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How three campus facilities departments are using Lean to do more with less

When I speak with facilities management leaders, I frequently hear the same challenges – shrinking budgets, growing maintenance backlogs, cumbersome processes, and layers of bureaucracy. They want to know: “How do I do more with less” in an increasingly complex environment?

Many organizations faced with similar challenges are turning to a philosophy called Lean, a way of working and acting based on principles and tools that increases value to the customer, identifies and reduces sources of waste, and creates a respectful environment for all people, at all levels. Applying Lean is a journey that takes patience. Lean will foster a shift in mindset to achieve results and create the ability for people to adapt. While many people associate Lean with manufacturing process and tools, the real power of Lean is realized when the “4 P’s” come together “the right process, a shared purpose, visible performance, and developing people. Lean can transform facilities teams, but is not without its challenges.

I recently had the privilege of moderating a panel with three facilities professionals from higher education institutions around the country at the APPA/PCAPPA/BAYAPPA 2017 Conference. During the session, entitled “The Hidden Power of Lean,” the panelists shared how they used Lean to change their perspective and generate results. Although each panelist faced challenges while implementing Lean, each of them also experienced increased communication, greater collaboration, improved team chemistry and customer satisfaction, and cost savings.

We’ve included below a snapshot of the conversation, including each panelist, their university, and the ups and downs of their Lean journeys. Click here for a full transcript from the panel discussion.

PanelistMatthew Smyth, Associate Director of FacilitiesMichael Payne, Assistant Director of MaintenanceGlenn Carey, Facilities Management Chief Engineer
CampusUrban, de-centralized campus; 140-years old; 5,800 Students
Gross Square Feet (GSF): 7m
Urban campus; 200-years old; 25,000 students;
GSF: 16m
Suburban campus; 62-years old; 6,200 employees; no students;
GSF: 2.4m

Years practicing Lean

5 years2 years2 years
MissionCreate an exceptional physical environment at UCSF. Help to support its research, teaching, health care, and community service mission by providing the operational and maintenance needs of all UCSF campus facilities.Create and care for the physical environment in which those who seek enlightenment, knowledge, health and productive lives can flourish.Provide agile facilities that optimize the Laboratory’s ability to create defining innovations in the 21st century.
Why did you start your Lean journey?Process inconsistencies led to inefficiencies.Process inconsistencies, a shift in focus to provide value to customers, and we saw other internal teams using Lean successfully.To improve customer satisfaction.
Where did you start?Our Capital Project department used it and introduced it to the Facilities Services team.Focused on fleet management and materials management – two areas very visible to customers.Value Stream Mapping (a Lean tool)
ResultsSilos were broken down, greater communication, and more collaboration. Experienced cost savings due to reduced errors and emergencies.Silos were broken down, more collaboration, and more visual management techniques.More collaboration with customers.
What went well?Created a cultural shift where everyone’s input matters and a continuous improvement framework of “Plan-Do-Check-Adjust” (or PDCA) was embraced.The Lean culture is spreading – people speak up, ask questions, and are motivated.Buy in from team and created a cultural shift.
What did not go well?It’s a time commitment and tough to get the right people together.Quantifying success, maintaining our Lean momentum, and getting everyone on board to change.Incorporating concurrent changes was difficult (organizational restructuring, supervisory appointments and software upgrades).
Lean pitfallsYou have to go slow to go fast.Getting out of the weeds to understand when “good enough is good enough” – it doesn’t need to be perfect.Being a perfectionist – you can become paralyzed by analysis and perfection.
Lean surprisesQuieter staff spoke up and there was an increase in mutual respect and admiration [for individuals’ contributions to our work].Increased engagement, trust, and excitement through transparency.Better communication and improved relationships with the team and our customers.
RecommendationsBreak it down. Compare the past state to the current state and show why it’s better.Establish Lean as a philosophy and lifestyle – it’s more than a business tool.Before you start, do your homework. Learn what Lean is and what it isn’t.

Before the session concluded, the panel and I left the audience with some tips for embarking on their own Lean journey, including:

  • Learning about and practicing Lean takes time. Be patient. Change can be painful, but getting everyone in the same room and on the same page is a great start.
  • Engage the workers in the solution. In Lean, “Going to Gemba” is going to where the value is created in the process. These are the people who live and breathe the process that creates the value for your customers. Management needs to model, support and trust workers to make good decisions. Increasing trust and communication will expose process defects and create an environment for new ideas to surface.
  • Start small; lots of small successes add up. As Matt said, it’s important to start slow to go fast. By taking on the low-hanging fruit, the problems that have a high impact and low difficulty, you’re able to introduce your team to the Lean culture, demonstrate results for your customers, and get the ball rolling on your Lean journey.
  • Don’t let perfect get in the way of better. Perfection can cause paralysis. Each step that you take in improving your process is a step towards increasing customer satisfaction.
  • You don’t have to do it alone. By getting everyone who touches a process, the management team, and your customer together, you’re able to get buy-in from everyone involved and increase transparency on what’s not working. It doesn’t hurt to bring in someone with an outside perspective to the table.

Thanks to Matt, Mike, and Glenn for joining me on this panel at the APPA/PCAPPA/BAYAPPA 2017 Conference. If you would like to discuss starting or continuing your Lean journey, contact me at

Published: 8/30/2017


Meredith Hargreaves

Senior Lean Practitioner