Lean In Higher Education

va_slide2What’s it like to be a Lean practitioner in higher education?

I left industry in 1999 and began applying the Lean principles and practices that I learned in manufacturing to my work as a professor in higher education. I have always worked to improve administrative processes because that is another part of my job. But as a professor, the biggest part of my job is teaching, and this is where I have poured my time and energy into applying Lean principles and practices.

I appear to be the first person to have done this. Is that surprising? Not really. Even Lean people conform to the norms of classroom teaching, given that most people teach in nearly the same ways in which they were taught. In any event, I have carefully documented my work so that others can follow my lead. You can find my academic papers on this topic here and here.

As you can imagine, Lean in higher education, done well, leads to fabulous results for students and teacher (and its more fun, too). It makes most parts of the job simpler, but it also makes some parts of the job more challenging. But, the bottom line is that better teaching processes produces better results for everyone – students, professors, courses, academic programs, the school, and the university.

It has been a lot of fun and very gratifying to develop an entirely new teaching pedagogy based on Lean principles and practices over the last 15 years. I call it the “Lean Teaching” pedagogy (which differs from “teaching Lean,” where professors teach students about Lean management – and which I do as well). I am constantly trying new things, and I am never satisfied, and always asking “Why?” when things don’t work out as planned.

But, like anyone doing pioneering work in Lean, it has proven very challenging to get others interested in Lean teaching. Most faculty are career academics. They do not know about Lean management, did not learn it in industry as I did, and likely think that Lean is something bad. Likewise, college and university administrators are usually former academics and career higher ed industry people who are similarly unaware of Lean or think it is something bad. So, I work to make them aware of Lean management and of Lean Teaching, and why it is imperative to take on this new challenge.

To that end, I have written two books: Lean Teaching: A Guide to Becoming a Better Teacher and Lean University: A Guide to Renewal and Prosperity. The former is intended for professors and is a detailed description of my Lean Teaching pedagogy and the results achieved, while the latter is intended for administrators and describes how to create and lead a Lean university. The good news is that there is growing interest in Lean for higher education. The bad news is that there are many methodological errors in its practice.

Given that the bulk of the value proposition of higher education is teaching, you would think that the few universities who have adopted Lean for administrative processes would start to broaden their focus to include teaching. But, administrators and faculty operate under the false assumption that teaching the way one was taught is acceptable. It is not. The truth is that students are not “the most important thing,” as administrators (especially) are prone to saying. Most professors make dozens of fundamental teaching errors resulting in poor quality teaching and, of course, dissatisfied students and payers.

I am a teacher. That means I work in what called a “helping” profession. I’d really appreciate it if you would consider helping me so that I can help others. Please share this blog post with professors and administrators at your Alma Mater and ask them to learn about Lean Teaching.

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