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Thursday, June 22 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
5a: Leveraging the principles of Lean Six Sigma in creating value for the User Community

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Provisioning of personal computers for use is one of the services provided by SMU Libraries to support the learning and research needs of the user community. A total of 48 computers are provided spread over 2 levels of Li Ka Shing Library, one of the two libraries under the umbrella of SMU Libraries. Of these, about 8 are dedicated for access to specialized financial databases with the remaining being used for general purposes. The computers are commonly used by students to access electronic databases or for initiating print jobs.

In recent years, the library had seen a sharp increase in the number of laptops owned and operated by its patrons. In addition, the library had also undergone a master planning exercise to better utilize its space. As result of the evolving external environment, the Library decided to study if the current model of providing common PC’s was effective in supporting the learning needs of the SMU community. Anecdotal and casual observation gave strength to the opinion that students did not require such PC’s anymore, and their needs would be better served by removing the PC’s and turning the whole area into a student study space. 

Previously, the next logical step would have been to re-design the space based on these observations and implied assumptions. However, in 2013, SMU Libraries also embarked on an initiative for creating a “Culture of Assessment” among its staff. Lakos & Phipps (2004) define this as “…..an organizational strategy requiring decision-making based on "facts, research, and analysis, and where services are planned and delivered in ways that maximize positive outcomes and impacts for customers and stakeholders”. As of today, over 95% of staff have been trained in Lean Six Sigma and had worked on a number of business improvement projects. As a result of this training, a small team tasked with the study, decided to test the assumption using scientific methods.

In his book, The Laws of Subtraction, author Mathew E. May, talks about how ignorance tends to be classified as an absence of knowledge. However, in the authors’ view this offers a very simplistic reasoning and tends to ignore the various types of ignorance that even rational people fall prey to. He elaborates on two. One type of ignorance is misconception – often mistaken or disguised as a well-formed opinion or theory. When this is applied to real world scenarios, these may even appear to hold true. However, when faced with the test of a scientific method, misconceptions are forced to yield to empirical fact. Another type of ignorance is the confirmation bias or prejudice that acts on the rational mind to deny reality in place of a reality that is somehow more personally favourable.

In the case of SMU Libraries, though conventional wisdom dictated that the students’ needs would be best served by removing the PC’s since they had their own devices, our Lean Six Sigma training cautioned us to take a closer look, moving beyond just assumptions and bias. Enter “Genchi genbutsu”, a philosophy commonly used in Lean Six Sigma. This is a Japanese Term for “go look, go see”. The practise is simple. Observe first, design second. The goal is to observe people and their behaviour in the context of their entire lives. In this context, it meant observing student behaviour and their interactions with the space in the microcosm of a day in the life of an SMU student.

The study was split into 3 tracks. Both quantitative and qualitative measurements were used and carried out over the course of an entire academic term starting from 2nd Jan 2014 – 31st March, 2014.

  • The first was to obtain quantitative measurement on the usage of the PC’s. This was accomplished by observing and recording usage patterns of the PC’s over the course of the 3 months. The data was recorded for every week, with each day being split into periods of 2 hours starting from 10 AM to 6 PM. The findings were recorded into Excel.
  • The second was to obtain qualitative feedback through a few communication channels. The first channel was Facebook. Comments were invited on the Facebook page, regarding the placement of PC’s. The second methodology used was a survey. The survey was responded to by slightly over 100 participants, and the responses were tabulated and analyzed.
  • The third track was to analyze the common issues that were highlighted during the measurement phase. The team explored various technological solutions along with the University’s IT Department, to mitigate some of the major issues faced in the availability and the usage of the common PC’s.

The results of the study were a revelation in terms of understanding expectations of the various student groups as well as space design. In addition to students who undertake full-time courses for their Under-graduate and post-graduate studies, SMU receives groups of International exchange students, every term. This group of students rely on the common PC’s provided by SMU Libraries to carry out their assignment work as well as to access online electronic resources.

The following findings were recorded from the measurements obtained –

1)    The overall results showed that students want more space for study and more convenient access to the public PCs, but at the same time, they don’t want the space to be too crowded and the level of the noise must be controlled.

2)    The top problem that users faced was a seating issue. These include hogging PC, hogging the seat and space. A number of students used their laptops or text books on public PC tables which deprived students, who were looking to work on a PC, to finding one.

3)    The design of the PC tables themselves allowed for collaborative study among groups not necessarily requiring a PC, which was counterproductive to the purpose of the space.

4)    Though the usage of the PC’s had its peak and non-peak hours, the general pattern observed did not justify the reduction of PC’s from the library at that point. Respondents’ to the survey pointed out the need to have more of them during the assignment weeks.

The following conclusions were derived from the study conducted - 

  • There was a demand from students for Public PC’s.
  • The major issues which affected them in this area were seat and space hogging.
  • The major tasks they do with public PCs were assignments, database access and printing.
  • The current space which housed the PC’s ran counter to the purpose and usage of the space.
  • Noise control was a cause of concern to the users of the space.

Based on the results of the study, the team made the following recommendations - 

            I.         Retain the number of current PC’s available in the library. The current demand does not justify a reduction in the overall numbers. There was no clear cut response either way on the actual location of the PC’s. However, from the survey responses, there was a preference for 2 distributed levels, rather than a consolidated space, as a means of noise reduction.
           II.        The design of the PC tables needed to be modified in ways that discourage the use of the space for purposes other than working on the PC’s themselves. The design should promote user behavior in such a way that the space is conducive for individuals or groups of no more than 2 to be able to work on the common PC, without affecting the experience of other users in the same area.
          III.        An effective software system that can manage the booking and usage of PC’s can ensure that PC/Seat/Space hogging issues can be minimized. In addition, this would enable the team to continue its assessment on a regular basis by providing qualitative data on the actual usage of the PC’s, which would aid strategic decision making later on as the environment evolves.

With regards to Recommendation I - the Library used this opportunity to revamp the space to create a shared space concept for students facilitating noise control as well as collaboration.

Shared space is a design concept, borrowed from the Field of Urban Planning – According to this concept, a road by definition is for automobiles only, while a street is a place of integration, not of segregation. Streets are to be shared equally by all who travel within a city space, without giving priority or assigning a right-of-way to a single traveller. In essence, a street represents the concept of a shared space. It requires a different way of thinking, to produce a more user-friendly social context, governed by human interaction.

In the context of the Library space, this principle was used to remodel the area such that computer users and student groups will need to calibrate and maintain the equilibrium through self-governance with the aid of well-modelled modular furniture that can accommodate various needs. This in part also fulfilled Recommendation II arising from the findings. By using a form factor that follows the function of the space, students were encouraged to model the right behaviour expected of the space.

The team also studied various technica



Shameem Nilofar

Head, Library Technology and Innovation division, Singapore Management University
Shameem Nilofar heads the Library Technology and Innovation division of SMU Libraries. She is a member of the Library’s senior management team and has worked in the library sector for over 10 years. In her role, she has managed the migration of SMU’s Library Management system... Read More →

Thursday June 22, 2017 2:00pm - 2:30pm PDT
C2.01 - 2nd floor Free University of Bolzano-Bozen

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