Breathtaking Higher Education Innovation!

Breathtaking Innovation Sure to be Used Throughout Public Higher Education!

tip_canAs you are no doubt well aware, I am internationally recognized for my many teaching innovations in higher education. Now, I can add one more teaching innovation to the already extensive list of “firsts” on my impressively long curriculum vitae.

I have invented the Professor’s Tip Can™. Yes, you too can earn more money by begging for tips from your students each time class meets. The more courses you teach, the more tips you earn! It’s the free market at work.

You can also leave the Professor’s Tip Can™ outside your office door during office hours to earn even more tips. And don’t be shy about bringing it with you when you meet your dean, provost, or president. You can even take it with you when you meet your Board or when you rally at the state capitol to protest budget cuts to higher education! The Professor’s Tip Can™ is incredibly versatile.

You might think this is an obvious invention, but you would be wrong. It is the result of 17 years of painstaking work to answer two critically important research questions: Are students customers? Is teaching a service? Look for the exciting results in my forthcoming paper to be published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

My research paper is timely given the emerging view among politicians, businessmen, university leaders, and others that teaching is merely a service provided to students. Teaching as a Service (Taas), itself an innovation, is destined to spin off many new innovations, with the Professor’s Tip Can™ leading the way. Its impact on graduation rates and other key metrics is not yet known, but it is expected to be favorable.

Using just one tip can (29 ounce cut green beans can works best), I am able to display three unique message depending on my mood or the mood of the class, and whether I am teaching undergraduate or graduate students. All I do is carefully rotate the can to the precise message at the start of class. It’s that simple!

I have field-tested the Professor’s Tip Can™ for three full academic years, and it works. It works so well that I have applied for several patents. Because my research was self-funded and I personally paid for the 452 tip can engineering designs and prototypes, the university has no claim on this (highly intellectual) intellectual property.

Yet because the mission of higher education is also to create new knowledge and freely share it with others, I am happy to share my latest innovation with you. I am giving away the Professor’s Tip Can™ graphics for you to use and even remix (can not included).

Be innovative! Choose any one or use all three!

tips-1

 

 

 

 

 

tips-2

 

 

 

 

 

tips-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

K-12 Teacher’s Tip Can™ is under development. Expect release date Spring 2017.

Professor’s Tip Can™ is a service mark of leanprofessor.com. Service mark applied for.

A belated April Fool’s Day joke.

Improving How Universities Improve

stick-slipUniversities have come under much criticism in recent years from business leaders, political leaders, and the public for being slow to change and improve. There is truth to this because the method used for change is what I call “stick-slip.”

Stick-slip is a term used in science and engineering that refers to a phenomenon in which two surfaces stick until a force large enough causes the objects to slip a small distance past one another.

University processes stick for a long time and then quickly slip a little. Because university processes stick for extended periods of time, it can appear as if no change is occurring. That’s because university committees typically meet on a monthly basis (stick) to carefully consider changes and also make changes (slip). Typically, committees meet only 8 or 9 times per year, and meetings stop on-time because faculty have to go and teach class. This limits the number and type of improvements that can be made. As I said in Lean University, committees should process smaller amounts of information more often, thereby increase the volume of work processed and improving flow (one of many useful improvement ideas in the book).

Based on my 15 years of industry experience and current involvement with industry, processes in industry can be stick-slip as well. But more often, the process for improvement is a slow, creeping along such that the changes made are exceedingly small. Creeping, as shown in the image above, is not “continuous improvement” because improvement proceeds so slowly as to be barely perceptible. The major changes that do occur typically relate to the use of new software, which is also stick-slip. Otherwise, change is difficult to detect.

In this sense, universities and industry are more alike than people realize in terms of the pace at changes are made. Yet, industry does one thing well that universities do not do well. That is, they are forced by shareholders or customers to respond to major shocks in the marketplace or major management blunders. Legendary are the many stories of companies that faced extinction if they did not begin to offer new products and services, or the re-vamping of corporations due to fraud or mismanagement. When forced to change in significant ways, corporations generally change (but they often backslide as well).

