This may not seem to be immediately obvious in an educational environment and you may be thinking that this is all well and dandy in a factory setting where you are producing a fixed item e.g. a car where you can apply “efficiency” style principles into the process.

To an extent I would agree with you and certainly the continuous improvement movement did start in the automotive industry under the influence of a Japanese industrial engineer called Taichi Ohno who became famous as the father of the Toyota Production System which lead to various other movements including Lean Manufacturing, Just In Time plus a whole plethora of Japanese words which are now commonplace in industry. Some of these are listed below:-

Kaizen – the key word to note an event focussed on delivering a continuous improvement event

Muda – Waste, there is a whole philosophy around the 7 wastes identified by Taichi Ohno

Poka–Yoke – this is idiot proofing but is officially termed as “inadvertent error prevention”

You may be thinking, OK but how does this apply to me in a school? We don’t manufacture anything, I can’t kaizen a pupil and where would I start on trying to Poka-Yoke a parents’ evening? Fair questions. They could be the subject of a future blog post but for the purposes of this blog, let’s focus on MUDA or waste. Taichi Ohno identified the following 7 forms of waste. There are some more recent models which have identified an 8th waste but we will stick with the original 7 for now.

  1. Transportation
  2. Inventory
  3. Motion
  4. Waiting
  5. Overproduction
  6. Over processing
  7. Defects

Do any of these apply in a school? I am pretty sure that you all have processes and probably lots of them ranging from invoice processing, timesheets, holiday requests, performance reviews, pupil reports, ordering school supplies, organising contracts, financial reporting, recruitment, payroll, uniform, collecting school dinner money and trip money……… you will have plenty of your own to add to this short list. Now let’s interpret the titles that Ohno supplied for the 7 wastes and see how these might manifest themselves in your school.

  1. Transportation – how often do you move things (or potentially people) around the school with limited benefit. For example do invoices physically move round the school to get signatures for approval? Do any of them ever get lost and you have to ask for a new one? Is equipment moved round the building too frequently? Do you have enough of the right equipment? I know this might conflict with budgetary pressures but how much do you spend in having the site team moving it round the school? Could they do something more productive instead?
  2. Inventory – how much stock do you have around you, does any of it ever go out of date before you use it? Do you buy 12 months’ worth at a time to get a perceived good deal? What has this done to your cashflow? Has anything ever been re-branded so you had to throw old stock away? Do you save work up on your desk and process it as a big batch rather than dealing with the work as it arises? How does this affect those people downstream of you?
  3. Motion – might appear to be the same as transportation but is more focussed on the processing of the work rather than moving the work. For example does work ever build up to the point where the responsible individual ends up suffering from RSI or a back injury as they had to do so much in one session when it could have been spread out?
  4. Waiting – how often are you unable to do your job or only partially able to do your job because you are waiting for a person or an item or a piece of equipment to become available? These people / items could be internal or external to the school
  5. Overproduction – have you ever created too much of something? Too many copies of a document, too many invitations, copied too many people into an e-mail thereby creating unnecessary work for yourself and others? The e-mail cc list is a great example of over-production, easy to do but if you had to write the message out 10 times you wouldn’t do it.
  6. Over processing – do you do only what is absolutely necessary or do you have process steps included which have always been there but don’t actually add any value to the process whatsoever. Do you get 3 approval signatures on an invoice when your procedures only request 2 just because “we have always done it this way”. Bear in mind those are the 7 most expensive words in business and cause no end of problems and delays.
  7. Defects – these occur everywhere. How often have you done something incorrectly so it has to be done again. Equally, how often do people pass work to you that has either been done badly or is incomplete so you have to send it back to them for rework? Are the instructions sufficient for them to do the job correctly? Are they capable of doing the job correctly?

I am not proposing to try and tell you how to fix all of these things in a short blog post, that just isn’t practical, I’m just trying to give your thinking a prod to see how applicable techniques from industry can be in an educational environment and how they might be able to help you fix some of the more common problems you face on a daily basis.

One final note for you. A few years ago a boss of mine had a mantra that she loved to use and that was “Don’t let perfect get in the way of better”. It was really annoying when she started saying it, but once the meaning sunk in it was revolutionary for my colleagues and I. Too often we spend hours, days and weeks trying to come up with the perfect solution and never move towards it. If you can see how to make your process better than it is today, implement it and then look for the next improvement. It’s all about CONTINUOUS improvement not perfection.

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