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Systematic Review of Lean Six Sigma Approaches in Higher Education

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Abstract ID: ASEM_2016_20


The purpose of the paper is to present a systematic review of the role played by Six Sigma and Lean systems in improving the quality of higher education. Six Sigma is aimed towards reducing variation and increasing customer satisfaction; while Lean is an improvement methodology focused on the reduction of waste. Industry expectations for graduates with process improvement knowledge and the rapid growth of the use of Six Sigma and Lean in industries led to the need for improving quality in higher education. A review of the relevant literature on the use of Six Sigma and Lean in higher education and practices such as benefits of project based learning, which expose students to the real-time industry problems, are provided. Industries expect engineering programs to cover Lean and Six Sigma topics such that graduates can employ continuous improvement techniques in their career. Therefore, this paper provides an analysis of the literature of Lean and Six Sigma practices in higher education.


Six Sigma, Lean, Quality, Higher Education


The Six Sigma methodology first began in 1980’s at Motorola, where one of the executives studied the work of Deming on process variation as a part of quality control. The aim of Motorola in using the Six Sigma approach was to improve performance and reduce costs. This approach was further refined by General Electric (GE) into the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC) methodology, which has since been used successfully in various industries all over the world (Kumi and Morrow, 2006). Six Sigma aids organizations in reducing defects, improving process output quality, and increasing customer satisfaction (Kanigolla, Cudney, and Corns, 2013). The difference between Six Sigma and other process improvement programs such as Total Quality Management (TQM) is that Six Sigma provides organizational context that explores and facilitates problem solving throughout the organization (Parast, 2010). Six Sigma projects focus primarily on identifying and understanding characteristics that are critical to satisfaction (CTS) for the customers. Six Sigma is taught in higher education institutions in order to provide students with a better understanding of how management strategies are applied in industry for solving problems.

        Lean is a process improvement methodology that focuses on eliminating different forms of waste or activities with no value. The Lean production system was documented and became widely used in the 1990s, but it was not integrated with Six Sigma until the early 2000s. Numerous organizations in the US initially started their continuous improvement efforts with Six Sigma and realized later that they needed to implement standard operating procedures and reduce total lead-times using Lean principles (Antony et al., 2012). The combination of Six Sigma and Lean methodologies provides organizations with superior tools and techniques. Higher education institutions are now implementing creative ways such as offering distance education to students by managing the increasing costs and demand for continuous improvement (Bandyopadhyay, 2014). Lean Six Sigma helps in achieving the required continuous improvement by replacing traditional approaches with aggressive management techniques such as Quality Function Deployment (QFD), Six Sigma quality management, and Lean service management (Bandyopadhyay, 2014). These techniques help in improving teaching effectiveness which, in turn, improves students’ capabilities. Various research studies have been conducted on Six Sigma education and this study provides a systematic review of those studies.

Research Methodology

The purpose of this study is to review the existing literature on Lean Six Sigma in higher education by conducting a systematic literature review. A thorough search of the peer reviewed literature was conducted and the findings related to Lean Six Sigma approaches in higher education were compiled and analyzed. The main purpose of the literature review is to qualitatively classify the content of the publications in this area. The main source of the research was the Google Scholar database. The terms ‘Lean Six Sigma’, ‘Quality ‘, and ‘Higher Education’ were used to search for articles. The benefits of teaching Six Sigma and Lean approaches in higher education is explained in the research. Various papers that used Lean and Six Sigma methodologies for solving problems at universities were selected, reviewed, and analyzed. During the review the following data were collected: authors, title, year of publication, whether the study was related to improving quality in higher education or solving existing problems using Six Sigma techniques, performance measures used, and results or findings of the paper.

Literature Review on Six Sigma in Higher Education

Zhao (2005) explained a theoretical approach to improve the quality of higher education based on Six Sigma management principles. An introduction of Six Sigma management and how it is applied at various levels in an industry to improve quality and reduce defects is provided. The research explains five principles that can improve quality management which include concern for students, teachers, employers and society; making decisions based on data and facts; focusing on process management; emphasizing team work; and developing the spirit of innovation (i.e. customer concentration). Concern for customers (students, teachers, and employers) is the main principle of Six Sigma management. The research analyzes the quality of education in universities and explains problems such as the ratio of teachers and students in China is very high (28:1) compared to international standards (14:1).

Kumi and Morrow (2006) provided long-term and short-term measures to improve the self-issue service at the Newcastle University library using Six Sigma techniques. Through the use of Six Sigma, Kumi and Morrow focused on what the problem was instead of assumptions about what the problem might be. The use of the Six Sigma DMAIC methodology helped the team concentrate on specific tasks at each stage. The Define phase consisted of identifying the team members and outlining the charter or project statement. The team was led by a Six Sigma black belt. A process map was used in the measure phase to map out the book issuing process from beginning to end. Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) was used in the analyze phase to help reduce the inputs from 12 to 6 by prioritizing failures in the book issuing process. Several recommendations such as increasing the fine limit, developing a formal fault reporting procedure, and monitoring incidents and downtime were provided in the improve phase. Subsequently, the control phase focused on sustaining these improvements in the self-issue process at the library.



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