Lean thinking in the academic world

Originally, Lean thinking and the Lean Management Model were introduced for the purposes of automotive industry process management. The objective was to reduce unnecessary work phases and labour, make less errors, produce better quality, achieve faster flow-through times and cut down on costs. In management, the key principles of Lean in everyday activities are “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People”. These are good principles. Lean thinking is gaining footing also in health care and in hospitals, and the experiences have been positive.

How about in the academic world? A university is not a car factory. Teaching, research, administration – all of these nevertheless involve a large number of different processes. Profitability is measured through numerical indicators such as numbers of degrees awarded, completion times, numbers of students completing 55 credits, publications, doctoral dissertations, competitive funding, etc., and also feedback.

The smoothness and swiftness of processes are important for the university’s employees, customers, students and research partners alike.

Reductions in the universities’ funding also forces them to think about how money gets used. How to achieve similar, or better, results by doing less – i.e. by eliminating unnecessary work? As organisations, the universities still have a long way to go when it comes to reforming their ways of doing things. The old position-based thinking sits tight and complex administrative processes cause things to run not-so-smoothly.

Heavy expectations are placed on digitalisation, which comes with great opportunities and in which Finland could lead the way for others. The compatibility and functionality of information systems are of utmost importance.  System providers should also feel this pressure, so that clients don’t have to pay for systems in which a slowly progressing progress bar plays the leading role.

Lean comes with the idea of finding better solutions – together. There are always things that could be done better.

Lean management in any organisation is the recognition and daily practice of the Lean principles: “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People.”

Hilkka Soininen (2)Hilkka Soininen
Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences