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UI Campus Units Using Lean Efficiency Methods

A process originally designed to make industrial manufacturing more efficient is being used in a number of colleges and divisions on the University of Iowa campus, in cooperation with Rockwell-Collins of Cedar Rapids and other external Lean business experts.

Called "Lean," the methodology analyzes operations within an organization to find ways to streamline those operations and make them more efficient. A Lean event brings together employees from across campus who have a vested interest in improving the process by eliminating built-in waste and inefficiencies. Industry and businesses across the country use different processes based on Lean principles. The model used at Iowa has been in use at Rockwell Collins for some eight years.

The Henry B. Tippie College of Business teamed up with Rockwell Collins and the Lean Aerospace Initiative (LAI) from MIT to offer courses in Lean practices this January and June in the MBA for Professionals and Managers (MBA-PM) Program. The Lean Academy (TM) was taught by Tippie College professors Barrett Thomas and Phil Jones, along with Rockwell Collins and LAI instructors. Students learned the latest practices in Lean. One module, "Integrating Lean with Corporate Strategy," was developed and taught by UI Interim President Gary Fethke. Fethke had been in contact with Tom Bednar, manager of Lean Electronics (SM) at Rockwell Collins, since late 2004 about the use of Lean principles in UI office processes. In 2005, the UI joined the Lean Aerospace Initiative Educational Network (LAI EdNet). Other Big Ten Universities that belong to EdNet are Purdue University and the University of Michigan.

"It was apparent to me that the basic principles of Lean -- examining processes with an eye to reducing waste -- should work in office functions just as well as on the manufacturing floor," says Fethke. "It was also an excellent opportunity to team up with business colleagues at Rockwell Collins. True Iowans, they have been generous in assisting us in this effort."

The interest in Lean at Iowa goes beyond the classroom. UI Human Resources has offered workplace consultation to examine process improvement and redesign for over the last year. Laura Reed director of organizational effectiveness said, "Lean is an outstanding tool that we have been able to add to our consultation model with the assistance of our colleagues from external businesses, in particular Rockwell Collins."

One example of that effort was a process led by Reed and Joni Troester of UI organizational effectiveness that examined how Worker's Compensation claims were being processed. The effort, which aimed to reduce the amount of time consumed by paperwork between the report of the injury and the employee's return to work, resulted in a savings of some $350,000. This event grew out of a strategic planning process -- a necessary connection for the process, otherwise improvement might be made at the expense of other processes.

In University of Iowa Health Care, Sabi Singh, director of operational improvement, who previously worked in automotive manufacture, uses a similar process to improve healthcare processes at UIHC, where he is the principal facilitator of Lean events.

In May 2006, Reed worked with Rockwell Collins' Kathy Berry and Mary Voelkel to develop a model that could be used by staff at Iowa. One of the first events using the Rockwell Collins model was the UI Office of Compensation and Classification. Robert Millsap, director of the unit, led human resource representatives from various UI units -- including Internal Medicine, the College of Dentistry, Finance and Operations and the University Hospitals -- in a lean event analyzing the processes used for internal approvals of compensation and classification requests.

The Lean process looked at these practices, including the number of days required to process them, through the eyes of both the hiring departments and administration, says Millsap. The objectives were to improve efficiency and effectiveness of processes in the university's electronic forms system called Workflow, to ease the burden of reviewing the forms, to reduce the time and to meet federal, state and local requirements.

The results included a one-touch system that tries to get the information right the first time a person fills out a form. The team found that time was being lost when people filling out the forms did not have all the information at their fingertips. The team then worked to come up with a template that would include immediate access to all the information needed to complete the form.

Reed is working now with Berry and Vogel to develop a model that can be used in the UI's Sponsored Programs office, which assists UI faculty and staff in seeking external financial support for research, training and service activities.


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