The Rise of Credentials

Non-academic educational credentials – certifications, badges, etc. – have blossomed in recent years. Credentials have become popular with both prospective employees and employers. What has happened to make them as attractive, if not more attractive in some cases, than academic degrees? I’ll offer some possible answers to this phenomenon, which began to unfold in tandem with the Great Recession starting in late 2007.

First, let’s review some of what was going on in industry:

  • New employee hiring process became more protracted, taking several weeks longer than it did 10 or 20 years ago.
  • Qualifications among numerous candidates appeared to be similar, complicating decision-making for hiring managers.
  • An illogical mindset descended on managers: Only people currently employed are employable.
  • Corporations cut training and development budgets.
  • Managers decided that new hires had to be “plug and play” – capable of doing the job on the first day of employment.
  • Managers began saying they were unable to hire the people they wanted to hire because of a skills gap.
  • The long-term trend of employer-employee relationships as short-term and instrumental continued unabated.
  • It became a buyers’ market for labor, resulting in flat or declining pay for new hires.
  • Corporations viewed external resources such as higher education and credentialing organizations as people they could outsource their training and development needs to.
  • Non-academic credentials were perceived as adding clarity to the hiring process.

Next, let’s review some of what was going on in higher education:

  • Overall, stasis in curriculum and structure of undergraduate degree programs.
  • Long-running indifference to the needs of industry.
  • Many degree programs require students to complete two years of general education requirements before they could take courses in their major – courses which employers value most.
  • Little or no improvement in academic and administrative processes, despite competitive, economic, political, and social pressure to change.
  • Continuation of tuition and fee increases.
  • The view among higher education administrators that credentialing was beneath the college or university.

It appears that industry’s perception of new graduates’ skills and capabilities changed during the Great Recession. At the same time, higher education largely failed to recognize and respond to the new perceptions and interests of students, employers, and payers. Credentialing organizations recognized the changing landscape and quickly filled the void.

Will credentialing remain popular with potential employees and employers? Nobody knows. If it does, it will undermine the already-declining population of undergraduate and graduate students that higher education institutions seek to enroll. Even if the popularity of credentialing declines, it serves a need and is likely here to stay. What, then, must higher education do to assure that it fulfills the needs and desires of students, employers, and payers?

Higher education is a long-lead-time activity. Four, five, or six years to complete an undergraduate degree; two or three years to complete a master’s degree; four , six, or eight years to complete a Ph.D. degree. While higher education administrators recognize the importance of reducing the time to complete an undergraduate degree (and associated costs for payers), they remain fixated on 4 years at the appropriate duration. Does this tradition still serve students, employers, and payers?

Long-lead times are nearly always problematic. By the time something has been completed, the need for that something may have changed; usually, it is diminished. Also, long lead-times introduce many opportunities for defects and other problems. For higher education, this means that the knowledge areas in demand Year 1 may have shifted in important ways by Year 4, leaving new graduates unprepared.

Long lead-times contain massive amounts of queue (idle) time. What can be done during that queue time that is fun, educational, productive, and marketable for students? A creative university administration would offer to students the ability to earn credentials between semesters and during the summer, thereby enabling students to complete a degree and earn several different credentials. Or, they could reduce the time to graduation by having students test out of 30 or more general education credits.

The point is, universities hope to instill curiosity and lifelong learning in students. It must do the same for itself.

Standards for Faculty

There is an important saying in Lean management: “Without standard there can be no continuous improvement.” That saying should be Interpreted as a rule. Standards are important because they establish the “normal” condition – the way the process should be in order to achieve good results in terms of quality, quantity, time, etc.

Lean management uses the term “abnormality” where others would say “problem” or “issue.” The reason why is because an “abnormality” is in relation to the normal condition. When someone says they have a “problem” or “issue,” it is not in relationship to a known standard or “normal” condition. For example, information flow is the normal condition. Anything that disrupts flow is an abnormality. In Lean, we engage in structured problem-solving (the Scientific Method and its derivatives such as kaizen and PDCA) to determine the root cause and identify practical countermeasures. This beings us closer to the normal condition, flow.

