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MIT Professional Education brings Lean Enterprise to South America

Professor Earll Murman, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, kicks off the Lean Enterprise program in Santiago, Chile.
Professor Earll Murman, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, kicks off the Lean Enterprise program in Santiago, Chile.
Photo courtesy of Seminarium Chile

The Lean Enterprise short program, taught each summer on campus, has historically drawn strong international participation — but when the MIT Professional Education program was offered in Chile in October, interest exploded. The 60 spots were quickly booked and overflow names filled a waiting list.

“It is an institutional priority to reach out and to connect with not only with more people abroad but also more universities, institutions and industry at large,” says Bhaskar Pant, executive director of MIT Professional Education.

This Lean Academy program, part of Professional Education’s global outreach strategy and its first program in South America, was offered in collaboration with Seminarium International, a well-known regional professional-education company. The program offered Chilean professionals something new — an opportunity to immerse themselves in the lean perspective through MIT’s signature hands-on education practices. “It was a huge success,” said Alejandro Magni, general manager of Seminarium Chile.

“Chile is a leader in Latin America and is seen as one of the world's most open economies. This has enabled its economic development and global integration,” Magni continued. “However, with this come new challenges, such as improving industry production and continuous quality improvements. Working with MIT Professional Education and faculty supports the growth of Chile and brings the latest thinking and best practices to industry.”

Participants, including senior managers and engineers from diverse industries such as construction, mining, food and beverage, and postal services, uniformly praised the program. “Lean Enterprise gave me a new level of understanding — more practical and tangible — about the potential benefits of implementing lean philosophy and tools throughout our organization,” wrote one participant. Another commented, “It opened our minds so we can have a philosophy to take our companies to the next level.”

The three-day program focused on the anti-waste philosophy of lean, articulated in the Toyota Production System and advanced in the 1990s to the enterprise level known simply as “lean.” The methodology has an ardent following in the auto and aerospace industries and is now seeing emerging interest from many other types of businesses. MIT has contributed to this thinking through the Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI) and its programs such as the Educational Network (EdNet), an international group of more than 65 universities and colleges working together to develop and deploy related curricula.

Earll Murman, the MIT Ford Professor of Engineering emeritus who has championed lean thinking through his aerospace teaching career and industry research, led the short program along with Engineering Systems Division alumna Alexis Artery SM ’01, PhD ’06 and California Polytechnic State University chair and professor José Macedo. Three faculty members from the Catholic University of Chile served as facilitators.

“It’s a very robust curriculum, with half the time spent on simulations,” says Murman, the founding director of EdNet and former LAI co-director. “They had never seen anything like it. They were used to business conferences with lectures and case studies. The MIT style of active learning worked very well there.”

A day-long simulation required participants to produce airplanes using an MIT-designed LEGO kit. In groups of six, they began with basic materials and a goal — to complete airplanes and make a profit — and they had to deal with supply chain issues, quality checks, timed assembly sessions, paperwork, benchmarking and calculating profitability.

Besides the value to the participants, the short program broadened EdNet, since the Catholic University of Chile is now a member and will begin incorporating lean curriculum into their teaching. The curriculum, a popular offering on MIT OpenCourseWare for years, was itself updated and offered both in English and Spanish, thanks to the Chilean faculty’s efforts. This bilingual version will soon be available on OpenCourseWare.

Another outgrowth of the Professional Education short program may be a new research relationship between Chile and MIT faculty. Debbie Nightingale, a Professor of the Practice of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems who also teaches with Professional Education, is pursuing a grant to collaborate with Chilean faculty on extending lean practices to the health care industry.

Professional Education’s growing presence in the world — with recent short programs in Japan, India, Singapore, the Netherlands and Mexico — supports MIT’s mission to serve a global community. Pant, the program’s executive director, summarizes the Professional Education experience this way: “By developing strong local partners and offering educational programs in other countries, the MIT brand can touch many more people than just those who are able to come to Cambridge. Furthermore, faculty are exposed firsthand to emerging markets and their issues, and that knowledge is incorporated into teaching for undergraduate and graduate students here. Professional Education is an arm of MIT reaching out in the world to achieve win-win outcomes for all stakeholders it serves.”

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