The title of this post is made tongue-in-cheek, because this article really celebrates an amazing transformation that is happening at The University of Virginia Darden School of Business. The Dean at Darden, Robert F. Bruner, is helping to transform the University through the application of Lean Thinking.
In his words 1,
A year ago, I launched a lean thinking initiative at the Darden School—I met with the faculty and staff at three points in the year to discuss the consequences of the economic crisis around us and our need to “reinvent, renew, and re-imagine all that we do.” Our leadership team read and discussed classic books on lean thinking and case studies of successes. I facilitated three focus group meetings with front-line supervisors and employees to discuss ways to “go lean” in travel planning, student services, and external relations. We called on the expertise of some of our alumni and members of our faculty. We invested prudently in new technology and ran a special pilot program with the Amazon Kindle. Our students got into the act with projects around environmental sustainability (yes, that’s lean thinking too.) Our faculty embarked on a deep review of our full-time MBA program.
One year into it, the net effect of our lean initiative has been to generate some five dozen kaizen (continuous improvement) projects. For instance, Randy Smith, Darden’s Chief Technology Officer said that his team is looking to automate the “routine repetitive work so that the staff of our business-owner partners can engage in higher level work.” So far, our kaizen projects have generated some small early wins; more wins are in prospect. More importantly, our lean initiative has generated increased self-reflection about the way we do things. We have a different mindset as we head into this year’s planning and budgeting cycles. In any event, the gains will begin to accumulate, to build on one another and to suggest opportunities for further improvements in quality and cost.
It’s apparent that there’s no Ivory Tower type of behavior going on here – people are clearly practicing “go and see” and are actively getting their hands dirty in the Gemba.
Dean Robert F. Bruner then shares some lessons from the last year, his version of Reflection or Hansei:
Leadership. Going lean is not an exercise to be relegated to the time-and-motion experts. Leadership is indispensable. The leader (at the top, middle, or at the front line of the organization) has to set the tone of lean thinking–it can’t just be about cost cutting; it must be about transforming the organization for high performance; it can’t just be thinking about doing with less money, it must be about working differently. If all you want to do is cut costs, then you don’t need a leader; you need a technician. This is the central difference between the lean thinkers and the cost-cutters.
Harness the network. As the saying goes, there is more knowledge in the network (such as your community or the Internet) than in the heads of the few people immediately around you. The best ideas come from people distant from the CEO (such as the front line). Therefore the leader must learn to listen well. Going lean isn’t simply a matter of a top-down directive. This means that the senior leader has to engage in outreach and facilitation with a cross-section of people. As we teach at Darden, the term, “leader,” isn’t reserved for the supremo at the top of the organization—leaders can be found throughout organizations. You must lead from where you are, wherever you are. From there you must work the network.
Patience and persistence. Lean thinking entails a culture change within an organization, and culture change takes time. Tangible progress may not be immediately visible. The best lean operators are relentless in their pursuit of muda—and over time they show dramatic advantages in quality and cost over their competitors.
Wonderful. Just wonderful to see the application of Lean Thinking, to hear and see the excitement, and the results – awe inspiring.
- http://www.darden.virginia.edu/html/deansblog.aspx?id=20778&blogid=198 ↩