Teaching Sustainable Lean: The Next Step Towards Inculcating a Critical Problem-Solving Mindset
The constant business pressure to increase operational efficiency promotes Lean. However, studies indicate that Lean has under delivered as a sustainable practice, with few companies developing a “culture of Lean”. This is essentially because practitioners perceive Lean as a set of tools and techniques, instead of adopting a systems approach to addressing issues. Existing approaches to Lean teaching also contribute to the problem; they are not geared towards creating a critical problem-solving mindset which can create systems thinkers. Lean sustainability failures are also exacerbated by Lean’s push for waste reduction, often at the cost of employee well-being. The Sustainable Lean model, developed at the University of Tennessee, balances the inherent struggle between perfect operational and perfect people systems. The balance is created by following four principles: 1. Reduce resource and effort level by strategic problem definition, 2. Align all efforts with system growth and competitiveness, 3. Enhance throughput and capacity, and 4. Enhance employee quality of life. The model inculcates the elements of a critical problem-solving mindset: defining the correct problem, effectively solving the problem, and integrating people requirements into the solution design. This model has become the basis of the systematic development of undergraduate courses, graduate courses, and special programs.
The authors wish to thank the following graduate assistants and teaching assistants, who have significantly contributed to either the instruction or development for the described courses and programs: Roshanak Akram, Abhinav Raghavan, Aravind Satyanarayanan, and Vasanth Mannivannan. Our thanks to Prof. Messias Silva for his insights on pedagogy.
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