A review and perspective on Lean in higher education

Date05 September 2016
Published date05 September 2016
AuthorWilliam K. Balzer,David E. Francis,Timothy C. Krehbiel,Nicholas Shea
Subject MatterEducation,Curriculum, instruction & assessment,Educational evaluation/assessment
A review and perspective on
Lean in higher education
William K. Balzer
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA
David E. Francis
Foxtrot Consulting and Research Inc., Saskatchewan, Canada, and
Timothy C. Krehbiel and Nicholas Shea
Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, USA
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to synthesize the accumulated body of research on Lean in
higher education, draw conclusions to help guide successful Lean implementations and propose future
research directions to establish a rich base of knowledge that informs both practice and research.
Design/methodology/approach This literature review examines the academic literature
regarding the use of Lean in higher education across 64 publications. EBSCO denitions were used to
assess and present the synthesized results, which are detailed at the department/unit level and at the
organizational level.
Findings – Overall, Lean appears to have signicant and measurable value when used to improve
academic and administrative operations in higher education. Such improvements are effective at the
department/unit level or throughout the entire institution. However, implementing Lean within an
institution is a serious undertaking that is most impactful if it involves long-term, strategic planning.
Research limitations/implications – The groundwork has been established for the development
of conceptual frameworks to further guide Lean initiatives in higher education. Such frameworks,
together with further integration of organizational development and change management literature will
dene best practices when implementing Lean locally and throughout the institution.
Originality/value – At the time of this writing, there has been no systematic review or integration of
the published literature about Lean in higher education. This review provides a highly useful starting
point for researchers interested in further developing theory about quality in academic institutions.
Keywords Continuous improvement, Leadership, Quality, Efciency, Lean, Lean higher education
Paper type Literature review
Lean is a set of principles and practices developed over several decades by the Toyota Motor
Company to establish operational excellence as a strategic cornerstone. The “Toyota Way”
(Liker, 2004), emphasized continuous improvement and respect for employees as key to
strategic business philosophy to enhance product quality. These two leadership tenets were
consistently applied to eliminate waste and improve the ow of manufacturing processes
(Byrne, 2013;Womack and Jones, 1996,2005). Recognizing the benets of product quality,
The authors would like to thank Susan Hurst, Business Librarian at Miami University, for her
expert advice and help in tracking down numerous manuscripts during the preparation of this
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 16 March 2015
Revised 4 June 2015
17 February 2016
4 May 2016
Accepted 12 May 2016
QualityAssurance in Education
Vol.24 No. 4, 2016
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/QAE-03-2015-0011
employee engagement, customer satisfaction and company prots, Toyota extended Lean
thinking to all aspects of its business, including product development, supply chain logistics,
nance and customer service (Womack et al., 1990).
Over the past decades, Lean principles and practices have been incorporated
worldwide in public and private sector organizations. Lean Higher Education (LHE)
(Balzer, 2010) has enabled post-secondary institutions to seek similar improvements in
response to the demands of the higher education marketplace: exceeding the
expectations of students, faculty and other constituents; reducing expenses in an age of
rising costs and declining nancial resources; meeting demands for public
accountability in terms of efciency and effectiveness; and, most importantly,
strategically leveraging all available institutional resources to fulll the educational,
scholarship and outreach missions of higher education (Balzer, 2010;Behm et al., 2010;
Holm and Waterbury, 2010;Waterbury and Holm, 2011).
Numerous case studies describe LHE implementations across the continuum from
local through institution-wide. Studies typically present small (5-8 persons) project
teams participating in multi-day workshops to apply steps to improve underperforming
or unsatisfying processes. Common areas of improvement are student admissions,
hiring faculty, purchasing supplies, offering a new major, remodeling a research lab,
adding or dropping a course, approving a grant submission, advising students or
communicating with donors.
Project teams achieved process improvements through a general ve-step process:
identifying constituents who benet from the process and what they value;
applying Lean tools and techniques to analyze the current process to surface
wasted steps, efforts and inefcient ow among the process steps;
redesigning the process using Lean techniques that eliminate waste, improve ow
and better meet constituents’ needs;
implementing and regularly evaluating the updated processes using metrics that
reect what constituents expect from the process; and
continually improving the process with the ultimate goal of achieving perfection
in the eyes of all constituents.
Over the past 15 years, LHE has demonstrated its potential for realizing improvements
in the delivery of higher education and its supporting services. Examples of
improvement noted in the literature include:
the creation of a “walk in” service at a student counseling center that reduced
student wait time from an average of 21 to 0 days without adding any new staff;
reducing the reply time for a request for information from prospective students
from two to three weeks to 1 h;
reducing backlogged repairs of campus facilities from an average of 24 work days
to an average of less than 3 work days, with 80 per cent of repairs completed the
same day they were requested;
reducing the number of steps in an administrative staff hiring process by more
than half, resulting in a reduced hiring time from 22 to 8 weeks; and
accumulating over $27.2m in nancial improvements at a US public university
over a four-year period (Balzer, 2010;Balzer et al., 2015;Krehbiel et al., 2015).
Lean in higher

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT