Organizations across many industries have applied Six Sigma methodology to make operations more efficient and reduce waste. From healthcare to aviation to government agencies, leaders have found tools and techniques of Six Sigma provide big benefits.

Most people likely do not associate Six Sigma with the world of academia. However, universities around the world, facing tighter budgets, have also moved into using Six Sigma.

A recent example comes from Singapore Management University (SMU), where an awards ceremony honored those who made improvements at the university through the application of Six Sigma strategies.

Business Excellence Awards

Every year, SMU hosts the Business Excellence Awards. It’s a ceremony that celebrates the different ways people have made improvements to the university.

Lim Wee Pin, who heads up the school’s Office of Business Improvement, said the school’s collective efforts have saved the university more than $275,000, generated $38,000 in revenue, reduced processing errors by 68%, and earned back more than 2,700 staff hours across the institution.

Arnoud De Meyer is the president of SMU, and he has been a catalyst for the school’s efficient and productive culture. “… it’s not enough to [try to improve things] through words, but through concrete projects that are data-driven,” he said in the school news release.

“We need to imagine a better future. To make meaningful impact, we need high impact programs. Programs that cross boundaries of different offices and departments. Programs that improve the processes we have here at SMU.”

SMU’s Commitment to Six Sigma

SMU provides an excellent example of how commitment to Six Sigma can lead to changes large and small, all of which add up to a more efficient operation.

The school offers Yellow Belt and Green Belt Lean Six Sigma training for staff and faculty members and requires those in the program to complete a process improvement project before earning their belts. It’s part of the school’s emphasis on putting Six Sigma into action rather than just talking about the possibilities and learning the methodology.

The university further shows commitment by offering additional training and guidance for those on staff who have already earned their belts. The award winners this year worked on a variety of areas, including:

  • A project that freed up more than 60 hours of talent resources by coordinating record keeping of student community service at the SMU law school’s Pro Bono Centre
  • An effort at the SMU School of Business that involved saving $200,000 by streamlining marketing processes
  • A project in the alumni office that leveraged data analytics and reporting to increase sales efficiency at an alumni-supported campus bistro

Lim Wee Pin emphasized the importance of buy-in for Six Sigma among the school’s leaders, saying, “These kinds of improvements don’t just happen naturally. They are the result of open-minded university leaders, faculty and staff who have come forward to problem-solve, and to make things better.”

Efficiency is a way of life at SMU. It’s recognized and encouraged, and the staff actively helps one another to seek and pursue improvement.

“Throughout the process of working on projects, staff and faculty members can also look to champions amongst university leaders, and to OBI members for coaching and mentorship,” said Terence Tan, Vice President for Human Resources and Faculty Administration.

Other Academic Examples

The recent events at SMU are just the latest in a string of successes by universities in adopting Six Sigma methodologies.

The University of Miami-Ohio has used Lean principles across many different campus operations, including having campus police change the fingerprinting process from paper to electronic-based. The school has been recognized as one of the most efficient in the country.

At Millikin University in Illinois, students teamed up with leaders at Caterpillar on a program to apply Lean Six Sigma methods to monitor and track supplies. The resulting changes are expected to save Caterpillar as much as $200,000 a year.

Students at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana used Lean and Six Sigma tools to develop a method for cutting down on food waste at the campus cafeteria.

The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center decided to train employees in Lean methodology, with the focus on improving patient satisfaction scores. The resulting work improved the hospitals efforts in such areas as speeding up the start of inpatient chemotherapy.

These are just some of the many examples of Six Sigma applied to operations at colleges and universities. Beyond the benefits they give these institutions and the organizations that partner with them, they also provide an example of how a strong commitment to Six Sigma – and a willingness by employees to earn Six Sigma certification – can benefit an organization.

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