Continuous improvement in an education setting

SEPTEMBER 12, 2016 / Articles


The word ‘lean’ refers to the practice of ‘continuous improvement’ that has its heritage in the business philosophy developed internally by Toyota several decades ago. It has a mantra of looking beyond charisma and personality to solid standard operating procedures that are visible and transparent to everyone in the workplace and that allow everyone to be informed and to know what to do and when.

At Waikato Campus, we have had the expertise of Geerten Lengkeek and Liddy Bakker of Intent Group supporting us as we dip our toes into this style of leadership for the first time.  The campus leaders have gone through several training sessions in which we got to grips with the concept and what it can mean as a reality and how we could start to implement it at Waikato Campus to our benefit.

We have implemented the first intervention already. We now run a daily standing meeting at the beginning of the school day at 8.15 at which we:

  • Review the day before and look at what we can fix.
  • Keep everyone informed of the plan for the day.
  • Share and celebrate successes. 

There has been a period of adjustment for staff and we still have room for improvement. The greatest benefit for everyone has been the way it has facilitated positive feedback and effective consultation on a regular and reliable basis. It is certainly not the way we would have run a morning briefing meeting had we not had the lean model to go by, which does require us to use deadlines, and be objective in our measures, and how we action both positive and negative outcomes.

Where to now? Well, there is still some room to go in staff understanding that the meeting belongs to everyone, not just management and that is something we need to work on. We are also working with our consultants on the next lean intervention and we look forward to embracing this next positive change for us as leaders and to support our campus better.

Now that Dynamic Campus Management is up and running at Waikato, we will look to roll it out in other campuses across New Zealand.

Q&A with Geerten Lengkeek

What’s the relevance of lean to schools?

Lean is relevant in every environment as it answers the question every organisation needs to answer: “How can I be the best, over many years, in what my customers want most from me?” Defining the customer and defining what they need most is very relevant in schools.

What adjustments are necessary compared with say, a business environment?

We certainly have had to adapt it for the school environment, eg the customers are the students, parents, Community, but the product/service is also the student undergoing the learning. Specifically, some lean concepts like ‘batch versus flow’, ‘standardisation’ and ‘inventory’ need careful interpretation in an education environment. 

Where can the journey lead to?

The idea is that the continuous improvement system becomes an institutionalised enduring competitive advantage for the school. This goes beyond individual teachers and other stakeholders and improvement becomes the ‘norm’.