However, when universities are forced to change, they do not necessarily change. The major changes in the marketplace that have come to higher education over the last 20 years have yet to make much of an impact in how much of higher education functions. Time will tell if stick-slip helps universities survive or if they are a principal cause of their demise. But there is great risk in continuing along this path. An option better than wait-and-see is to begin to learn creeping. While this would be an improvement, it too carries risk

Few organizations continuously improve in ways that make meaningful differences day-to-day – called “stable sliding” in the above image. For that, you have to look at Toyota Motor Corporation, and, in particular, the unique way in which they practice kaizen. Kaizen is the core of their management system (click here, here, and here to learn more), and universities would be wise to adopt it and other elements that form the context in which it functions effectively. Stable sliding would be good for universities overall, though it would surely result in some problems. However, problems are more quickly recognized and corrected in stable sliding.

The challenge is that stable sliding must be led by the people who are in leadership positions, starting with the president of the university, along with the provost, deans, and administrative staff leaders. To do that, leaders need to learn new things, some of which can be learned by reading. Click here, here, here, and here for key books on kaizen (read all four). But, to really know it, leaders have to put what they learned from books into daily practice.

Personalizing Discovery and Learning

One of new things that I have started doing in my graduate courses is to challenge students to determine what answers they are seeking from the course, which in turns ask them to identify questions that they must ask. It is part of my evolution in Lean teaching, to make learning more a pull system instead of the usual push system. See my 2015 conference keynote presentation “Application of Lean to Teaching” (slides 24-29) where I presented my new approach to course design aimed at transforming face-to-face and hybrid teaching from “push” to “pull.

The assignment is called “Seek Answers by Asking Questions.” Its purpose is to personalize discovery and learning; to teach to individual interests, rather than teach to an assumed interest possessed by the group of students. Students submit this assignment in the third week of the semester, after they have had a chance to review the course materials and understand some of the basic concepts and problems related to the subject matter. It forces students, at the start of the course, to think about what they want to get out of the course. This is different than the usual approach in which the professor tells students what they are going to get out of the course.

Below are two good examples of what students submitted. It is clear by the quality of the submissions that these students did engage the material during the first three weeks in an effort to understand some of the basic concepts and problems related to the subject matter. Students who did not engage the course material submitted poor work, and their discovery and learning is therefore likely to be more limited.

Click on the images to view the files. Let me know what you think of this approach to engaging students in the subject matter and to personalize learning.

Example1 Example2

 

 

The Trouble With Tenure

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute recently published a report titled: “The Trouble with Tenure” (February 2016). Click here to view the report. In the Executive Summary, page 5, the authors present an interesting and very challenging recommendation:

“…the Board of Regents… should also undertake a systemic review of whether tenure is appropriate and necessary on all campuses and at the Extension. As part of this review, the regents should direct individual campuses with varying missions to clearly articulate why each department benefits — or doesn’t — from having tenured or tenure-track employees rather than instructional staff operating on contracts. Similarly, each time a person is considered for tenure, chancellors should articulate why the department and university will benefit from having a tenured employee rather than a member of the instructional staff operating on a contract that assures academic freedom. Specific reference should be made to the mission of the individual campus university, and how the candidate is expected to contribute to the various facets of the mission.”

I applied this recommendation to my institution, and here is the result (click image to enlarge):tenure_challenge

Why is tenure a necessary aspect of higher education and of higher learning? Imagine if a faculty member at a university were to undertake a carefully constructed research project whose data indicated that the above recommendation was the result of various biases, and that, as a result, the report and its recommendations were unreliable for use in executive decision-making. And, what if the authors of the report making said recommendation judged the research to be a personal attack and which damaged their credibility, rather than a dispassionate research project in search of the simple truth? They could complain to the university president and demand that the professor be fired.

In the absence of tenure, the professor could be dismissed as a result of their research. The practical consequence is that the simple truth behind the important question of how professors could be made accountable to taxpayers and students would be undiscovered, and would instead remain within the realm of subjective opinion informed by potentially faulty political (or other) ideology.

Well-designed research might instead reveal uncomfortable truths regarding administrative labor costs, the cost of NCAA athletic programs, and other costly dissipations that do not contribute to the university’s mission, and which therefore indicate that the principal accountability to taxpayers and students lies elsewhere.

Tenure, therefore, might be much less trouble than is imagined. It might also reveal that perceived need for universities to become more flexible, nimble and responsive is not actually necessary.

Lean MBA or Conventional MBA?

