Skip to content

Blog Post

New approach in 2019: Take charge of the whirling facilities vortex

Higher education facilities consulting

Every higher education facility has silos. Simply grouping people by department creates natural silos that can get insular if there’s not effective overall communication. Departments have their own goals, and stakeholders from each area — from operations and research to finance and planning — focus on their world. As a consequence, few people really think about how their department’s goals fit system-wide because everyone is in the habit of meeting their own specific goals.


However, without thinking about the institutional system as a whole — considering the needs of all departments — groups can perpetually battle with competing needs rather than focus on what the customer values and how all departments can work together to contribute to the institution’s mission.

This is where Lean thinking comes in. Lean concepts are familiar to professionals in many different industries, but most relate Lean to manufacturing. However, many different types of higher education leaders are learning that Lean can help them serve customers better by breaking down silos and getting all stakeholders on the same path.

Communication is key: Get everyone together

The first step to systems thinking is for facilities leaders to bring together stakeholders from all areas to start the process of understanding common needs, and from those, creating shared goals and action plans. Stakeholders in every department must be honest, respectful, and willing to listen to each other’s needs and pains to get a better look at the entire system. Considering the system as a whole — instead of each stakeholder caring solely for their departmental goals — is the best way to determine common goals and set priorities.

For example, the procurement department may not understand why the operations and maintenance department continues to try to use certain “over-priced” equipment when they think there is a lower-priced alternative that will work as well.

Operations and maintenance has years of experience that tells them the more expensive equipment will save them thousands of maintenance dollars in the long run and are wondering why procurement can’t understand that.

Procurement believes they are comparing apples to apples and doesn’t understand why operations and maintenance wants to waste money.

Everyone is looking at their needs and how they’ll be impacted. Instead, what should guide their common goals and action plans? Customers. Campus leaders need to identify the various customers across the organization and understand what they value. In this case, the customers include students, researchers, faculty, and staff.

It’s all about bringing together the “4 Ps:”

  • Shared purpose to focus on the right things.
  • Right process to get the right things done.
  • Developing people who understand purpose and have capabilities to achieve goals.
  • Visible performance to see progress, the need to adjust, and results.

Sounds great, right? It is — but it takes effort. Lean has its challenges; there’s no on/off switch. It takes work and commitment. However, higher education leaders who apply Lean thinking to their work often experience better communication and collaboration amongst stakeholders, while also improving team chemistry and customer satisfaction. All of this leads to smarter work, reduced frustration, and better results.  

Before you start using Lean to escape the facilities vortex in 2019, remember:

  • Lean journeys should start slow
    To go fast with Lean, it’s crucial to start slow and small – apply Lean thinking and tools in small bites, and they will quickly add up.
  • Start with the obvious
    Go first with the low-hanging fruit – solving the most obvious problems with high impact (but low difficulty) demonstrates results and introduces everyone to Lean culture. Once you’ve learned from experience you can tackle tougher issues.
  • You’re not alone, and your voice is important
    Lean isn’t a solo venture – it takes teamwork rooted in respect and communication where everyone has a voice, and everyone is heard.

Make 2019 the year of real positive change on your campus – learn how Lean can transform your team’s and your institution’s bottom line. Our higher education and Lean experts recently put together a comprehensive guide that illustrates how Lean can truly optimize facility teams and shed the walls between silos. Check out the higher education Lean guide now to see how you can help your campus rein in runaway costs, ease burdens, make work a better place, and reach goals.

Published: 12/13/2018


Stephen MacIntyre

Chief Services Officer