Three Lean Principles to Make You a Better Manager

Management in the higher education environment is always a moving target and a challenge.  Transitioning into a lean operation can seem like a monumental task. You want to be more efficient, you want to improve quality and consistency of output, and to cut down on waste. The problem is, there’s so much to do it’s a daunting undertaking.

Here’s a tip.  Start with these three things today and you’ll be on your way to a leaner operation with a very healthy mindset for the management of the higher education enterprise.

1. You don’t have to fix everything today.

The first thing to do is relax. You don’t need to do everything all at once. Think of the Pareto principle, sometimes referred to as the 80/20 rule.

About 80 percent of the changes you want to make can be achieved with 20 percent of the effort needed for the entire process. Focus on the easiest, most obvious areas first. The things that will have the most impact. You can work on those higher-level problems later.

2. Focus on organization and efficiency.

For most institutions of higher education, there is plenty of room to improve in these two critical areas. Here are a three things to focus on today:
Your customer – the student. How can you better serve your students’ needs? Think of ways to give them better value for their money. How can you provide your product (education)  to them better, faster, or cheaper?
Understand how work gets done. Do you know the steps in the process? Documenting these can help you discover inefficiencies.
Organize work areas – offices, classrooms, labs, residence halls.  Do your work areas promote efficiency? Are items placed in convenient and logical places? Is there inventory or equipment that is unused or obsolete?  Find ways to eliminate waste—things that waste space, time, money, or effort.  Use a 5S diagram to get started.

3. Develop a “continuous improvement” mindset.

It’s important to remember that lean isn’t just a “fix-it” solution. It’s a business lifestyle change for sound management of higher education. It’s the equivalent of making sure your institution eats a healthy diet and exercises every day.
For many institutions, lean works well at the outset, but then fails because leadership reverts to traditional business practices that we never critically thought-out and optimized in the first place.

A lean leader must develop a healthy, continuous improvement “lifestyle” and promote it throughout the institution on a consistent, sustained basis. This means empowering people at all levels to find improvement—then recognizing and rewarding their efforts. It is critical for academic leaders and managers to buy into this concept upfront and understand that it is crucial to stick with it.

(note:  the principles and much of the text is taken from Smart Draw Corporation (