What is the normal condition for teaching? What is the normal condition for research? What is the normal condition for service?

Higher education is often seen as status quo oriented. Change does occur, but often discontinuously rather than continuously. That suggests that standards have not been explicitly established. Alternatively, standards are assumed to be high, yet for certain things may be unspecified or not clearly specified. As a result, teaching differs little from one institution to another, whether they are in the top tier or in the third or fourth tier.

For example, what is the standard for the work that faculty do? In some universities, the standard for teaching may be well-defined in terms of faculty qualifications and course load, but poorly defined in terms of quality of instruction. The standard for research and service may also be poorly defined. For example:

  • Teaching: Terminal degree, 3 or 4 courses per semester, teaching evaluation score  > 0.
  • Research: 1 or 2 peer-reviewed publication per year.
  • Service : Serve on 2 or 3 committees per year.

These standards do not elevate the work of faculty overall, though in individual cases some faculty will exceed these standards. This indicates that faculty do not possess a shared view of “educational excellence.”

In other universities, the standards for all three components of faculty work are better defined:

  • Teaching: Terminal degree, 1 to 3 courses per semester, teaching evaluation scores of ≥ 3.75 (out of 5).
  • Research: Externally-funded research, producing 3 or more peer-reviewed publication per year in the top ten journals in the field.
  • Service : Serve on 2 or 3 major university-wide committees per year, community engagement, and public intellectual.

These standards elevate the work of faculty overall, though in some cases faculty do not meet these standards and will not receive tenure or promotion. Obviously, the latter standards, over time, results in a university that is higher ranked than former.

In cases where faculty and administration have worked together to establish standards, the result is progress towards the standard or normal condition. In cases where they have not, the university remains low-ranked and will likely struggle for resources.

A question arises as to whether or not faculty labor should be divided. In other words, one faculty member is replaced by two: one who specializes in teaching, given its importance to students and payers, another who specializes in research, and committee work being restricted for both to the vital few that really matter. If that were to happen, then what is the standard, normal condition, for teaching and research? How and to what extent would one inform the other? What is the standard for that?

A Shameful Legacy

demingTop leaders of higher education institutions inevitably hope leave a legacy. Presidents who began their tenure in the late 1980s or thereafter presided over an era of uncontrolled costs, large increases in expensive administrative and other overhead positions, new buildings and facilities construction, and annual tuition increases at double the rate of inflation. This is their legacy, for which they should be ashamed of. It is an era of herd mentality and lost opportunities. There is little to be proud of.

To my knowledge, no top leader in this 30-year time period led efforts to dramatically improve teaching and learning. Instead, they operated under the assumption that teaching was very good – performed by professionals, informed by years of exposure to many different teaching methods as students and then later in deploying their own teaching methods on-the-job. The common view that a terminal degree qualifies one to teach is deeply flawed, as many of us know. Yet, this view prevails despite the continued existence of scores of teaching errors (defects) that limit student success.

Guided by chief financial officers, whose understanding of cost is limited to numbers on a spreadsheet, presidents saw the primary way forward was to increase prices and enrollments. That led to a competition among institutions to improve campus physical appearance and attractiveness to students, while at the same time reducing instructional resources.

The lack of legacy related to improving teaching suggests that the vast majority of presidents felt that such change was unnecessary or could not be made even if they did see the need for it. Why didn’t they see this? For those who did, what were they afraid of: faculty, leading, undertaking a challenge, or being different? They preferred instead to focus on things that were within their direct control, such as raising money and meeting with architects to plan and construct new buildings. This was a losing strategy because nearly every president could, and did, copy it. It was too easy to do. The lack of courage and perseverance by a succession of presidents has resulted in a huge strategic error at most institutions.

