Critical success factors of Lean in Higher Education: an international perspective.

A Kokkinou, T van Kollenburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Continuous improvement initiatives such as Lean in Higher Education (HE) institutes are an emerging topic for research. Under pressure to do more with less, institutes of HE are increasingly adopting the tools and methods of lean to improve their quality practices. Nevertheless, institutes of HE differ significantly from business organizations. The purpose of this study was to examine the critical success factors (CSFs) of continuous improvement in this homogeneous industry. Two other contextual factors, implementation approach and national culture, are examined. Design/methodology/approach: A mixed methods approach, combining Q-methodology, online surveys and interviews, was used to investigate the CSFs of lean implementation in HE. Participants were recruited from an international network of lean practitioners in HE. Using Q-methodology, three perspectives of CSFs in HE were identified. Findings: Lean implementation at institutes of HE is characterized by a bottom-up approach, involving mostly supporting processes. Contrary to business organizations, the role of management in the implementation of Lean in HE is limited and attention should instead be directed to employee empowerment and customer focus. The findings also showed that, at least for institutes of HE, organizational culture is more influential than national culture. Practical implications: When management involvement is limited, a bottom-up implementation of lean is recommended, centered on improving university-wide supporting processes, promoting cross-departmental cooperation and overcoming the silo mentality. This approach requires an emphasis on a specific set of CSFs, namely, employee empowerment, sharing success stories and training. Originality/value: The study findings enrich conceptually based lean implementation frameworks for HE that advocate a top-down implementation approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1227-1247
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Lean Six Sigma
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Continuous improvement
  • Critical success factors
  • Higher education
  • Lean management


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