Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE — Planning for significant budget cuts, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has established a Lean Management Office as a permanent function of the campus administration, Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek announced today.

The move formalizes the university’s commitment to enhancing efficiency and improving processes as it prepares to weather a $40 million cut to its annual state appropriation by July 2011. Federal stimulus dollars have filled the gap, but the one-time funds expire June 30, 2011.

“Our main goal is to preserve the quality of the institution and protect the core academic functions,” Cheek said. “By establishing a Lean Management Office, we’re demonstrating our long-term commitment to provide the leadership and expertise to engage our campus community in making changes that will benefit the university for many years to come.”

With support of the UT Knoxville administration, Rupy Sawhney, associate professor of engineering, and a team of industrial engineering graduate students, laid the groundwork for the office last fall by beginning their evaluations of several campus operations.

“The goal is to generate savings, but at the same time improve the quality of life for the students, faculty and staff, as well as the community,” Sawhney said.

No new staff is being added to the office, and compensation to the team will be based on their performance, as judged through efficiency results and cost savings. The team will report to Chris Cimino, UT Knoxville vice chancellor for finance and administration.

Sawhney and the team have already undertaken projects that will save UT Knoxville more than $445,000 this year. They include the move to all-electronic tuition billing, changes to UT Police Department’s patrol car use and bringing campus mowing and leaf removal back to in-house staff, instead of contractors.

Sawhney is a nationally recognized lean management expert and has delivered results for numerous companies and agencies around the globe. These include manufacturers, service and government operations. He has worked with Halliburton , Boeing, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Metal Products, Baptist Hospital (now Mercy Health Partners), British Petroleum and others.

Cimino said plans are to involve the College of Business Administration and other campus experts to explore performance contracting and other methods for trimming costs and improving processes.

“We’re fortunate to have the nation’s top experts in these fields right here on our campus. We’re grateful for their help in dealing with the economic challenges by finding a way to incorporate our needs into their own education and research agenda,” Cimino said.

Sawhney’s team will publish case studies so that other universities can benefit from their research and implementation experience. Current lean projects include a comprehensive look at renovation and construction functions performed by Facilities Services and accounting processes related to research contracts.

“We are pleased to provide a benefit to the university in terms of cost savings and appreciate the opportunity to give students a valuable hands-on experience,” Sawhney said. “We enjoy working with the many UT personnel who truly have a passion for improving the university and being a part of making improvements greatly improves a person’s overall job satisfaction.”

Cimino said a consistent focus and regular follow up is necessary to institute major change in any organization.

“We also need to take time to listen carefully to the people who work in these areas. Their thoughts and ideas are a key part of finding long term solutions. If we have the commitment and the enthusiasm of faculty and staff, we will be successful,” Cimino said.

Establishing the campus lean management office complements several other recent developments and standing initiatives.

In January, UT Knoxville implemented an energy conservation policy that adjusted building temperatures to manage rising utility costs, with the goal of reducing consumption by 10 percent. Savings in energy costs since the Switch Your Thinking campaign was implemented total more than $1 million.

Through a reorganization approved by the Board of Trustees in June, the UT Motor Pool and Graphic Arts departments were moved to the campus purview. Cimino said committees have started to look at both operations, by considering the needs of UT departments relative to cost and delivery of service.

To read more about Sawhney’s work, visit , and . To read more about campus environmental and sustainability efforts, visit

C O N T A C T :

Jay Mayfield, (865-974-9409,