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Continuous improvement at UC San Diego

OSI developed and nurtured UC San Diego's LSS culture, empowering and enabling thousands of staff to identify, assess, and solve issues with a customer-centric balance of efficiency and effectiveness.  Our campus often refers to itself as a “living laboratory” and we take this seriously at not only a transformational level, but also at a very incremental level where we continuously seek to find ways to streamline, optimize, and improve the quality of our operations. A differentiator in our approach is a deliberate attempt to ensure that as we deliver our services to our community, we keep in mind the critical balance between service quality, operational efficiency, financial sustainability, and employee satisfaction and effectiveness. By paying attention to this critical nexus we help deliver end- to-end solutions that allow UC San Diego to be a Student Centered, Research Focused, Service Oriented, Public University.

What are Lean Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement?

  • Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is a process improvement approach that combines Lean Tools and Six Sigma Tools. LSS methodology shows that speed does not have to be at the expense of accuracy, and vice versa.  If we identify variation in our process and define the expectations of our customers, then we can move towards a process that can be faster and more accurate.
  • Lean tools evaluate processes to focus on simplifying steps involved and find ways to achieve faster outcomes.  Speed is the focus.  The kinds of questions we often tackle may be: Are we producing reports which were necessary a few years ago, but are not needed today?  Are there fields on forms that we are validating, which have been validated previously?  Are there multiple systems that don't communicate with each other? Are we seeing bottlenecks?
  • Six Sigma tools focus on quality and accuracy.  The kinds of questions we examine may be: Is this a problem we thought was solved in a past effort?  What are the goals for our outcomes, and how often are we within those goals?  Are quality controls built into the process, or are we capturing errors well after they occur?
  • Continuous Improvement is the concept that we can make iterative changes in our process.  We can move towards a perfect process in steps, rather than a single leap.  This also means that even after our process is spectacular, we can continue to find opportunities for improvement if we so choose.

What concepts are important in LSS which may differ from other methodologies?

  • Focus on "customer": Identify your customers, whether that is students, vendors, patrons, other departments, etc.  Once you have your customers identified, gather their input on their goals and pain points.  As your project moves forward, involve your customers in the discussions, along with your Subject Matter Experts.
  • Don't jump to improve: Strive to address a root cause.  Leverage data to validate ideas, and pilot changes to check for downstream considerations.  This will drive you towards averting fires, rather than frantically extinguishing them.
  • Empower staff at all levels: Process knowledge and ideas should generate from the staff who perform the work.  The Lean Practitioner facilitates discussions and manages the project, but the teams provide and implement solutions.  Not only does this secure creative and effective ideas, but it also facilitates change management and longevity of your outcomes.
  • Explore assumptions: Dig deeper to clear obstacles we have created for ourselves over time. For example, if you hear "there's a policy which drives that step," then consider whether the policy has changed, or whether other comparable departments have interpreted and implemented the policy differently.  If you hear "we've always done it that way" then prompt your team to consider whether it has to be done that way.  

What is OSI’s role in supporting continuous improvement efforts?

As an outcome of the strategic planning process, UC San Diego has demonstrated a renewed level of commitment to continuous improvement as a discipline, charging OSI to implement, support, and use best practices in order to ensure a service and people-oriented culture that delivers an optimal blend of service with administrative and operational efficiency. UC San Diego is empowering change agents across the university, resulting in a community of change agents with a common baseline of knowledge surrounding continuous improvement. Through a combination of coaching and leading process improvement initiatives, OSI is driving powerful and measurable changes which span across all Vice Chancellor areas. OSI, working with our campus partners, employs methodologies from Lean Six Sigma, Business Process Management, Change Management, and Project Management to deliver outcomes. We also hold ourselves accountable by performing annual and ad hoc organization performance assessments to ensure we are moving in the right direction. 

How do I get involved?

Join our community of faculty and staff dedicated to continuous improvement at UC San Diego. Check our calendar of events for a schedule of networking opportunities, webinars, conferences, and other events that appeal to colleagues interested in continuous improvement. These events are great opportunities to sharpen your continuous improvement skills, share and learn best practices from colleagues across campus, and broaden your network.

You can also submit your ideas for improvement via IdeaWave, UC San Diego’s tool that facilitates campus-wide brainstorming sessions on critical topics to our community. We want to hear from you!

Begin your own LSS journey by attending a Yellow Belt training led by OSI's Black Belts and Green Belts. Become an expert in Lean Six Sigma process improvement methodology with instructor-led training at institutions such as UC San Diego Extension. We also offer scholarship opportunities for staff who are committed to continuous improvement through their jobs.