Ahead of its 4th Annual Conference on May 21-22 in Birmingham, LMJ meets two of the speakers, who share their stories and give a preview into what their presentations will focus on.

Steve Yorkstone, Internal Consultant – Sustainable Futures – Edinburgh Napier University

LMJ: Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell LMJ readers about your experience with lean thinking?

Steve Yorkstone: I started back in 2006, when lean first started to appear in Higher Education, at the University of St Andrews. It’s a 600-year-old, traditional, elite, well-known and consistently top 10 academic institution. We were at the forefront of figuring out how lean sat in HE. We tried to do the right thing, learnt masses about the methodology, and even more from our mistakes (and a healthy dose of PDCA).

We quickly built up a reputation to the point that other universities were asking us to come and support their own lean journeys, which was great fun. After helping a couple of other places kick things off I took the leap to work for a radically different university (and one of the early adopters of lean thinking), 50-year-old Edinburgh Napier University.

LMJ: What are the challenges of applying lean in Higher Education? What’s the status of lean in this sector today?

SY: Each university delivers the same kind of things, teaching and research, but how they go about that varies enormously. Standards are exceptionally high – it’s a sector where being a nationally important thought leader is viewed as a minimum standard of achievement – and pressure can be intense. And of course HE is essentially a creative industry, employing its fair share of eccentric thinkers.

While I imagine that description could apply anywhere, the biggest challenge lean faces in HE is the uniqueness of each university, as I think those eccentricities are – perhaps perversely – often what our students’ value and what drives some of our most interesting research.

As with everywhere, university leaders probably lie awake at night worrying about the bottom line. Given the financial context lean really leapt to the attention of the sector last year, with a couple of papers from umbrella bodies espousing it as a way of improving HE. Luckily lean in the sector was well underway before the downturn.

In Scotland, where I am based, around 10 of 15 universities have some formal lean or lean sigma implementation, but for most of them, it is early days.

LMJ: What organisations have pioneered the use of lean in Higher Education and what has their experience taught you.

SY: Lean principles can be seen in lots of universities, but the University of St Andrews and Cardiff University pioneered lean by name. In the US, lean HE is more widespread; look out for Bob Emiliani, who is hot on lean teaching.

I think my most important personal lesson is to keep your integrity. As a lean practitioner if I’m not applying continuous improvement every day, what grounds have I to lead other people in that?

LMJ: You will be speaking at the LMJ Annual Conference. Can you give us a little preview of what your presentation will be about?

SY: I’ll focus on some of the lessons learned in how we’ve made lean work in HE, and how those lessons can apply to any industry; perhaps particularly using kaizen events. But I believe in pull… if there’s something you think I should cover, let me know. I’m on twitter @steveyorkstone or LinkedIn.

Tony Carr, Plant Manager, Building Constrution Products, Caterpillar UK

LMJ: How did the Leicester plant’s lean journey unfold and what is your role in it?

Tony Carr: We started with six sigma at the turn of the millennium, creating a few black belts. In 2001-2002, we decided that we wanted all Cat employees to be at least yellow belts.

In 2005, the Leicester plant moved from six sigma to lean, introducing the Caterpillar Production System. What we are doing now is driving lean by using formerly trained six sigma belts to deploy its principles.

I was never a black belt myself, but I became a six sigma sponsor in 2002.

LMJ: Do Caterpillar plants around the globe have an opportunity to reinterpret principles and tools or are corporate guidelines for lean very strict?

TC: The division in Leicester has more freedom than others, because it is building a different range of machines, the construction products, which are considerably smaller than the average Cat product.

We have more freedom in the way we adopt the Caterpillar processes and models, to make sure we are as nimble and competitive as our direct competitors. We still follow good project management – DMAIC – but we are not told how many black or green belts we need to have. We are given a budget we have to manage and we need to deliver results.

We need to use six sigma principles to get the job done, but each manager can decide how to do that.

LMJ: Where’s the Leicester plant at from a lean standpoint?

TC: We no longer have an army of dedicated belts to work on projects – we have black belts from the early days who have become department managers and now work with teams to make sure the process is embedded.

The plant’s journey changed in 2005, as we implemented the Caterpillar Production System, which is inspired by the Toyota Production System. We took our six sigma black belts and re-trained them in Caterpillar production processes.

Within my operating group I have a few Cat Production System black belts who also have six sigma tools. Their role is to drive the system in various projects through DMAIC, which drives our lean journey.

The real focus is not six sigma anymore, but on the Caterpillar Production System, which essentially represents our lean journey.

LMJ: Why did you move away from six sigma?

TC: It was a corporate directive. Six sigma is purely having leaders well versed in project management and problem solving. It wasn’t the journey we needed to undertake. The next step for us was to adopt lean thinking following a “caterpillarised” version of the Toyota Production System.

LMJ: What can attendees expect to learn from your presentation at the LMJ Annual Conference?

TC: The story of a plant’s lean journey, with its ups and downs, as seen through my eyes. I will be talking about the role of sponsorship in ensuring the success of a lean programme, and sharing a story of relentless drive for excellence.