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Lean, mean machine: MU efficiency ranks top

U.S. News and World Report names Miami most efficient school in country, with help of 'Lean' program

U.S. News and World Report named Miami University the most efficient school in the country earlier this month.

This recognition, determined by comparing the quality of education to the money spent on academic programs, can be attributed to some of the projects from Miami's waste-reducing strategy: Leveraging Efficiencies and Aligning Needs (LEAN) Initiative.

Miami adopted this business strategy in 2009 in response to the economic recession plaguing the U.S. In the years since, Lean teams have completed hundreds of projects that aim to make the university operate smoother and more efficiently.

These projects have been implemented in nearly all areas of campus, senior vice president of financial and business services David Creamer said, like cleaning, maintenance, IT services, housing and dining. And, they range from scales small to large, saving the university millions of dollars in expenses each year and about $27.5 million to date.

Chris Pirigyi is the Lean Leader of Housing, Dining, Recreational and Business Services at Miami, which was the first and one of the largest Lean offices on campus. He said while many Lean projects do not involve direct student involvement, they ultimately help students.

"Our overall goal … is aligned with the university's goal - to provide the best student experience in the nation," he said. "All the projects we do are in some way going to benefit the student population."

These Lean projects, he said, are geared toward five objectives: increasing revenue, improving productivity, reducing costs, cost avoidance and continuing and improving "green" initiatives.

One of last year's projects was combining the computer, cell and print centers in Shriver Center, Pirigyi said. Previously, the services were housed in different buildings across campus, making tasks like a hard drive repair, which required visits to multiple locations, cumbersome and time-consuming for students.

Now, under one roof, the process is simplified.

"It's just something that kind of makes sense," Pirigyi said. "That's where all the technology is, and now it's together at the book store."

And that, essentially, is how many Lean projects work. The purpose is to eliminate unnecessary obstacles and provide a simpler solution for students and the university community.

"Lean is just improving a process," he said. "It's getting rid of all the non-value added things … and bringing to light what is important."

But, with lofty goals of cost-reduction come tough decisions about what can and can't be cut. Pirigyi said they try not to sacrifice quality for cost-effectiveness, because they strive to keep the students happy.

"Sometimes there are hard decisions to be made, financially," he said. "But, when we are doing big projects, that is the one thing we have in mind - keeping our customer No.1."

However, the school does accept favorable offers when its terms do not significantly affect Miami students. For instance, Coca Cola products are now rare on campus, as Miami recently signed a contract to sell Pepsi Cola products almost exclusively.

Also because of its cost-reducing objectives, Pirigyi said many Miami employees and students misunderstand the goals of Lean.

"There are a lot of myths associated with Lean," he said, "like that it cuts jobs. But, in fact, it would actually do the opposite … When we're trying to increase revenue we are ultimately going to need more manpower to support those increases."

Since it began, no Lean project has cut a single job. However, many Miami employees' jobs have changed through Lean projects, like being reassigned to other departments.

About a year ago, when the Miami and Marcum Conference Center catering services merged, many staff were assigned to other service positions throughout the university.

But, because Miami does not always fill positions when staff retire or leave the university, understaffing has become a problem on campus.

"We recognize it to be an issue," Pirigyi said. "We had a team at the beginning of last year looking into it, looking into student retention on dining jobs. It's about continuous improvement."

One of the biggest improvements brought about by a Lean project, Creamer said, was the university's One Stop Shop.

"The one-stop approach is trying to make a way for students to … get assistance from the first person they contact, to go to one place for the registrar, financial aid, bursar, admissions," Creamer said. "[Now], that first point of contact is likely going to be able to help with whatever you need."

The Lean Initiative also fits into Miami's 2020 plan.

"The plan says we will continue to improve the productivity and quality of our service," Creamer said. "One of the ways - not the only way - is Lean Initiatives."

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