Degen to lead SDSU on Lean program journey

By Pat Bowden Reporter


This semester, ex-Lean office manager at Daktronics, Becky Degen, filled the new Continuous Improvement Leader position that was created in the SDSU Administration Office under the decision of SDSU President David Chicoine in order to teach, maintain and improve the growing Lean immersion on campus.

Lean is a non-profit organization that teaches representatives in various organizations to better analyze, access and solve processes in everyday life that helps find the balance between contemporary efficiency and serving customers in the best way possible. At SDSU, the students are the customers.

“[I] encourage employees to raise awareness when there is a problem and talk about how we can solve it. The students are all of our customers, and we should always think through the eyes of the customer,” Degen said. “It’s a powerful mindset to apply to your workplace everyday.”

A number of SDSU departments, such as Briggs Library, have had existing faculty participating in Lean practices in their respective departments. According to Kristi Tornquist, the chief university librarian and a chair for the Steering Committee, Degen was elected as a part of an action step in securing human and fiscal resources for Impact 2018.

“We looked at what other universities have done and typically you need someone who’s championing to accomplish what needs to be done,” Tornquist said. “We envisioned that she would be a voice to articulate what Lean could do, and maybe educating people on it.”

Degen’s new position entails facilitating improvement projects across campus to improve everyday life and to provide training for those not familiar with Lean.

“I will share the responsibility on my shoulders because every process can be improved, so the biggest thing is to have help in identifying where we need to improve first,” Degen said. “The goal is a process with zero waste, but we’re very happy with small improvements to get us there: shoot for perfection but happy with excellence. You shouldn’t have to buy big expensive systems to improve processes.”.”

Tornquist agrees with Degen, and also explains how problems that Lean deals with aren’t necessarily caused by a lack of efficiency, but are rather just outdated for one reason or another.

“We’re asked to do more and more, and we want to do more things like that with more resources, so it makes a lot of sense to look at things we’ve been doing for decades and asking if we still need to do those things,” Tornquist said. “The number one focus is seeing how best we meet the customer’s needs, and asking if we’re doing things to benefit those customers … we try hard to look at things we’re doing and eliminating the wastes.”

Degen and the rest of the Lean facilitators ultimately hope that their teachings will trickle down to others without the need for leadership. In other words, the Lean training should help faculty think on their feet to better analyze problems and improve processes.

“Maybe, continuously, [Degen]’ll be training and leading them, but our hope is that going through the Lean program is that those who have gone through it can help others understand it as well,” Tornquist said.

Degen says that her eight years of experience as the Lean office manager at Daktronics has more than adequately prepared her for her new role under the president.

“[Lean] is considered a journey so there is never an endpoint, there should never be an end goal because people should continually be solving problems. The goal is that everyone should know and should improve their processes every day,” Degen said.