Presidents worked on what was easiest, not what was most important. As a result, there is little that distinguishes one institution from another. Distinctiveness, particularly in the quality of teaching and learning, was not seen as a winning strategy. Said another way, they did not do the right thing: lower costs, improve teaching, and make students and payers happy. My former Japanese kaizen sensei would scold a president and say something like this: “How could mismanage like this! You have ruined young people’s lives. You must apologize to students and make sincere efforts to quickly correct this situation.”

We should be under no illusion that presidents actually care about “student success.” The talk is ever-present, but the action is nil. Their attitude is the same as the hard-line faculty who fail many students – “Hey, some students are just not going to make it through” – yet they proffer positive marketing messages that resonate parents, employers, and politicians.

The lack of cost control created financial problems for students and payers. The university prospered, yet students did not. Students’ financial situation deteriorated over time due to ever-higher tuition prices and burdensome student loans. Are students likely to return to their Alma Mater to further their education? Some yes, but most no because they cannot be happy about their outstanding student loans and are likely unwilling to incur further debt. Instead of enjoying repeat customers obtained for near-zero marketing cost, they must now spend money to make money (often at large discounts).

Ultimately, the buildings-as-my-legacy strategy is something presidents should be ashamed of. That, plus ever-higher tuition prices, did not improve the image of higher education. Instead, the image, as well as substance of higher education has deteriorated over time. So much so, that a 3-month crash course on software coding is now seen as superior to a 4-year undergraduate degree.

Past, current, and future presidents need to recognize this failed strategy and admit the great trouble that they caused students and payers. They must turn to improving both administrative and academic processes to reduce costs. They should avoid chasing higher enrollments and instead make better products – courses and degrees – by improving academic processes. The outcome of improved processes will be higher enrollments. The university and students (and payers) must prosper together, not one at the expense of another as has long been the case.

Here is a book that today’s higher education leaders should read and put into practice.

Run Universities Like Businesses

This article, “Giving College Administrators a Business Education” (The Wall Street Journal, 27 August 2015), by Bruce Benson, president of the University of Colorado, has received high praise. Let’s look more closely at his work to operate the university “more like businesses” and to better understand if his fiscal accomplishments are truly worthy of the praise he has received.

First, recognize that if you run a business like a business, you can easily get into a lot of trouble. Management decision-making is typically centered on short-term solutions to current problems (financial or other), often made with information that has been filtered by subordinates to conform with leader’s biases. Solutions tend to be unrelated to the root cause and are typically zero-sum (win-lose), which marginalizes the interests of key stakeholders who then become more concerned about self-preservation than about customers or the welfare of the organization. This helps one understand why the average life of a for-profit business is less than 20 years, while that of non-profits are significantly longer.

For many years I have taught a course that rigorously analyzes failures in leadership decision-making in all types of organizations: for profit, not-for-profit, government, etc. There are three recurring failure modes in each one of the more than three dozens of failures we have studied:

  • Leaders make penny wise, pound-foolish decisions, the result of illogical thinking and decision-making traps.
  • The existence of blocked information flows, which prevents leaders from understanding the true nature of problems and of opportunities.
  • Problem-solving is ad-hoc. They do not use structured problem-solving methods to identify actual root causes (as lower-level people are often required to do in businesses).

Business is presumed by most leaders to be an economic activity when, in fact, it is a socio-economic activity. If universities are run like businesses, then management decisions will be based more on economic arguments and short-term perspective, increasing the likelihood of similar types of failures.

Mr. Benson’s solution to reduced state funding is simply line-item budget review with the chief financial officer and negotiation with suppliers by the head of purchasing. The focus is on the costs that one can easily see – numbers on a spreadsheet – not on the costs that one cannot see. Anybody can cut costs that they can see on a budget spreadsheet. This is nothing more than basic business acumen. Few leaders in business or in higher education know how to cut costs that they cannot see. This is advanced business acumen.

How do you cut costs, especially those costs that you cannot see, without doing harm to people? Kaizen is how you do it. Understood and practiced correctly, kaizen is non-zero-sum (win-win) and develops people’s capabilities for problem recognition, problem-solving, innovation, and enthusiasm for continuously improving processes. Reducing costs by improving academic and administrative processes is what “fiscally responsible” businesses do for current and future survival. Higher education institutions should do the same.