Below is a video in four parts of me giving a presentation to a business school faculty in which I make the case that Lean management should be taught to MBA students. The video was recorded on 28 January 2016. What do you think? Did I make a good case for featuring Lean management in their MBA program?

Part One: 33 minutes

Part Two: 33 minutes

Part Three: 33 minutes

Part Four: 11 minutes

Learn about Lean management and the public good.

Higher Ed’s Big Lie: Academic Excellence

It seems there isn’t a university administrator anywhere, and most faculty too, who claim the mantle of “academic excellence.” What is “academic excellence?” The words typically connote the span of university activities related to the degree programs, scholarship, learning, and teaching. It is common to read how funding must be preserved or increased to maintain or improve “academic excellence.” Claims of “academic excellence” vary according to the topic under discussion*. For degree programs, it is accreditation. For scholarship, it is publication in peer-reviewed journals. For learning, it is graduation rates and post-graduation employment. For teaching, it is…. mostly nothing. Academic excellence in the context of teaching is often unsubstantiated. If it is substantiated, it is typically based on unscientific, misleading, or inaccurate survey data.

The term “academic excellence” is a synonym for “bugger off:”

  • Our degree programs are accredited, so bugger off.
  • Faculty and student research is published in peer-reviewed journals, so bugger off.
  • Our graduation rate and post-graduation employment numbers are in line with peer universities, so bugger off.
  • Accreditation, research publications, graduation rates, and post-graduation employment prove that teaching is good, so bugger off.

The principal purpose of the term “academic excellence” is to fend off criticism from outsiders, keep external stakeholders in the dark, and to avoid doing the hard work of improving academic and administrative processes across the university. The term “academic excellence” is used to maintain the status quo, and continues to successfully deflect criticism despite the need for change – especially when it comes to teaching. Teaching remains, by far, the weakest element of the enterprise and the most in need of improvement.

Generally, if a university president considers something important, then others will view it to be important as well. How many university presidents consistently emphasize the importance of continuously improving teaching? How many university presidents follow up their nice words with personal actions such as meeting faculty in their office to encourage ever-better teaching, thank individual faculty for their good teaching with handwritten notes, and motivate poor teachers to do better?

While most university presidents advocate for good teaching, the method for improvement is left up to individual faculty and thus leads to variable results. There are no institutionally agreed-upon methods for continuous improvement. Teaching is core to a university’s mission, and to the satisfaction of students, payers, employers, and others. How can the improvement methods, and the results, be left to chance?

Let’s looks some facts that represent the teaching situation at most, but not all, universities where research contributions are required of the faculty:

  • Most faculty are not trained how to teach. Therefore, they teach the way they were taught. As students, we found most faculty to be average or below average teachers. Fortunately, a few of the 40 or so professors that undergraduates would come into contact over 4 years good. Typically, this means 3 or 4 professors, or about 10 percent of the total.
  • Most faculty do little or no experimentation in their teaching. They may do some experimentation early in their career, but few do experiments throughout their career. They settle on methods that to them appear to work best, but which their students likely view as poor.
  • Most faculty do not share their teaching methods with other faculty in any great detail. So, they do not subject themselves to criticism that leads to improvement and remain unaware of what the professor in the office next to them does.
  • In most universities, teaching counts for relatively little in faculty evaluation. There remains an illogical line of thinking that says because one has a terminal degree, they know how to teach. The reward for experimenting and improving one’s teaching is nil, so most faculty don’t bother.
  • Faculty will immerse themselves in the literature of their discipline, but will be largely uninformed about which pedagogies are more or less effective.
  • Faculty talk of “continuous improvement” yet they do not actually use the methods and tools of continuous improvement (rooted in industrial engineering). Routine changes to courses and programs, while necessary, are accepted as evidence of comprehensive continuous improvement activity.
  • From academics’ perspective, the answer to any of their problems is “more money.” They spend money instead of spending ideas. They should spend ideas instead of spending money.
  • For the last 8 years or so, university leaders have been more focused on enrollment numbers and admission of out-of-state students to improve the financial condition of the institution than teaching.
  • As far as I can tell, no university president knows of or can name the top 5 teachers in each school (business, engineering, nursing, etc.). Nor do they know specifically the reasons why each person is a good teacher.

