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July 2015

PFD’s Lean Evolution

Continuous improvement is not new to the Physical Facilities Department (PFD). PFD had a long history with Total Quality Management (TQM) that led to an APPA Award for Facilities Excellence in 1996. APPA is an association that promotes leadership in educational facilities and this award is the highest institutional honor they bestow. 

One of the challenges with all of the continuous improvement strategies is how to ssustain the commitment to continuous improvement over time. This was the issue that PFD’s leaders faced back in 2011. How could PFD reinvigorate its commitment to continuous improvement and then sustain this commitment into the future? To accomplish this, PFD sought the help of John Gould from the University of Dayton Center for Competitive Change (CCC). CCC was selected because of its success in assisting Housing, Dining, Recreation and Business Services (HDRBS) with its Lean initiative and because there would be benefits to having a common continuous improvement strategy within Finance and Business Services. These benefits include uniform training, consistent terminology and a common set of process improvement tools.

In early 2012, PFD took another step towards even greater standardization as it merged its Lean efforts with HDRBS under their consultant, Al Ryan. This was fortuitous as Mr. Ryan would eventually join Finance and Business Services’ leadership team and serve as a Lean champion for all of Miami University. With the help of Mr. Ryan, PFD put in place a formal Lean structure that included a steering team to prioritize and evaluate its projects and eventually appointed a department Lean leader, Jeremy Davis. Through this new and improved structure there was an expansion of the number of projects and improved project outcomes.

PFD’s participation in Lean has produced very impressive results as the Department has amassed $3,955,582 in cost avoidance, cost reduction and new revenue generation since it began tracking its project performance in 2012. Over 100 Lean projects have been completed and the department is currently engaged in 19 active projects. 

Research shows that high performing organizations exhibit a strong culture of continuous improvement throughout the organization. Since one of the initial goals for Lean was to be able to sustain the continuous improvement effort into the future, building a Lean culture throughout the PFD organization is a priority. This led to PFD being the first Finance and Business Services Department to adopt the Lean suggestion program which is designed to encourage wider involvement in the Lean effort. To date, over 300 Lean ideas have been submitted by PFD staff.

While much of the Miami discussion about Lean has centered on improved services, cost reduction and cost avoidance, sustainability and “green” initiatives are also important elements of the PFD Lean initiative. Numerous Lean projects have made important contributions to PFD’s “green” initiative and its efforts to reduce the University’s carbon footprint. Some examples are the development of single stream recycling, the installation of higher efficiency light bulbs, and the installation of vacancy and occupancy sensors in classrooms and offices to minimize the heating and cooling needed when rooms are not being used or are underutilized.

In 2013, PFD’s Lean initiatives were expanded to encompass Kaizen events. A Kaizen event is used to more quickly identify the future state and accelerate the implementation of the improved process. Working with staff from HDRBS, Human Resources and PFD, the first PFD Kaizen examined ways to improve the residence hall maintenance program and shift much of the maintenance and repair responsibility from HDRBS to PFD departments. The results of this first PFD Kaizen were quite positive for both departments and going forward Kaizen events are likely to play an even greater role in the PFD Lean strategy.

There have been many successful PFD Lean projects, but one other project stands out. It is the new in-house energy team that is continuously working to improve energy efficiency within our campus buildings. By regularly addressing problem areas within buildings and using re-commissioning and other strategies to optimize system performance, this team has lowered energy consumption in several university buildings already, resulting in savings in excess of $100,000 per year. More importantly, even greater savings are anticipated in the future as the team continuously improves how our energy systems perform throughout all of the University’s buildings. Remembering the importance of green initiatives, this project is also leading to a reduction in the University’s carbon footprint. 

Through the adoption of Lean, PFD is continuously improving university facilities and services. But it is important to remember that Lean is only a methodology and it is the people at PFD that are identifying these ideas and making these improvements. Lean simply arms them with the tools and the opportunity to optimize their contributions. As we go forward, much more is possible because the PFD Lean initiative isn't viewed as a temporary solution to the most recent financial crisis but the way they work every day.