Benson’s argument that “we streamlined bureaucracy and let go of 148 administrative staff – a painful down-sizing for some, yes, but a right-sizing for the school that helped preserve many other jobs” is nonsense. The University of Colorado employs more than 16,000 people full-time; cutting 148 people (0.925 percent) is more likely a show of leadership exercising power at the expense of employees (both those laid off and the survivors) and instilling fear. Lean leaders would instead re-deploy these valuable human resources to other needed areas and to kaizen teams.

According to the article, leaders looking at budget spreadsheets over a seven year period saved some $35 million in annual recurring costs, excluding one-time gains from selling assets. This is in relation to annual cuts in state funding ranging from $45-83 million. Thus, the seven-year savings did not offset even one year of cuts in state funding in the eight years between the years 2008 to 2015. The total savings over seven years from looking at budget spreadsheets is less than one percent of the University of Colorado current budget of about $3.5 billion. Unimpressive, to say the least.

President Benson simply did the things he knew how to do – what any former business leader knows how to do – which resulted in meager cost savings. He did not do anything noteworthy, such as:

  • Improving processes to reduce costs, improve quality, and reduce lead-times (eliminate batch-and-queue information processing and create flow).
  • Improving the value proposition for students by improving academic and administrative processes.
  • Improving the quality and effectiveness of teaching.
  • Reducing the cost of tuition and the total cost of earning a degree.

This remains true even if my annual savings calculations are off. Instead, tuition has has increased every year since 2008, headcount has increased by 1000, and the number of overhead management and staff positions nearly equal the number teaching positions at the University of Colorado.

Does President Benson deserve praise for running a university more like a business? No.

From a business perspective, the University of Colorado’s leaders did things that garner great attention and praise from politicians and business leaders, but without actually changing much of anything financially. He has succeeded in maintaining the fiscal status quo; the institution remains more-or-less the same as it was when President Benson started in 2008 – with the exception of a self-congratulatory article in The Wall Street Journal.

Outsourcing Fallacies in Higher Education

Outsourcing of services by colleges and universities is again in the news (see “The Ins and Outs of Outsourcing,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 24 August 2015).  Having been a purchasing/supply chain manager while working in industry, there are four fallacies that university leaders should be aware of:

  • Outsourcing = Savings. Maybe, maybe not. The metric commonly used to determine savings, “purchase price variance,” gives an inaccurate reading of savings: unit price, not total cost. Be prepared to incur higher costs in other budget categories.
  • Someone whose only job it is to do XYZ will do it better and at lower cost than the university can (“core competency” argument, brought to us by professors who never worked in industry). Likely not the case, since both the university and outsourcing company process material and information the same way: batch-and-queue. The savings come from lower labor costs (“you get what you pay for”) and minimum contracted services (subcontractors will miss their profit plan if they go the extra mile).
  • Scale drives down cost. That is only true if material and information are processed batch-and-queue. Flow diminishes or invalidates the economies of scale effect.
  • Outsourcing helps administrators focus on the educational aspects of the college or university. That’s bullshit. The value proposition for students is unchanged (higher tuition, same education) and the quality of instruction usually remains exactly as it was before outsourcing.

The Lean view of outsourcing is as follows:

  • To the extent both possible and reasonable, an institution should have and be able to do everything it needs to provide educational and related services to students.
  • If you own the process, you can see the process and its problems, and take immediate action to improve the process – and thus reduce costs immediately.
  • Outsourcing difficult work weakens the capabilities of both the people and the institution.
  • Never lengthen supply lines; in this case, the information supply chain. Instead, get closer to the last process (student success and graduation).

In most cases, outsourcing decisions made by leaders is cost problem avoidance rather than addressing cost problems directly via process improvement. They hand their problem off to a supplier, rather than take responsibility for their own process problems.