Data that I have collected in recent years (see it here, here, here, and here) informs me that “academic excellence” is weak when it comes to teaching, and not nearly as strong as people think in other areas. Rather than confront the poor quality of as basic a human activity as teaching, university leaders prefer to run from it and instead adopt expensive technological or other solutions. Top administrators are too quick to spend money and thus increase the cost of higher education.

Instead, top administrators should recognize teaching as a process and, like any process, it can be continuously improved. The way to do that is by using a proven, low cost/no-cost method. That method is kaizen.


* It is challenging to associate degree programs with “academic excellence” when, in most cases, courses are disconnected from one another and sometimes even repetitive in bad ways. The same is true for accreditation, as this process allows even weak academic programs to be accredited. The focus of peer-reviewed publications is quantity, not quality. And graduation rates and post-graduation employment metrics are easily gamed. And, of course, reputation is not a reliable proxy for academic excellence. These, therefore, compromise overall claims of “academic excellence.”

Top 2015 Lean Higher Ed Blog Posts

Thank you for reading my blog! Here are the most viewed blog posts in 2015:

Methodological Errors in Lean for Higher Ed
Lean Higher Ed Conference Presentation
How To Get Started With Lean In Higher Ed
Teaching Surveys – Interim Results
What Is Good Quality Teaching? – Survey Results
My Student Course Evaluations
New Books: Lean Teaching and Lean University
Lean Must Do No Harm
Imaginary Customers
Higher Education Quality
Why Professors Can’t Teach
“All Deans Are A**holes”
Are You Satisfied With 10 Percent?
Lean for University Leaders
The Value Of Higher Education
Improving Critical Thinking
Course Blueprint
A Shameful Legacy
A Lost Decade
I Called It

Higher Learning and Lean Management

Conflict between management and employees seems inevitable, but that is not always the case. When I worked in industry, there was near-perpetual conflict between senior management and labor unions, but less so between senior management and salaried employees. Overall, there was broad alignment in the mission of the company to design, manufacture, and service the product. There were, however, conflicting internal priorities driven by the different metrics in each functional area.

In higher education, it seems that conflict between faculty and administration over the fundamental reason for existence is perpetual. Why? Faculty are mission-driven. They are the front-line workers whose job it is to educate students and conduct research to create new knowledge and discover truth. While senior administrators may say they are mission driven, their day-to-day actions indicate they are often driven by different concerns – the business of higher education. And, they are also more directly exposed to the influence of business persons, politicians, and pundits whose interests are more narrow than liberal arts education and research to create new knowledge and discover truth.

Administrators’ concerns about the business of higher education, while complimentary to the mission of higher education, can, at times, interfere with teaching and research. Yet, it is the influence of business on higher education that has long been troublesome to faculty – especially those faculty outside the professional schools (e.g. law, medicine, engineering, business). Today, the business influence on higher education often manifests itself in the form of a university president with no advanced degree and no higher education experience plucked from industry or the political realm, to unsparing criticism from pundits over the normal and messy process of learning and discovery by people of all ages.

In the book, The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men (Annotated Edition, John Hopkins University Press, 2015), Thorstein Veblen makes clear the distinctions in interests and influences between administrators and faculty. Published nearly 100 years ago, The Higher Learning in America makes the case that the university should be as free of business thinking in administration as is practical; that its leaders should unfailingly support the faculty’s pursuits in both words and actions.

Veblen’s view is that the university is the only place in society where people are free to pursue knowledge for its own sake (“idle curiosity,” where “idle” means “…a knowledge of things is sought, apart from any ulterior use of the knowledge so gained.” [p. 40] – hence, distinct from business interests, yet which could be put to practical use later by someone else). It is a necessity, not a luxury. Veblen notes the valuable interplay between scholarship and teaching in pursuit of higher learning (pp. 47-48):

“The conservation and advancement of the higher learning involves two lines of work, distinct but closely bound together: (a) scientific and scholarly inquiry, and (b) the instruction of students. The former of these is primary and indispensable. It is this work of intellectual enterprise that gives its character to the university and marks it off from the lower schools [colleges, professional, and vocational schools].

The work of teaching properly belongs in the university only because and in so far as it incites and facilitates the university man’s work of inquiry – and the extent to which such teaching furthers the work of inquiry is scarcely to be appreciated without a somewhat extended experience.”

