Customer Product Analysis

For an Educational Institution

by

Jesse W. Brogan

Management Engineer

 

One of the most challenging aspects of education is the inability to measure performance by any of our available tools. There is serious disagreement as to what a university is to produce, and what part administration, instructors, individuals and schools have in the productive process.

Management engineering, the application of basic industrial engineering logic and approach to management, has a way to approach such situations. It yields a definitive set of performance understandings that support a process that establishes measurable results. Where modern management efforts are focused on improving management, the engineering application gives the working educational administrator the tools to optimize the operation of the organization.

The first foundation is the definition of performance for the larger organization. Management, as the process of gaining through others, becomes a part of the larger performance effort. Management is approached as an active profession, an effort that gains a result through the efforts of others. It is measured by its impact on subordinate performance processes.

Our more common measurement approaches of today are based on what managers generate as management products, which has little connection with organizational performance.

Even with the possibility of attaching management to organizational performance we still have the challenge of providing a definition for performance for the educational institution. Modern metrics, like the number of degrees issued, are measurable; but we end up with serious challenges when these are taken as a goal. The issuance of degrees that are not earned through educational process yields loss of educational reputation, with corresponding loss of value for everyone involved. Attempts to use something like "education" as a goal, end up in endless discussions of how a successful education is to be measured as different from one that is not; and how to value the education that is provided.

Management engineering provides a different set of tools for the working educational manager. The practical answer is in the purpose for their being an educational institution.

One key concept is the Pairing Principle; a general statement that value is what flows between the organization and its customers. The product of education is what its functional customers value, and that value is indicated by what these customers return to the educational institution because they have received the product.

The basic principle is that customer and product must be paired. The customer who receives no value is unlikely to return any value to the institution to see to its further performance. The output of the educational effort has value to the educational organization only as it "earns" some sort of return in income or other resources from those who receive that product. This ties the concept of product and customer to the continuation of the organization.

The management engineerís analytic process follows value back from the organization in order to discover the functional customers. Whatever those customers so value that they return income or resources to the educational institution becomes the functional product that is paired with that customer.

The educational institution can then be addressed as an organization that functions to deliver value to these functional customers in order to earn income Ė thereby fulfilling its purpose and assuring its continued existence and prosperity.

We immediately find several different customers for an educational institution. The first customer is the student who pays for his or her own educational experience. This person will invest in the educational experience for the purpose of gaining "an education." The second customer is the family of a student, a family unit that pays for the education of its young. This unit will invest in the educational experience for its own purpose. The family is the functional customer, with the student as the beneficiary of the educational experience. The third customer is found in donors, or others whose decisions affect school resources. In specific for the public sector, the customers will be those who make decisions affecting the funding of State Schools. Again, the students are the beneficiaries of this effort.

To define the product, we need to go to the customer and ask what each class of customer will so value that they will "buy" the educational product. Whatever it is that has that value, will be the functional product that will be paired with the customer.

A self-supporting student comes with a personal expectation of value, one generally dealing with earning capacity, erudition, membership, and the gaining of credentials. The importance of potential product characteristics will vary between individual customers, but there will be a general need to provide all these characteristics in order to maximize value for this customer base.

My Father, who was a high-end educator, wrote with some dismay about the shift in education during the 1970ís and 1980ís where the students got more involved with arranging the curriculum to suit their own concept of education. He felt, with some justification, that they were not competent to do this until they had at least gained some of the education they were trying to define.

Times being what they were, and without the guidance of management engineering, many mistakes were made, and the value of the educational experience was probably reduced for the self-paying students. Engineered metrics, of course, were not possible at that time; and degradation of value is not really measurable after the fact.

Next we come to the family as the customer, a unit that is intent on increasing the value of its young in both social and economic terms. The product is found in enhancing the value of the student to the society in which that person will function. The earning of a degree is part of that value. The gaining of experience and skills in dealing with adults as relative equals has value. The studentís increase in ability to perform for an employer has value. The same basic factors exist for the student beneficiary as for the student who is self-directing the effort, but with perhaps a different mix.

Now we consider our public sources of dollars for supporting institutions such as state colleges. These functional customers have a different sense of value, and the organized effort that is the university has to respond to this different sense of value if it is to assure its own welfare and continuation. The skill at delivering that value is likely to impact on the support that it can earn from the state officials who are in a position to control the flow of public resources.

When we attempt to apply this sense of product and customer to modern educational institutions, we find immediate challenges. Just how many people, among those working with customers and beneficiaries of the educational process, realize who the customer is and recognize their responsibility for providing institutional product?

