UW News

March 10, 2015

Efficiency on display at first Organizational Excellence Showcase

The Whole U


A guest learns about the UW’s Organizational Excellence Program.Quinn Brown/University of Washington

Representatives from more than 50 University of Washington departments crowded into the HUB Lyceum on Tuesday afternoon to share recent workplace improvements at the first Organizational Excellence Showcase.

“What’s most exciting to see is that there is a real appetite for continuous improvement and change on campus,” said Ruth Johnston, leader of Organizational Excellence and associate vice president and chief of staff in Planning and Budgeting. “There are more people now here at the UW with the interest, training and knowledge to do this work.”

A common theme among presenters was the incorporation of the “lean” production model, a set of principles based on the management philosophy of the Toyota Motor Corporation.

“Lean is what we do, it’s everything,” said Laura Pierce, who works in Client Services & Training in the Payroll Office.

Waste reduction is a central focus of the lean model. One way Pierce and her colleagues have done that is by switching to electronic faxes, which they found increased employee efficiency by nearly 80 percent and saved 99 percent of the paper they were using on employment verifications.

“If you were going to rent an apartment, that apartment agency would send us a piece of paper that says, ‘Can you verify this person is an employee and how much they make?'” Pierce said. “We were receiving a huge amount of paper, and it was this huge paper jam — literally.”

Jennifer Sprechter shares the work being done at the Institute of Translation Health Science.

Jennifer Sprechter shares the work being done at the Institute of Translation Health Science.Quinn Brown/University of Washington

Jennifer Sprecher, director of lean performance and evaluation for the Institute of Translation Health Science — which helps researchers turn their work and ideas into practice — credits the lean model for making her group more efficient.

“Our organization has become very project-oriented, meaning that we’re taking objectives we want to meet and trying to figure out how to manage them in the way that’s most effective,” Sprecher said. “The data and literature out there are saying that lean is the most effective way to run a project.”

Toby Bradshaw, chair of the Department of Biology, presented the pre-design for the new Life Sciences Complex, scheduled to begin construction in 2016. Biology is the biggest undergraduate major at the UW as well as the most popular STEM department in the state, and life sciences and health care are Washington’s biggest STEM employment industries.

“This is one of the high-priority capital projects for the whole university,” he said. “We have a $40 million budget request in to the state legislature now to support research and education in the Life Sciences.”

Toby Bradshaw shows the designs for the new Life Sciences Building, set to begin construction in 2016.

Toby Bradshaw shows the designs for the new Life Sciences Building, set to begin construction in 2016.Quinn Brown/University of Washington

The new building is expected to open in 2018. It will take over the land that the Botany Greenhouse currently occupies, but a sleek row of new greenhouses will line the Burke-Gilman Trail.

“The first floor will be devoted to undergraduate education — modern research labs, classrooms, student lounge space, a café — so we expect this to be a very inviting building that’s open to the public,” Bradshaw said. “The second through the fifth floors are research oriented, with faculty offices, graduate student offices, post-doc offices, and offices for undergraduate researches.”

Looking at the room buzzing with energy and ideas, Johnston shared an optimistic view of the UW’s future in organizational excellence.

“There is also strong support from the university leadership for these types of efforts,” she said, “so it’s like the stars are aligning.”