In Veblen’s view, the university’s position in society is scared and should not be diluted or re-directed in favor of fads or to fulfill short-term needs. And, the symbiotic nature of research and teaching cannot be easily understood by those who have not experienced both over a long period of time. Veblen’s thesis, in a nutshell, is that the university’s evolution from professors teaching practical knowledge to professors pursuing knowledge for its own sake is both sensible and correct, and that the pursuit knowledge for its own sake should be strengthened by university administrators and never inhibited by the interests of business persons.

The faculty’s mission of higher learning, in Veblen’s days, was funded by students’ tuition money or state support in the form of subsidy for the cost of running the university. Federal funding in support of academic research began to appear years later. In modern times, research in public higher education is often supported, in part, by the state through labor contracts with unionized faculty. This makes sense because a professor in a top tier institution with a mediocre idea is far more likely to obtain external funding than a professor in a second or third tier institution with a brilliant idea.

Veblen makes a distinction between pursuing knowledge for its own sake and pursuing knowledge that is of practical or utilitarian value such as for employment – the latter being of far lower order than the former. There has always been tension between the mission of higher education to create an educated citizenry and prepare people for work. Basically, to help create people who can productively contribute to society across its numerous dimensions.

Today, particularly in public higher education, politicians and business persons seek to change the balance that has long existed to create an educated citizenry that is prepared to contribute to society through work and other means. They would prefer the balance to shift sharply towards employment preparation, thus forsaking the knowledge areas and modes of thinking that help create high-functioning citizens. This change is balance is obviously the result of budget problems that are the result of decades of reduced taxation on individuals and on business (inclusive of tax breaks and incentives given to business by the state).

Today, we may think of the balance between educated citizenry and employment preparation a bit differently than Veblen and others in his time did. But certainly not so skewed towards employment as as politicians and business persons do. Then, as now, a principal focus of professors is the development of student’s critical thinking skills. This capability can benefit society as well as the workplace in terms of replacing opinions with logic and facts, and more accurate understanding of cause-and-effect.

The fundamental basis of Lean management is human discovery and learning. The means for achieving that is the scientific method and its derivative forms such as kaizen, Plan-Do-Check-Act, root cause analysis, etc., to improve processes so that material and/or information flows without interruption, resulting in myriad positive outcomes for affected stakeholders. It is a form of scholarship – empirical scholarship – animated by deep curiosity, mostly practical but sometimes idle, and a incessant drive to discover facts that inform rational, logical thinking, which any citizen, any society, and any workplace can benefit from.

I believe that it would be beneficial to educate all students in Lean management. How would you do that? Incoming undergraduates are often required to take a “First Year Experience” course. Perhaps a course in Lean management would be in the form of a course student take as a “Fourth (or Last) Year Experience” before they graduate so that they have basic familiarity with key Lean concepts and methods. However it is done, the purpose would be to strengthen and harmonize the balance between achieving an educated citizenry and graduates who are prepared for employment. This outcome is preferable to simply tilting the balance towards employment preparation.

Whether the object is society or work, the need for continuous improvement is unceasing and must always be achieved in ways that respect people, with a long-term view. A manifestation of higher learning is knowing the reasons why as well as the methods for achieving non-zero-sum (win-win) outcomes. Lower learning, on the other hand, is reflected in short-term interests and zero-sum (win-lose) outcomes that are all too common in business and government. Conventional management practice commonly found in business is clearly at odds with higher learning and is the source of upset for faculty. The learning needed to do harm to some people is trivial compared to the learning that is needed to do good for the benefit of all. The latter is, of course, higher learning.

Learning the basics of Lean management can be a practical route for bridging the interests of faculty, administrators, business persons, and politicians. Were Thorstein Veblen alive today, would be approve of this? I think so, but with some qualifications that, no doubt, would be sensible.

Riches of Embarrassment

There has been much consternation as well a strong, negative emotional response among CSU faculty to the Board of Regents opening proposals for the AAUP contract. Faculty, who once viewed the Board of Regents as merely bumbling and incompetent now view them angrily and as the enemy. That is an unfortunate development and will surely make reasoned negotiations between the BOR and AAUP more difficult.

