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Thursday, June 02, 2011 - How lean can you go: SBA professor receives support for book focused on lean principles

Gene Fliedner is convinced lean business practices amount to considerably more than trimming fat. For companies to truly benefit from lean principles, he says, it is essential that they implement a multi-faceted program that encompasses all aspects of their operations.


“I believe lean practices must have a systematic perspective,” says Fliedner, associate professor, operations management, SBA’s Decision and Information Science department. According to Fliedner, four primary components contribute to a lean operation: leadership, culture, a team-based approach, and the actual lean practices and tools.


Following a lean path


Fliedner began his lean journey about 15 years ago, while teaching courses in project management. “It became apparent to me that if you look at it simply, two things affect a business’ bottom line: increasing revenue and eliminating waste.”


That train of thought proved a starting point for Fliedner, who found himself delving deeper and deeper into the concept of lean business principles and what goes into a sustained business model that removes and avoids wasteful practices.


Fliedner read everything he could on the subject and, in 2002, completed the training course offered by the OU Pawley Lean Institute. Since then, Fliedner has shared the knowledge and understanding he gained by consulting with a number of corporations.


Advancing lean


During this time, Fliedner identified a significant need for a practitioner-oriented book on lean principles and started the process of drafting one.


This spring, the Institute provided Fliedner and three other OU professors with resources to further their research on lean principles by awarding each of them a $15,000 Pawley Institute Fellowship, funded by the Pawley Institute Dennis and Carlotta Pawley Endowment for Lean Learning.


The other recipients are Mark Doman, special instructor, human resource development; Bob Van Til, professor, industrial and systems engineering; and Shannon Flumerfelt, associate professor, educational leadership.


The fellowships support research to advance the knowledge and theories of lean learning while facilitating the work of university faculty who are presenting lean principles to their students, says Amanda Benjamin, site administrator, Pawley Lean Institute.


Through the fellowships, the recipients will work to develop an academic textbook, expanded curriculum at OU, virtual simulation learning games, and research and partnerships with southeast Michigan businesses.


Writing the book


The textbook in Fliedner’s proposal can be used in both undergraduate and graduate lean classes. “This project will be very beneficial because it will provide a framework for professors to teach lean principles and for students to learn the key concepts of lean,” Benjamin says.


“There really is an absence of a textbook that could be used for a stand-alone lean course,” says Fliedner. “It is very detailed; I expect it to be well received.”


Fliedner estimates he's been working on this book informally for about 10 years, incorporating the knowledge he has gained on his quest to learn and share multi-faceted lean principles. The Pawley Institute’s acknowledgement of his proposal is a meaningful affirmation of his work, Fliedner says.


The book will expound on the four components to lean practices that Fliedner has identified. 


“Students need to understand the importance of leadership and of developing a team-based approach,” he says. “And it’s critical to understand the culture of the environment they work in and how it will impact people’s willingness to accept new practices.”


The fourth component, the actual practices and tools of a lean company, rely on the first three, Fliedner says.



A truly integrated approach


The Institute’s original intent was to award one fellowship. After reading the proposals submitted, however, the reviewers agreed awarding four was the right thing to do, and they were in a position to make it possible. The committee included Mohan Tanniru, dean, SBA; Louay Chamra, dean, SECS; Louis Gallien, dean, SEHS; Mary Otto, vice president, Outreach; and Edward Sosnowski, chair, Pawley Institute Advisory Board.


"Awarding four fellowships honors the collaboration among the SBA, the School of Engineering and Computer Science (SECS) and the School of Education and Human Services (SEHS) that characterizes the Institute," adds Benjamin.


Fliedner says he respects the decision of those who reviewed the fellowship proposals to award four fellowships, rather than one.


“That was a very generous gesture,” Fliedner says. “It is an example of the support the leadership of the university can create for the university and its students. It tells me my passion has the right focus. I’m very grateful for the support.”


For more information about the Pawley Lean Institute, visit



By Flori Meeks