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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2015 / Winter 2016)

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Using Lean Six Sigma and RealtimeBoard to Bring Order to Chaos

By Linda Merillat, Mary Allen, Susan Maendele, and Lara Rivera, School of Nursing, Washburn University 

In January 2015, the School of Nursing at a medium-sized Midwestern university attended a two-day seminar on Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt. Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste in work processes. It’s a combination of lean manufacturing principles and Six Sigma. At the Yellow Belt level, attendees were introduced to and made aware of Lean Six Sigma concepts. 

One group decided to use the problem of the School of Nursing’s shared drive as an example project to use throughout the seminar. Problems with the shared drive included:

  • The drive was chaotic and disorganized (see Figure 1).
  • Faculty and staff had problems locating important files and information.
  • Some files were stored in multiple places and at times the wrong file was used.
  • There was a lack of trust on the integrity of the system. Faculty were reluctant to place files on the drive.

Figure 1:  Listing of High Level Folders on Shared Drive

After the seminar was completed, it was decided to actually move forward with implementing the project. Working with the Dean, a team was established which included a technical support person, a staff member, and two faculty members. It was anticipated the project would take a year to complete. A cornerstone of the Lean Six Sigma process is data collection to better understand the problem. Staff members collated tally sheets on questions and issues related to the shared drive over a two week period. A directory scan revealed there were 1479 folders on the shared drive.

To formalize the project and to follow Lean Six Sigma processes, a project charter was developed. The project charter defined the problem statement, established goals, and limited the scope of the project. Establishing the scope of the project was important. The project was limited to reorganizing and documenting the process for the shared drive. It did not address the broader issue of overall information management within the School of Nursing.

When confronted with the sheer amount of information on the shared drive, the problem seemed overwhelming! With so much data to process, the team struggled with where to begin. Conceptually, one way to approach the problem is to use sticky notes, lay out all the categories (folders & files) on a large table, and then work together to reorganize them. Practically, this wouldn’t work. There were too many categories, and the project team would need several weeks to weed through everything. 

Using the RealtimeBoard Digital Whiteboard

A solution was found with the use of RealtimeBoard. RealtimeBoard is a virtual, infinite whiteboard that can be shared and used by several individuals at once. Licenses for educational use are free.

The team began by going through the folders and files one at a time. The virtual capacity of RealtimeBoard was used to organically create a new hierarchy (Figure 2). The team met three times over a period four weeks to generate a first pass of a new folder organization. Problem questions or issues were documented in a parking lot. This allowed the team to continue to move forward without getting bogged down with thorny problems.

Figure 2:  Screenshot of RealtimeBoard Work Space

Once the first pass was created, the information from RealtimeBoard was transferred to a Word document. The outlining feature of Word was used to simulate a Windows Explorer file interface (Figure 3). This document was reviewed, and problem areas were revisited. This time, it was much easier to deal with those complex problems. Issues were resolved and new categories were added to the hierarchy.

Figure 3:  Using Word with Outlining Feature

Another aspect we addressed was to document new policies for using the shared drive. Diffuse responsibility led to the problem. By delineating some shared control, it is hoped to minimize the chaos that emerged unfettered over several years. Originally, this topic generated a lot of discussion, but in the end, the policies needed were actually very minimal.

In Lean Six Sigma, testing or validating solutions is part of the process. The team wanted to test the proposed new hierarchy. A meeting was scheduled with the administrative staff to review the proposed changes. Their insight led to several changes that were incorporated into the new hierarchy. After incorporating the staff changes, the new hierarchy was sent to all faculty and adjuncts with a test script. Faculty and adjuncts were asked to use the new hierarchy to find commonly used files such as travel expense forms. Again, faculty input and ideas for improvement were incorporated into the new hierarchy. 

Live Implementation
A date for implementing the new hierarchy was determined based on limited impact and currency. We wanted to implement the changes before the beginning of the Fall 2015 term, but not too early before there was a chance to formally brief the faculty directly. It was decided to implement the changes the day before the School of Nursing Faculty Assembly which required mandatory attendance. Actually implementing the change took a matter of hours.
Providing adequate training and support is another Lean Six Sigma concept. One of the team members was included on the agenda for the Faculty Assembly. Handouts were provided and a complete review of the new hierarchy and policies was covered. Training was also provided on searching folders, creating shortcuts to folders, and mapping new drives. Contact information was given to respond to questions. This same information was also provided via e-mail for those who were unable to attend.

Overall, the project has been very successful. In the first month of implementation, faculty only reported not being able to find four files. In keeping with Lean Six Sigma concepts, use of the new hierarchy (Figure 4) will continue to be evaluated and a formal review with the team is scheduled to occur annually.

Figure 4:  New Shared Drive Hierarchy

About the Authors 

Linda Merillat, Ph.D., has played many different roles in her career: programmer, systems analyst, business analyst, interaction designer, program manager, project manager, consultant, trainer, educator, instructional designer, researcher, author, and entrepreneur. Dr. Merillat's experience and skills represent a union between technology, education, and interaction design. In the course of her career, the common thread running throughout has always been the challenge of how to successfully use and integrate the latest technology into an organization.  She currently holds a faculty position with the School of Nursing at Washburn University, in the role of Instructional Designer.
Mary Allen holds the administrative position of Director of Student Services.   She directs and works with the SON administrative staff and serves as a liaison between faculty and staff.  
Susan Maendele, MSN, RN, received her MSN with an emphasis on Leadership & Management in 2010. She currently holds a full time lecturer position with the School of Nursing at Washburn University. Her primary focus in Medical/Surgical nursing and clinical application. She is a TeamSTEPPS master trainer and has completed the Yellow Belt in Lean Six Sigma. She is a member on the Practice Council at two local hospitals.

Lara Rivera, MSN, APRN, CNM, currently holds a faculty position with the School of Nursing at Washburn University in the role of Lecturer. Her primary teaching responsibilities include Maternal Child Health and Health Assessment and Promotion for undergraduate nursing students. She is also employed by Shawnee Mission Medical Center, providing services as a Certified Nurse Midwife.
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