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Business Intel

February 2013


Learning Lean Process Improvement, One Little Change at a Time

How can switching cheese pizza toppings contribute to a million dollars in savings for a campus dining service? At Michigan Technological University, Houghton, the cheese swap was part of the university’s use of Lean principles, which were applied to all areas of food service operations. The university’s goal of implementing Lean was, and is, to sustainably reduce waste and improve the quality of products and services through a method of continuous improvement.

After discussions among senior leaders, including Ellen Horsch, vice president for administration, it was decided that dining services would be the ideal area in which to pilot Lean Practices. In 2008, Robert Hiltunen, director of auxiliary services, began working with his staff to begin the change management process. In just four years, moving forward little by little, the new process has saved approximately $1 million.

People as Part of Process

The core of Lean Practice involves engaging and empowering people, since many potential improvements are best identified by the staff who perform the related work (and the customers who receive the product or service). Key to the process, then, is building a culture of employees who are valued and encouraged to communicate their ideas.

For the dining service, Hiltunen invited employees to lead discussions, talk about current problems, and brainstorm ideas for improvement. Described by a Japanese word, meaning roughly “change for the better,” this is known as a “kaizen” event, during which employees begin breaking down tasks into small steps, each of which they consider in terms of its value. Those elements identified as non–
value added are slated for improvement or removal. The idea is to reduce and, if possible, eliminate waste. The group then began to craft possible solutions or countermeasures for doing so.

A Series of Small Improvements

The Lean team took one step at a time.

The E-Cater program benefits students and employees alike by simplifying the catering service reservation process, reducing the margin of error, and ultimately saving money.

Staff collected dining hall traffic data, identifying the times of the day when a peak number of customers were using the dining halls—and consuming the largest volumes of burgers. Using this data, dining services created a new production environment where demand became defined by a “pull” from customers as opposed to the “push” of a set amount of food. Now, the cooks know when to have more burgers readily available and when to pause production. The change has resulted in guaranteed-fresh products at all times of the day and a dramatic reduction in preconsumer waste, leading to significant monetary savings.

The kaizen team performed a series of rapid experiments, trying various combinations of shredded and sliced cheeses to prepare pizzas. The result: a new standard calling for seven pieces of sliced cheese. Through taste tests, student and employee customers agreed that this option was adequate for taste, quality, and coverage. It also led to a reduction in cheese used per pizza, predictability for the cheese order, and an annual cost savings of $17,000.

During a six-week trial period in the Douglass Houghton Hall kitchen, a staff team regularly analyzed results of the waste-tracking system and reviewed ways to reduce waste. At the trial period’s conclusion, preconsumer waste declined by 50 percent. In 2011, the LeanPath system debuted in the university kitchens campuswide. Using a two-pronged approach of reducing overproduction via the JIT method and safely repurposing (rather than disposing of) overproduced food items into other recipes, the dining service saved approximately $30,000 annually.

Overall Impact

None of these changes alone would have achieved big savings, but one little thing after another really added up. Since the adoption of Lean thinking in 2008, dining services has considerably reduced its cost of sales even as the number of meals served per year increases. From 2006 to 2008, the cost per meal jumped from $2.92 to $3.06, an upward trend that could be detrimental to revenues if not addressed. After Lean implementation in 2008, the cost per meal sold dropped to $2.52. In 2011–12, the cost per meal sold decreased even further—to $2.38.

Rather than using the saved dollars to benefit only a few, the university directed much of the money to its general fund used for financing instruction and general administration, directly benefiting students, faculty, and staff. Those employed by Michigan Tech have seen increased job security as a direct result. “Without Lean initiatives, especially in these tougher times, we would have had to eliminate positions in order to align resources,” says Horsch.

“Little improvements every day—that’s what Lean is all about,” says Hiltunen. “If dining services was able to achieve such success in the first four years of the journey, imagine what Michigan Technological University, as a unified whole, can do in the future.”

SUBMITTED BY Kaylee Betzinger, student process improvement coordinator, and Brittany Wood, market research analyst, auxiliary services operations, Michigan Technological University, Houghton


Effective Fundraising Message Fuels Greater Campaign Goal

Whether it’s the medium or the message, Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) Foundation has hit the mark with its fundraising campaign, “Purpose, People, Possibilities,” to support Prince George’s Community College, Largo, Maryland. Launched in 2011 with a $15 million goal to support academic and workforce development programs, upgraded teaching facilities, and scholarships for diverse student populations, the campaign generated 
$18 million in the first quarter of the three-year strategic campaign. The target was quickly bumped up to $25 million.

The initiative has enjoyed high visibility, including an announcement made at the Partners for Success Awards Dinner last October that the fundraising goal had already been met—and the goal would be significantly increased. At the event, the PGCC Foundation recognized Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, NBC4, and the Hillman Family Foundation for their individual support of student achievement and community engagement.

“Reaching the fundraising goal so early in our efforts speaks to the community’s commitment to supporting high-quality education in Prince George’s County,” says Charlene M. Dukes, PGCC’s president.

Brenda Mitchell, executive director of institutional advancement, says three key strategies allowed PGCC’s foundation to meet and exceed its original campaign goals.

“This level of advanced networking should prove to be the final step that pushes us across the finish line, allowing us to reach our new campaign goal of $25 million,” says Mitchell.

Quick Clicks

Ecology Program Shows Best “Greens” of 2012

In late November, the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology program released 112 new case studies featuring innovative efforts ranging from convincing campus administrators to stop the selling of single-use plastic water bottles to constructing a 100,000-gallon storm water management cistern that harvests water runoff across 15 acres of university property.

The database, which is searchable by year, topic, school, and state, includes information on each college or university’s project goals, funding strategies, stumbling blocks, and ultimate successes. With the addition of the “best of 2012” list, the database celebrates work spanning more than two decades and includes 
800 case studies from campuses across the country.

Heart Association Applauds Fit-Friendly Campus

Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, encourages a culture of wellness at the workplace, called Living Whole—and the American Heart Association has taken notice. Cited as a gold-level Fit-Friendly Worksite, Loma Linda University Health is the umbrella organization that encompasses the university’s eight professional schools, the medical center’s six hospitals, and physician groups in Southern California. Effective practices to keep its employees fit and healthy include health risk assessments, free consultations with a registered dietitian, a one-on-one tobacco dependency treatment program, and much more. The gold-level status denotes workplaces that implement activities and programs that encourage physical activity, nutrition, and culture enhancements such as healthy food choices and online tracking tools. The association’s research shows that companies can save anywhere from $3 to $15 for every dollar spent on health and wellness, within 18 months of implementing a worksite wellness program.

By The Numbers

Total Household Debt, Third Quarter 2012

Source: “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit” (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2012)