Outsourcing may be appropriate for some activities. However, the decision-making process must not be biased towards the upside savings potential (“Let’s do it! We’re going to save millions”). It must be balanced and include the downside (“What could go wrong? What might our liabilities be? How much could it cost us?), in addition to awareness of the above four fallacies.

Bet On A Boiler

A recent article “More College Students Selling Stock—in Themselves” (The Wall Street Journal, 5 August 2015) highlights the terrible outcomes that fall onto students shoulders when universities are run for the benefit of self instead of students. This, from institutions that claim to serve the greater good, and create citizens that can function in and contribute to society.

High tuition prices lead some students to take loans against future earnings to complete their college degree. A $15,000 loan could end up costing as much as $60,000. That is equivalent to taking out a $15,000 bank loan at an interest rate of 26 percent for 15 years. See anything wrong with that? Undergraduates could easily be taken advantage of because they are not financially literate and do not understand contracts.

These “income-share” agreements are yet another trick to finance high-cost education while ignoring methods to improve processes and reduce costs. University leaders are taking the easy way out of their cost problem by continuing to shift it onto students and lenders. Income-share is a bad deal for students and it will deepen their student debt problems.

Remarkably, some higher education leaders think this alternative form of financing an education is a good idea. The president of Purdue University, Mitch Daniels, wants to start an “income-share” program called “Bet on a Boiler.” The name, at least, is transparent in its intent – gambling. It is a bet that the student can get a job, make enough money to pay off the loan, and maintain continuous employment for a decade or more – in a future where jobs are likely to be less plentiful as computers/software, robots, etc., automate more human activities.

Gambling with students (“players”), whether they consent to it or not, is wrong. And, the “house,” of course, always wins, as “income-share” debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Boilers who can’t pay-up will get boiled by their creditor.

Universities, especially, should not spend time and resources creating or endorsing novel ways to finance a product whose cost is high as a result of decades of mismanagement. They should instead own their cost problem and reduce costs at the source. Processes define the costs. Most processes are terrible (batch-and-queue) and, as a result, are high cost. Improve the process (flow) and reduce costs.

Read my low-cost, student-friendly plan to make college more affordable.

Methodological Errors in Lean for Higher Ed

Flaws_in_LeanAs both a participant and witness to the practice of Lean management in higher education, I would like to point out methodological errors in relation to how Lean is practiced in industry. Those in industry who practice Lean management correctly provide us with a standard by which we can compare the practice of Lean in higher education. This comparison is fair because Lean management, fundamentally, is a system for processing information. All organizations process information, whether for profit, not-for-profit, government, NGO, etc.

With the industry standard in mind, here are 13 methodological errors in the practice of Lean management in higher education that must be corrected:

1. Program or Initiative: Lean is seen as a “program” or “initiative.” It’s not a program or initiative. It is the replacement of your university-wide batch-and-queue information processing system with a flow (Lean) information processing system. Lean is a new management system in which improvement has no end, not a program or initiative which has an endpoint.

2. Employees’ Concerns. Employees today have the same six criticisms of Lean as they had at the dawn of progressive management 100 years  ago. Management’s focus on the rapid implementation of Lean tools ignores their important and real concerns, and thus fails to respect people from the outset. Leaders must address employees’ concerns from the start. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t know how to explain they are not trying to turn people into robots or speed them up and burn them out. They must learn how to do this if they hope to obtain employee buy-in for Lean management in higher education.

3. Projects: Improvement activities are seen as discrete “projects.” The term “projects” is a carryover from conventional management practice, which have a start and end. In Lean, we practice kaizen, which never ends. Replace “project” with “kaizen.” Projects have executive “sponsors.” These people don’t actually do anything.  Replace “sponsor” with “kaizen participant.”

4. Map Every Process: Many universities require process improvement teams to map the process before efforts to eliminate waste, unevenness, and unreasonableness can begin. This is not necessary and causes delays. Instead, proceed directly to kaizen. If mapping is necessary, do it quickly during the kaizen.

