Kelley green belts save local companies millions in time and money

Whether you know it or not, you complete hundreds of processes a day. From parking your car to setting up meetings and paying bills, processes are how we get things done.

Improving operations processes is at the center of business courses taught by Associate Professor of Operations Management Mark Frohlich, who awards Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certificates to Kelley School of Business students upon successful completion of process improvement projects involving local businesses.

“Every organization—for profit or not-for-profit—is loaded with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of processes,” explained Frohlich. “We teach students in operations management courses about the real fundamentals of analyzing processes.”

Through nearly 600 Green Belt projects, Mark Frohlich estimates that his students’ process improvement projects have saved companies millions of dollars over a decade of consultations at hospitals, restaurants, chain retail stores and other companies big and small.

“Students who present their findings to a company often tell me that corporate representatives jumped on their ideas with plans to implement them across the company,” said Frohlich.

Both Evening MBA and undergraduate students learn from hands-on projects that teach process improvement selection and how to implement changes to increase efficiency. Students partner with local businesses, sometimes including their own employers. Frohlich says it can take weeks simply to choose a process to examine.

“There are ways you can efficiently pick a process that merits being improved; that has real meaning,” said Frohlich. “It’s usually as simple as asking, ‘What do your customers want? What’s bugging your customers the most? Where are the most complaints?’ Even if your customers aren’t complaining—larger corporations fit in here—it’s what’s costing you the most money. Where do you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels?”

One group chose to improve the triage process at a local hospital to better route patients and fast-track serious injuries. Another group looked at how to improve ice truck delivery, and a third team set up a more efficient system for cleaning public busses.

“They have more than 80 busses and a limited number of hours in which to clean them each night,” explained Frohlich. “A big part of the cleaning process that students identified was getting the busses lined up so the dirtiest and those with reported maintenance issues are up front. A major element of that process improvement was just helping them think through bus triage.”

Projects involving 3-4 students each have grown to more than three dozen projects each year.

The opportunity to obtain a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt in process improvement attracts students from many areas of study.

“It’s hard to say what a Green Belt is worth,” said Frohlich. “But I would estimate that even for undergraduates, it could add another $3,000 to $5,000 to their salaries because companies recognize and understand a Green Belt’s value. A lot of companies now pursue employees with these certificates. If an accountant, for example, is a Green Belt, she may be part of an audit with manufacturing or supply chain folks who also hold Green or Black belts, and together, they can do much more for the client.”

Frohlich says receiving a Green Belt separates these Kelley Indianapolis students from the rest.

“A lot of company representatives are surprised when they find out our local students are getting a Green Belt in process improvement. It especially surprises them that our undergrads have this type of training,” said Frohlich.

“When companies hire Kelley Indianapolis students with Green Belts, those students start contributing from day one as process improvers, in addition to their regular responsibilities.”

“I hear it all the time from managers in the community: When they hire one of our students, they know they’re getting a high-caliber individual. -- They’re blown away because when other employees might be doing nothing, our students are trying to improve processes. One manager told me the student he hired from Kelley Indianapolis is worth 10 of his other employees.”

The use of this knowledge often doesn’t stop when the semester is over.

The dream as an instructor is to give your students a skillset, so they can go do something with that knowledge. Honestly, I can’t say that happens for every class. But with this one, it truly does.

Mark Frohlich, associate professor of operations management

“Many times when you teach a class, there are exams, projects, an end-of-the-semester course evaluations, and then, it’s over. But every time I teach this class, I have students come back and say, ‘You won’t believe this. I did another project over winter break for my parents.’ Or they say, ‘I couldn’t stand the way things were with inefficiencies, so I fixed them.’”

“When you think about inspiring students, instilling lifelong learning and encouraging them to apply what they’ve learned, this is what you think about.”