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"Continuous Improvement is a Journey" at CU-Boulder Dining

CU-Boulder's dining department is using a six-sigma lean manufacturing tool to measure its performance against NACUFS Professional Practice standards.

Beckstrom has implemented a unique approach to continuous quality improvement for the dining department that combines an analytical tool widely used in Six Sigma lean operations — Capability Maturity Modeling — with NACUFS' Professional Practices guidelines.

“We heard about the Six Sigma approach at a 2007 NACUFS national interest session presented by Brad Krakow from CBORD, and he's worked closely with us this year to implement this tool in our organization,” she says. “It is process-oriented, making it a very repeatable exercise.

“The first step of our continuous improvement process was to utilize the NACUFS Professional Practices Guide to develop our Capability Maturity Model (CMM) in order to see and develop our internal processes. We now call this process Management Effectiveness Analysis (MEA), and it will be conducted annually. We took the more than 1200 best practices in the NACUFS guide and selected what we felt were the most applicable 200. The result of this process was the development of a comprehensive spreadsheet that highlights the key performance indicators in each area.

“The second step was to take this spreadsheet and have key stakeholders rank each performance indicator on the CMM ranking of 1 - 5. We had three groups of dining stakeholders conduct the rankings — administration, management and culinarians. After the rankings were completed, the results were transferred to an Excel spreadsheet, allowing dining services to perform a variety of analyses and comparisons.”

For example, Beckstrom was able to create spider graph overlays to illustrate the differences in how each group viewed the department's performance in each practice area.

The next step, which is key, “was developing a series of rubrics we call report cards created by our staff and other stakeholders. This generates very specific definitions, or attributes, for various performance standard level rankings from one through five. Participants were then asked to rank our existing performance using these attributes.

“Essentially, you look at your performance in each area along a continuum with a specific goal at the end. It helps you identify where you are on the continuum, where you want to be, and to define what you need to do to get there.

“The key for our staff was that after this exercise, they could clearly see where we stand in an objective way, measured by standards they helped define.”

NACUFS' Professional Practices Guide emphasizes 18 operational areas ranging from planning and purchasing to menu management and HR. Taking Menu Management as an example, each aspect of food production is associated with specific practice standards in terms of how production is managed. Best practices in areas such as record-keeping, results measurement, scheduling and forecasting, are defined, then compared to actual department performance.

Various stages along the continuum to the goal are also defined. Those completing the report cards decide what stage the department is at in each case. Is it at an initial stage? Is performance consistently repeatable? Are results consistently measured and managed? Can results be proved and used to guide further optimization or improvement?

“The great benefit of a report card is that staff can use them to develop “next step” standards and key process indicators (KPIs) that become measurable, quality improvement goals applying directly to their own areas,” says Beckstrom.

“The idea is that if you have no formal standard for success, accountability is impossible.

“We are in a complex manufacturing environment with many hidden co-dependencies. With this approach, continuous quality improvement is a journey. The focus is not on how well a particular activity is presented, but on how well it is managed to get a result.

“At the same time, breaking each area down creates a smaller mountain for each stakeholder to climb. As a manager, it gives you a powerful mirror to see your business in a new and forward-leaning way.”

[FM readers can download a copy of Beckstrom's Powerpoint presentation on this approach at]

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