5. Kaizen Events: An “event” has a start and end. An event is infrequent. Kaizen has no end. Kaizen must occur every day. And everyone must participate in kaizen, university president on down. Say “kaizen” instead of “kaizen event.” Click here and here to learn about kaizen.

6. 5S Events: Breaking kaizen up into smaller bits, such as 5S events or value stream mapping events, is incorrect and a carryover from conventional management practice. Don’t atomize kaizen. Kaizen, done correctly, results in more than a dozen improvements in different aspects of a work process, to get information to flow, not one single aspect such as 5S.

7. Suggestion System: Suggestion systems, QC Circles, etc., are important continuous improvement methods, but the huge gains in productivity can only be achieved through traditional industrial engineering-based kaizen. Universities must do this, especially in administrative processes where there is significant division of labor. There is no Lean without kaizen.

8. Recommendations: The result of projects and events are recommendations to management about what improvements the team would like to make. This is a carryover from conventional management practice. Kaizen teams do not study an abnormal condition and then make recommendations to management, which introduces a delay. Instead, they quickly study an abnormal condition and then immediately make improvements. Management, from the start, empowers kaizen teams to eliminate waste, unevenness, and unreasonableness without needing to seek permission to do so.

9. Reporting to the CFO: The head of the Lean Office reports to the chief financial officer. This is incorrect. It is a common error because Lean is understood narrowly by university leaders as cost savings. Instead, the head of the Lean Office should report to the most senior person responsible for the value creating activity of the organization. In higher education, this would be the provost or president.

10. Savings to Justify My Position: The head of the Lean Office says: “I have to find savings to justify my position.” While cost reduction is indeed important, the head of the Lean Office is also responsible for improving the value proposition for students and payers, guiding faculty and staff on how to improve information flow, organizational learning, and so on.

11. Change Management: Continuous improvement leaders in higher education think they must invoke complicated change management protocols rooted in organizational behavior and organizational development. This is a carryover from conventional management practice. Ignore change management. Kaizen, itself, is the change management practice. Change management programs on top of kaizen simply add cost and create delays. Instead, do kaizen; lots of kaizen.

12. Lean in Administration: Colleges and universities engaged with Lean limit its practice to administration. This is the opposite of the early days of Lean in industry, where company leaders thought Lean was a “manufacturing thing” and limited its application to operations. That was a huge mistake. It took more than 20 years to convince non-manufacturing departments that Lean principles and practices applied to them as well. College and university leaders must avoid making the same mistake. Lean applies to academic processes as well.

13. Time Required to Make Improvements: The results universities get and the speed that they get them depend upon leaders’ understanding of Lean management and the processes they use to improve. In every case that I know of, leaders’ understanding of Lean management is poor, and the processed used are poor or incomplete. The result is very slow process improvement. Improvements made in higher education that occur over the course of 5 years are done within two or three months in industry. Nothing can justify such a great difference.

If these methodological errors are not corrected, then your understanding of Lean will remain static. As a result, you will not learn and evolve, and you will never realize the future potential of Lean management.

I Called It!

In December 2004, I wrote an article, “Lean in Higher Education,” about the future of higher education in the United States. I made the case that due to declining enrollments and other factors, “…some schools will go out of business, some will merge with other schools, and others will exist for a period of time as zombie (half-dead, half-alive) schools.” A recent article, “Mergers on the Rise?” (Inside Higher Ed, 7 July 2015), discusses how such changes are now under way. (As does another article “More university mergers on the way, predicts legal expertTimes Higher Education, 5 August 2015). Unfortunately, I called it.

The troubling aspect is how the article cites mergers as a “method of survival.” My article promoted Lean management as a method for survival. But alas, higher education leaders remained committed to business-as-usual. Instead of understanding their problems, they rapidly capitulate and pursue “mergers, absorptions, affiliations and partnerships.”

