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Clark program helps employees build their careers by going Lean

Project management specialist blends theory with workplace practice


Turning a complacent organization into a lean, pioneering market leader takes powerful project management skills. Clark University’s School of Professional Studies is helping students develop those skills through its Project Management Certificate program with PMI® certification and a focus on Lean methodology.

“Companies of all sizes recognize how critical project management skills are to any type of program or organizational transformation so there is a great appetite for this expertise,” said Richard Aroian, assistant dean for STEM programming. “Receiving PMI certification means even experienced project managers can add Lean to their toolkit and receive professional development credits required to maintain their certification.”

Leveraging the deep resources of Clark’s Master’s in Information Technology knowledge center, the program has been augmented by professor Brian LeBlanc’s emphasis on Lean practices. The Project Management Institute defines the concept of “lean” as “providing what is needed, when it is needed, with the minimum amount of materials, equipment, labor, and space.” Lean is essential knowledge for project managers who want their organizations to succeed in challenging contemporary industry climates and who strive to be leaders in their field.

Utilizing Lean principles empowers large companies to innovate, adapt, and deliver value by becoming nimbler and more efficient. Developed by Toyota in the 1950s, Lean manufacturing principles were applied in the 1970s to combat the energy crisis.

Brian LeBlanc

LeBlanc, a successful entrepreneur, corporate leader, and financial technology veteran, has a passion for developing highly productive teams and processes. His management skills and intellectual capital as a thought leader in Lean methodology have helped Clark secure certification as a PMI education provider, a globally recognized standard of excellence in project management. Clark’s program allows students to apply for certification by the Project Management Institute — one of the most valuable credentials in the marketplace.

With decades of operational and technical experience, LeBlanc is renowned as a strategic problem solver. Earlier in his career he focused on the process of software delivery but has since shifted his efforts to operations management.  “Now I try to answer the question: How do lean practices apply to areas outside of technology delivery?” LeBlanc says.

“Lean is not about just reducing waste but also about accelerating flow,” he notes. The process improves operating efficiency by utilizing a “pull” methodology where tasks are segmented effectively so that work flows more easily through multiple operations portals.

The concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement, is a benchmark of Lean methodology, LeBlanc says.  Kaizen compels an organization to consider how to measure new processes and use those benchmarks improve efficiencies and procedures. “Everything you do has to be measurable, because if you skip that part it doesn’t matter what fancy stuff you do,” LeBlanc emphasizes.

LeBlanc says it is critically important to get the building blocks of lean in place and ensure they are understood before its implementation.  “People can have a game of catch without understanding the rules of baseball, but with that understanding they may actually win the game,” he says.

The strength of Clark’s Project Management Certificate program has led to a partnership with UMass Memorial Health Care to provide the health system’s employees with a six-course certificate program which includes a course on Lean methodology taught by LeBlanc.

UMass Memorial, which uses the Six Sigma method, wanted to offer its employees educational opportunities to encourage greater engagement and to improve their credentials, and also to apply classroom teaching to their daily processes. Clark’s program will build on the organizations’ existing management strengths to create efficient leaders.

UMass Memorial recognized the importance of making Lean a foundation of management processes in its IT department. At LeBlanc’s suggestion, UMass Memorial added a lean dimension to the IT workflow process, translating efficient technology-delivery practices into effective operations processes.

“There are so many parallels between manufacturing and IT,” says Phil Baldyga, director of systems administration and operations at UMass Memorial’s Department of Information Services. “A manufacturing production line creates a product through a series of repeatable steps. The same concepts apply to how we manage IT work. Our product is a service to caregivers in our hospitals, and we want to provide it consistently through repeatable steps.”

LeBlanc says his method of combining theoretical course instruction with practical work “allows employees to learn and utilize classroom knowledge in their workplace to really burn it in.” The organization benefits from a more efficient workflow, and from employees who are more comfortable in their roles, creating a stronger, better educated workforce.

“Applying the lean concept has significantly reduced the amount of time needed to complete a given project,” Baldyga notes. “This gives our team more time to develop strategies, work on important organizational initiatives, and brainstorm innovative approaches to increase work efficiency.”

In developing the Project Management Certificate program LeBlanc focused on assuring that all courses will be applicable to improve the employee’s career as well as allow the organization to become more efficient.  The program exemplifies the objective of Clark’s School of Professional Studies to deliver graduate programs that advance careers by providing opportunities for applied learning and developing skills that translate to achieving career goals.