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Applying lean thinking in an educational institute – an action research

Gopalakrishnan Narayanamurthy (Quantitative Methods and Operations Management Area, Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode, Kozhikode, India)
Anand Gurumurthy (Quantitative Methods and Operations Management Area, Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode, Kozhikode, India)
Raju Chockalingam (Quantitative Methods and Operations Management Area, Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode, Kozhikode, India)

International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management

ISSN: 1741-0401

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




Lean thinking (LT) has been implemented in various manufacturing and service sectors. But, only a few published research articles have developed a framework describing the procedure for implementing LT in an educational institute. The purpose of this paper is to develop and demonstrate a framework that can provide a structured procedure for the implementation of LT in an educational institute.


Various LT tools and techniques applicable in educational institute were identified by reviewing the relevant literature. By adopting an action research methodology (ARM) for a time period of 28 months, the processes in a case institute were studied; wastes in the process were identified and various solutions were proposed and implemented.


A comparison of the performance measures before (Batch 1) and after (Batch 2) implementation of solutions provided interesting insights into the effectiveness of LT. In both the batches, absenteeism in the class was found to increase across the terms. But the magnitude of increase was lesser in Batch 2. Results also showed that the number of unfilled seats (poor utilization) in an elective course in the second year of the program drastically reduced in Batch 2. Finally, a framework that can guide LT implementation in educational institutes was proposed.

Research limitations/implications

The current study describes only the initial stages of implementation in an educational institute. Hence, some of the benefits discussed are expected in the long run which can be assessed by carrying out a longitudinal study. Future study can attempt to empirically validate the proposed framework in multiple educational institutes and theoretically explain the reasons behind the results obtained.

Practical implications

ARM can be used as a tool by practitioners to study the behavioral aspects of employees of educational institutes toward LT implementation. The proposed framework and its demonstration can assist employees in educational institutes to implement LT. Positive results obtained in this study can further motivate the educational institutes to consider LT as a potential tool for improving the processes.


This is the first study to develop and validate a framework for structured implementation of LT in the processes of an educational institute. The study is also unique in empirically capturing the impact of LT implementation of an educational institute by analyzing the archived data.



An initial version of this work titled “Lean thinking in education: a case study approach” was presented in the 2013 Lean Educator Conference (LEC 2013), October 3-5, 2013, Columbus, Ohio, USA (organized by the Fisher College of Business, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA). Updated version of the paper titled “Lean implementation in educational institute – a study based on action research methodology” was presented in the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Decision Sciences Institute, November 21-24, Seattle, USA. The authors thank the reviewers and participants of the above-mentioned conferences for their valuable suggestions, which have resulted in significant improvement in comparison to the initial versions.


Narayanamurthy, G., Gurumurthy, A. and Chockalingam, R. (2017), "Applying lean thinking in an educational institute – an action research", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 66 No. 5, pp. 598-629.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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