In my experience, it is obvious that this knowledge is not only lacking, but not even appreciated by those working within modern educational institutions. There is little intentional delivery of product to functional customers. The intent is to "educate" without regard to meeting expectations for value. There is little effort to "educate" the customer in the value that they are receiving so that they can fully appreciate what the educational institution is doing for its customers. There is almost no feedback to either family units or public customers that can communicate the delivery of appropriate functional products. There is a corresponding loss to the value that is provided to these customers.

Most of the educators I know have no idea whether any student is the customer or a beneficiary, and donít care. There is little apparent effort from the administration to identify customers to those working in the institution, and little interest for employees to seek-out this critical performance information. The opportunity for educators to provide functional product to public or private supporters goes largely unexplored, much less exploited. There is just a general recognition of value in educatorís efforts in publishing, and in being active in associations where the reputation of the Institution is enhanced; but this is not valued as a potential product.

So what is the industrial engineer to do in this realm. In the current organization, there is little place for the one who has technical efficiency expertise. The modern educator considers the engineer as an outsider to his or her educational processes.

The answer is in articles such as this one, articles that bring out the source of value that is not being exploited by modern educational administration. Management engineering is based on service to senior managers, on providing the technical support that will put them more in charge of their organizations and increase their ability to assure the gaining of value through their operations.

Management engineering provides answers to the questions of value that are generally not well defined for modern managers. The value analysis in this work opens the door to a different attitude and approach to the management of educational institutions. It is an attitude that is founded on generating product for those who will provide organizational input because they receive the value that is generated.

Families who pay for a studentís education should, for example, be carefully kept abreast of what their students are learning in terms of new skills and abilities, and advancement toward a degree. This is what that family should be receiving as notice of what their dollars are buying. The modern educational institution is delivering product to the beneficiaries; but value is only realized when the customer receives the product.

Even the self-paying student should receive periodic notifications of where they stand and how they are progressing. The traditional report-card approach is wholly inadequate. There should be a brief functional description for each course, indicating how the studentís work in the course is increasing their knowledge, ability, and value to employers. They should be building up a picture of what they have accomplished, a picture that is only witnessed by the degree as a token. Even those who do not graduate should be able to proudly point out what they have accomplished, and to be able to present the value of it to potential employers.

Students are an essential part of the educational process, not just its recipients. There should be a continuing flow of reminders that they are gaining by their experience, and that the goals set by their specific programs are coming nearer as they perform their important part of the educational process.

The school administration, the primary agency for dealing with state-level educational authorities, should be fully armed with examples of educational success, both as their personal incentive, and as the means for communicating value delivered. These need to be available when they deal with state officials. There should be product for state officials, something to assure that value is passed. There should be an intentional effort to assure that everyone in the institution is aware that these government officials are customers, and are to be shown respect accordingly. Delivery of that value is vital to the health and welfare of the institution.

For one simple example, I was treated to a remarkable unfairness in my passage through a state school, due to the focus of a department chief on the type of students he personally wished to encourage. I ended up failing his course due to a failure on a few assignments, a minor administrative defect, and changing my major to get away from his control. It ended up costing my family more for my education, without increasing the value either they or I received.

From a business standpoint, it was a demonstration of remarkable stupidity that could easily have been avoided by understanding the basics of customer and product. Even after forty years, it is still a sore point with me; a year taken out of my life to serve the purposes of that educator instead of my own. In more practical terms, I have never donated a penny to the institution that forced me to spend an extra year due to a leaderís misunderstanding of the product he was to deliver, and his failure to identify the customer representative who was to receive it.

Does the school you attend or serve have any way to identify such situations, and prevent the loss of value to customers? Who knows how much potential income is lost by having subordinate educational managers who do not understand the management essentials of cost and product, or who fail to take customers into account. There are still many who consider their educational jobs as simply exercising their own performance skills; and they will continue to make expensive customer-relations errors.

On the other hand, with the clear knowledge of customer and product, the educational administrator of the future will be able to direct the resources of the educational institution to best assure the delivery of value to customers. This will maximize the income earned by the institution, and keep all of its internal resources focused on assuring its continued health, prosperity and effectiveness.

Management engineering is basic application of industrial engineering to the art and science that assures performance through others. The administrator is the action person, the engineer is technical and professional support for the person who has something to gain through operating the organization.

Applying management engineering yields a senior manager who is more in charge of his or her organization. The tools of management engineering are management understandings and techniques that are applied by the manager to optimize his or her personal effectiveness at gaining desired results through the efforts of those in a subordinate organization. The management engineer is the expert who is most focused on performance, with special technical knowledge of these tools and how they may be used.

For further information on potentials for bringing management engineering into the educational environment, visit the Management-Engineering textbook website at

http://tome_textbook.home.att.net.