My personal sentiment, however, not so much centered upon the BORs bumbling and incompetence. Nor am I angry or do I see them as the enemy. Instead, I am simply embarrassed by their proposals and how others nation-wide view the BOR and the CSU system. The BOR presented themselves as ill-informed amateur administrators, not as knowledgeable higher education professionals. It reflects poorly on both them and our Governor, and it is disappointing to think of them as the leaders of our university system.

I am embarrassed because the BOR negotiating team, in the first five sessions, reveals many important things that they do not understand but should understand such as: the mission of public higher education; what tenure is and what it is not; effect of class size on student learning and student success; the practical impact of faculty re-assignment to sister institutions; process for modifying or eliminating academic programs (including low enrollment programs); of a code of conduct that is impractical; the difference in work responsibilities between full-time faculty and part-time faculty; the needs of part-time faculty; and staffing required to provide student services related to academics. Their level of ignorance of the basics is alarming, and is likely the same or worse among the “powers that be” and the “higher ups” that the negotiating team reports to.

I am embarrassed because the BOR failed to comprehend the ramifications of their proposals. Specifically with respect to accreditation of the university as a whole, as well as its various undergraduate and graduate programs, which the BOR needs as much as students do and employers want.

Faculty and staff understand that the BOR wants to be fiscally responsible and save money. So, tell us what the annual savings target is and we will work with you to see how much of that can be achieved and by what means. But, please recognize that CSU faculty are underpaid relative to both industry and other public and private universities. All parties must recognize that a faculty labor contract is only one of many expenses where savings might be achieved. The BOR must commit to taxpayers that it will be equally diligent in scrutinizing administrative labor cost, benefits for top administrators, supply contracts, athletic programs (1, 2, 3) as well as academic programs, the many bad processes that generate high costs, and so on.

The BOR desires flexibility to add or discontinue academic programs, and re-locate or laying off faculty. There are two things to recognize in pursuit of such seemingly desirable flexibility:

  • Full-time faculty have four job responsibilities: teaching, research, service to the university and service to the profession. The purpose of these four job responsibilities is to build our knowledge steadily over time so that we can more effectively build student’s knowledge. While the BOR may desire professors’ jobs to be easily eliminated or replaced with technology, the reality is that knowledge is a construction project that never ends. This benefits our students, the vast majority of whom remain in-state, as well as society. Re-locating or laying off faculty by fiat is the type of penny-wise, pound-foolish decision that that so often plagues business thinking and causes many more problems than it solves. I should know, I experienced such folly when I worked in industry, and for 10 years I have taught a unique graduate course that analyzes the failed decisions of senior managers in dozens of organizations.
  • There is a practical, established process for discontinuing old academic programs and adding new ones. It is part of the system of “shared governance” (a.k.a. teamwork) that helps us avoid making stupid and costly mistakes. Faculty realize that programs with low enrollment are in trouble and they either work to increase enrollments, discontinue the program, or replace it with a new one that better fits the times. We can work with the BOR on this in the future, just as we have always done in the past.

Unfortunately, the cost driver for public higher education is the tremendous growth in high-paying administrative positions, new buildings, and campus amenities – not faculty whose salaries have remained flat with inflation for 30 years and whose numbers of full-time positions has declined by half. As a former manager in industry, I am embarrassed that the BOR does not recognize its cost-drivers, as any business leader would, and focus on those, while also challenging faculty to achieve sensible programmatic goals through proven approaches such as shared governance and process improvement – all for the benefit of students.

It is common knowledge that public education in general, and public higher education in particular, is a Governor’s piggy bank for funding tax breaks and incentives for private industry. This two-decade, taxpayer-funded tax break and incentive spree is finally on the decline because the data shows that the return on investment is terrible* – far worse than investing in public education – which Connecticut’s senior elected and appointed leaders apparently have yet to grasp. I’m embarrassed by this too.

Recent Connecticut governors have created a billion dollar-plus budget problem as a result of these generous tax breaks and incentives to private industry, and then, in turn, demand wage cuts from state employees and funding cuts to necessary state programs. It is foolish of our elected leaders to forsake a long-term public trust such as higher education for the fickle, short-term interests of industry.