Faculty are quick to criticize management practices used by for-profit businesses to solve basic problems such as declining sales (because they usually result in zero-sum, win-lose, outcomes), and hope that their leaders will not use such practices. They will, because they do not know what else to do and so they simply follow the herd. They are now in a pinch and are forced to pursue the same avenues for survival as those used by most other leaders.

Another troubling aspect is how the article says “scale is strength,” that “scale gives you an advantage,” and mergers can deliver “economies of scale.” Leaders would make better management decisions if they understood that economies of scale apply only under very narrow circumstances, and diseconomies of scale exist and must not be ignored. Nothing is all upside.

The economies of scale effect occurs when information is processed using  the batch-and-queue method. This is indeed the information processing method used by colleges and universities. So, they may indeed see a favorable scale effect (after adjustment for diseconomies of scale). But, an organization should not process information using the batch-and-queue method. Why? Because it is high cost, low quality, results in long lead-times, and dissatisfies students, payers, and other higher education stakeholders.

The conventional wisdom articulated in the article “Mergers on the Rise?” will provide only short-term relief to what ails these schools. They face peril in the long-term because they still process information using the batch-and-queue method. If instead of pursuing scale through mergers, processes were improved by (correctly) applying Lean principles and practices, the result would be information flow, along with growth and prosperity. College and university leaders should be pursuing flow instead of scale. This would allow them to control their own destiny. View my 2010 presentation titled “How Flow Destroys Economies of Scale.”

This article, “Closure Concerns and Financial Strategies: A Survey of College Business Officers” (Inside Higher Ed, 17 July 2015), clearly illustrates the lack of creative and innovative thinking that exists among business officers. Their uninspired strategies will buy some time, but that’s about all. Higher education faces greater cost challenges than healthcare, where the leaders of some hospitals such as Virginia Mason Medical Center and ThedaCare have adopted Lean management as the strategy for improving healthcare delivery and ensuring a more prosperous future.

The future of higher education lies in the hands visionary leaders. Those who who pursue mergers and scale are not visionary; they are bland conformists. Visionary leaders are those who pursue flow.

Kaizen for Higher Education

kf_smallI would like call call your attention to a small (98 page) but important book that I co-authored called Kaizen Forever: Teachings of Chihiro Nakao.

While few in pages, the book is a giant in delivering to readers the mindset that created Toyota’s Production System and their overall management system.  Mr. Nakao co-founded the Shingijutsu Company in 1987 at the behest of Taiichi Ohno to teach the principles and practices of the Toyota Production System to a wider audience. He has over 50 years of of genba kaizen experience. Nakao-san is an amazing teacher.

So, why should you care out this book, which might seem to you to be irrelevant to teaching. No so! Nakso-san’s teachings are relevant to what we do as professors, in the classroom, in service work, and in research too. The book is also highly relevant to improving administrative processes.

My formal training with Shingijutsu began when I worked in industry in the mid-1990s and ended in the late 199s. I lost touch with them for some years, until recently. Based on what I learned from Shingijutsu kaizen consultants 20 years ago, along with my more recent interactions with Nakao-san to produce this book, it has inspired me to think more deeply about how to improve my teaching and create better learning outcomes for students.

Kaizen Forever will give you a much better understanding of kaizen and give you dozens and dozens of practical teachings on how to improve the work that you do as a professor or administrator – from department chair to president to trustees. I hope you are curious to learn more.

Lean Higher Ed Conference Presentation

The Third International Conference on Lean Six Sigma for Higher Education was held at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 8-9 June 2015. The theme of the conference was “Making Higher Education Institutions Efficient and Effective through Lean Six Sigma Deployment.”

The title of my keynote talk was: “Application of Lean to Teaching.” I discussed how I developed and applied the Lean teaching pedagogy over the last 15-plus years. In addition, I presented my new approach to course design aimed at transforming face-to-face and hybrid teaching from “push” to “pull.  Click on the image below to view my presentation.


I also led a workshop titled: “Lean Leadership for Higher Education,” which presented how university leaders should begin a Lean transformation and gain broad-based buy-in. Both were very well received.