the main process improvement methods that are commonly used in the field of education, and how they are applied within the academic sector.
In many cases, educators will find that they are faced with pressure from both their community and the government to improve the performance of their students despite receiving neither the necessary funding to achieve this aim nor sufficient influence to affect policy. Basically, teachers and school administrators are being forced to do more with less. For this reason, it is hardly surprising when professionals in academic institutions turn to an approach from the business management field that has been effective and successful in other sectors like healthcare and manufacturing.
The Lean methodology is predicated on the concept that excellent results can be achieved in a cost-effective manner by streamlining processes. Lean’s core principle is that each process needs to add value as defined by the process customer. Any step that fails to add value is considered waste and should be eliminated.
In schools, all members of staff in each department and at all levels document their current practices in order to define opportunities for process improvements.
- Six Sigma
The Six Sigma methodology has made a big impression in the business world, particularly in the service, healthcare and manufacturing sectors. Today, it is helping to drive improvements in the classroom as well. The emphasis is on the setting of high objectives, collection of data, and analysis of the results in order to reduce defects. It key philosophy is that, if defects within a system can be measured, then it becomes easier to find ways to eliminate them and get as close to perfection as possible.
The reason for this method’s success in such an unexpected area is because many activities carried out at academic institutions are repeatable processes, the type of which benefit from the applications of the principles of Six Sigma. Much like Six Sigma itself, the field of education has a tight focus on finding out the voice of the customer – in this case, the students – and putting improvements in place to ensure the customer’s needs are met.
Total Quality Management (TQM) is a concept that was advanced by W. Edwards Deming at the end of the Second World War as a means of improving the quality of goods and services produced. The TQM concept also applies to academics, with many professionals in the education sector believing that the methodology and its principles can guide educational reform.
The first principle of TQM is the focus on synergy, where the methodology considers everyone involved as both a supplier and customer. At the heart of the TQM concept of synergy is the suggestion that performance and production can be enhanced by combining the talents and experience of individuals within an educational institution.
Kaizen is Japanese for ‘change for better.’ Kaizen represents a set of practices, a philosophy or mindset with an emphasis on employee involvement, teamwork, process improvement and elimination of waste. Kaizen could be as simple as an individual identifying an area within their domain that can be improved or a group of people who come together to enable the improvement of a process that affects them.
This philosophy is centered on identifying ‘what’ is wrong instead of ‘who’ is wrong, in order to eliminate waste in the workplace. It works by empowering the employees of an academic institution with tools to uncover improvement opportunities as well as a methodology for each person to make small changes. Its quality control tools – Ishikawa diagrams, the PDCA cycle and Pareto – also provide a low-cost approach.
The method used to improve service delivery and quality of education at an academic institution will depend on the particular circumstances of the organization. The reason why multiple approaches exist is so that administrators and teaching staff can select the ideal method for their school.