On behalf of all CSU faculty, I give our new BOR president, Mr. Mark Ojakian, a homework assignment: read The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men, by Thorstein Veblen (Annotated Edition, John Hopkins University Press, 2015). This will inform Mr. Ojakian of the valid concerns of faculty, and how they relate to the distinct mission of higher education, student success, and society as a whole. As the leader of our state university system, he should gladly accept and complete this assignment.


* See “UNITED STATES OF SUBSIDIES: A series examining business incentives and their impact on jobs and local economies.”

Lean Governor, Anti-Lean Board of Regents

This is an op-ed article that appeared in The Connecticut Mirror, a respected nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet that reports on government policies and politics. I wrote it in response to the ongoing contract negotiations between the Connecticut Board of Regents and the AAUP.


Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy recently wrote the Foreword to a book titled The Lean CEO: Leading the Way to World-Class Excellence. The Governor wrote how Connecticut business leaders adopted Lean Management, properly known as the Toyota Production System, with great success beginning in the 1990s. The governor extolls the virtues of Lean Management in private industry and its new application in government.

Chapter 13 of The Lean CEO features Lean successes in five Connecticut state agencies where significant improvements and cost savings were achieved without laying off any state employees. On March 26, 2013, Governor Malloy expanded Lean throughout Connecticut state government, later called LeanCT, and is one of his signature policy directives.

I happen to know this topic well, having previously led Lean efforts in both industry and in higher education and as the author or co-author of 16 books and some 30 scholarly papers on Lean leadership and Lean management. Therefore, I and would like to compare Governor Malloy’s words on Lean management to the Board of Regents actions, now under the leadership of Mark Ojakian, in relation to the CSU-AAUP labor contract currently under negotiation for the Connecticut State University System. You will see areas of remarkable misalignment between the governor’s LeanCT effort and the Board of Regents.

In The Lean CEO, Governor Malloy said: “As governor of Connecticut, I am also effectively the state’s CEO… When I took office, I directed all executive branch agencies to implement Lean methods to get routine activities functioning smoothly and consistently and to free up staff members’ time so they could focus on higher value-added tasks that are more directly linked to meeting the needs of citizens.”

Unfortunately, the Board of Regents is far behind other agencies’ own Lean efforts, as revealed by the 2014 Office of Policy and Management report: “Continuous Improvement in the State of Connecticut.” Our time as faculty has not been freed up to focus on higher value-added tasks. In fact, the BOR’s contract proposals will increase faculty burdens and have us do even more non-value-added tasks than we do today.

Governor Malloy goes on to say: “…Lean management was founded on a profound respect for people and the understanding that when workers are consulted, they become more engaged, enthusiastic, and innovative… The underlying assumption here is that the deepest understanding of how to improve a process does not come from management but from the workers who go through those processes day in and day out.”

Lean is a human-centered management system designed to enable people to succeed in their work, not to make work more difficult or stressful. Lean must “do no harm;” no harm to any stakeholder. Unfortunately, many leaders in the private and public sectors misunderstand this. The two inviolate principles of Lean Management are “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People.” “Continuous Improvement” means daily engagement in improvement activities by people at all levels, agency leader on down. “Respect for People” is deep and has many meanings, including that people will not become unemployed as a result of process improvement.

As Governor Malloy says, “…the deepest understanding of how to improve a process does not come from management but from the workers who go through those processes day in and day out.” Higher education has long had a tradition of listening to its workers. It is called “shared governance.” Faculty and staff perform their academic and administrative processes on campus day in and day out, and are in the best position to improve it – not the Board of Regents in Hartford. Yet, shared governance is an aspect of the CSU-AAUP contract that the BOR seeks to eliminate. They want to make major changes to administrative and academic processes, without worker input, which will lead to unemployment as well as changes in teaching processes that offer no guarantee of near-term cost savings and will likely lead to higher future costs.

Leaders who understand Lean Management do not succumb to herd mentality, flavor of the month cost cutting programs, or the allure of new technologies that offer unproven savings and benefits to students, employers, or the state. Lean Management demands that leaders take a different path to cost savings and improvement, one that requires new learning and diligent daily engagement of core principles and practices.

In Lean Management, when problems occur, such as one faculty member going astray, the remedy is not to impose new, impractical rules on every professor, but to instead determine the root cause of the problem and implement a practical countermeasure to prevent that specific type of problem from recurring. Faculty, staff, and administrators on campus should be responsible performing the root cause analysis and identifying and implementing practical countermeasures, not the Board of Regents.

