Six Sigma

HPA instructor Anna Franklin, center, is the project coach and mentor for students Michelle Le, right, and Elyse Brokaw, left, on the Lean Six Sigma project to improve a process on campus.

(This story appears in the latest edition of the WSU Spokane Magazine)

By Sarah Schaub

A student-led “Lean” project is helping streamline campus operations at WSU Health Sciences Spokane while preparing graduate students for leadership roles in health care management.

“Lean” is a leadership approach used to engage all levels of employees to assist in the identification, reduction and/or elimination of waste within any process, regardless of the product or service provided.

Waste can exist in the form of defects, waiting, overproduction, poor use of effort and talent, excess inventory, and unnecessary transportation or motion. Improvements typically result in improving quality, cost, safety, lead-time, and employee morale.

“Coming from a background in leadership and legislation, Lean principles in government have always interested me,” said WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown. “When I joined WSU and was introduced to our HPA Lean Six Sigma program, I realized we had a great opportunity to make campus improvements and to have our students lead the work. What a win to create efficiencies while giving students a real issue to solve using their education.”

Brown suggested the implementation of a student-led Lean initiative on campus to her leadership team in December 2015. Jae Kennedy, Ph.D., Health Policy & Administration (HPA) department chair, presented the opportunity to his students and Michelle Le and Elyse Brokaw quickly signed on for the project.

Le began by presenting an overview of Lean, how it is used, and how effective it can be to campus leadership. After completing a needs assessment of campus operations, the group chose to focus on Facilities Operations, a large, multi-unit department with a growing workload and numerous opportunities to streamline processes.

“One major obstacle faced by the Facilities team is managing campus requests,” Le said. “It’s a challenge because they receive these requests across multiple platforms. Requests can vary too. Some are urgent, like addressing a security threat, while others are timely, such as building maintenance or grounds upkeep.”

Currently, work requests are made through the Facilities website, in-person, through personal email, by phone, and via radio calls. At times, this process has led to extended wait times for customers, missed or duplicate requests, and wasted time because of multiple work interruptions. After going through the Lean process, it was determined that campus requests would be made online through the website, where the data would be logged and tracked through project completion. 

“The expected outcomes of this project are to increase efficiency, reduce time delays due to redundancy, increase requests made through the website, and increase documentation,” Le said.

“Ultimately, our goal is to better serve the needs of the campus community,” said Jon Schad, director of Facilities Operations. “This process is helping us make improvements and acknowledge the great work of our staff, while using technology to better define and measure the continuous process improvement that is necessary for a growing campus.”

Le and Brokaw, both in their final semester of their master’s program, have each earned their Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification as part of the online HPA certificate program at WSU Spokane. Anna Franklin, HPA Lean Six Sigma instructor, is their project coach and mentor.

They meet regularly to discuss the progress of the project and at the end of the semester they will provide a sustainability plan that will serve as a continuous quality improvement guide for the Facilities Operations department.

Instructor Franklin is interested in making Lean projects on campus part of the student curriculum for the online Lean certificate program.

“I would like to revisit our strategy once a year and identify areas of opportunity with a strategic mindset,” Franklin said. “When classes begin students would have a list of pre-identified projects to select from. They would then facilitate the project with continuous involvement of impacted departments and stakeholders. This would allow the students to immediately apply Lean concepts and tools learned in class. It would be great career training while helping us strive toward continuous quality improvement on campus.”

Brown supports Franklin’s vision and hopes this project is just the beginning.

“I would love to make that the standard,” she said. “I hope this initiative inspires us to stay on the path of continuous quality improvement. With all of the change and growth on our campus, I see a unique opportunity for us to establish new benchmarks.”

Washington Governors Push Lean Principles

Washington Capitol

Process improvement and the need to apply Lean principles to government operations has been a hot topic in Washington state legislation since the 1990s. Former Governor Christine Gregoire was the first to mandate the use of Lean principles in government agencies in 2011, followed by Governor Jay Inslee’s executive order in 2013. Inslee’s order created Results Washington, a reform plan that calls for a more effective and efficient state government, better schools, and a stronger economy. Since the plan launched, government agencies have been asked to self-identify areas needing process improvement and to report on how Lean principles can be used to address them.