Further, Governor Malloy said: “Lean, however, comes with a caveat. As with most new ideas there is a tendency to adopt it superficially as another flavor of the month. Even worse, if it is implemented purely as a cost-cutting measure, it will lead to alienation of workers and unsustainable results.”

Indeed, the Board of Regents proposals are superficial and nothing more than zero-sum, win-lose, pure cost-cutting that offer nothing in the way of imaginative or innovative Lean thinking. It is, in fact, anti-Lean thinking. A critically important rule in Lean Management is: Do not sacrifice the long-term for short-term results. However, that is exactly what the BOR is doing with their contract proposals. The BOR’s proposals must be consistent with the spirit and intent of Lean Management. Which is to say, outcomes must be non-zero-sum (win-win); good for all people – faculty, staff, students, payers, employers, Connecticut communities, the State, and so on. Mutual gains, not zero-sum.

And, Malloy said, “By empowering our people [state employees] to improve the processes that define their workplace, we can tap a powerful force that will lead the way to a stronger, more prosperous world.”

It is clear that the BOR does not yet comprehend how to tap a powerful force, faculty and staff, to lead the way to a stronger, more prosperous state. An expert on budgets and labor contract bargaining is no Lean expert. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Everything that ails higher education – high tuition and fees, low enrolled academic programs, inefficient back-office operations, labor costs, and myriad process problems – can be corrected with shared governance and the application of Lean principles and practices to all processes, and without laying off people – just was the case for the Connecticut agencies featured in The Lean CEO.

The Board of Regents are clearly anti-Lean and discriminatory in that higher education must abide by old thinking and old management practices, while other state agencies must engage in new Lean thinking and new Lean Management practices. Governor Malloy should not let this difference continue.

In a CT-N video dated from March 26, 2013, Governor Malloy said: “Lean… throughout state government and across all, now all, of our agencies. Nearly two years ago I said Lean was the beginning of a new way of doing the state’s business…. It is now time… to make Lean part of our culture of continuous improvement in state government.” Indeed. Expectations of students, payers, and employers continue to rise, so cutting cannot be the solution.

This is Mr. Ojakian’s challenge. Is he up to the challenge of making Lean part of the culture of continuous improvement in state government? His idea that the only way forward is concessions and negative cutting – to make things worse for faculty, staff, students, payers, employers, Connecticut communities, etc., – is ancient and flawed. However, the intent of Lean is positive; to continuously improve, grow, achieve mutual gains, and make things better for all stakeholders, Governor Malloy cannot take pride in LeanCT if it does not include all of public higher education in the state, including UConn.

One company featured in many Lean books, including one I wrote in 2003, is The Wiremold Company based in West Hartford, Conn. Their labor union enjoyed a positive relationship with management. Under the leadership of Art Byrne, the former CEO of Wiremold, labor contracts were successfully negotiated each time and the financial and non-financial outcomes were better for the people who actually did the work. Mr. Ojakian can learn much from Art Byrne about Lean Management and how to achieve non-zero-sum outcomes.

Finally, the current BOR contract proposals should be abandoned and replaced with a  BOR proposal that is positive for the people of Connecticut, consistent with the governor’s own words about Lean Management, and in alignment with other agency leaders’ efforts to create a culture of continuous improvement in state government.

Dr. Bob Emiliani is a Professor of Lean Management in the School of Engineering, Science, and Technology at XYZ State University. Prior to becoming a professor, Dr. Emiliani worked for 15 years in industry, most recently as a manager in the aerospace industry in engineering, manufacturing and supply chain management.


Technical Note of Interest: The published version of this op-ed piece said:

“As an expert in Lean efforts in both industry and higher education, I would like to compare…”

This was a change made by the publisher that I did not approve. The use of the word “expert” is incorrect in the context of Lean management because there is no such thing as an “expert.” Why, because when it comes to Lean, you’re never done learning. There are infinite solutions to problems, so nobody can claim to be an “expert.”

The op-ed piece posted here is the correct version and reads:

“I happen to know this topic well, having previously led Lean efforts in both industry and in higher education and as the author or co-author of 16 books and some 30 scholarly papers on Lean leadership and Lean management. Therefore, I and would like to compare…”

I am a humble student of Lean management: