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  • Mark Hersberger

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  • Mark Hersberger

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UC San Diego Wins Prestigious CIO 100 Award

someone teaching workshop about lean code

UC San Diego was honored with the CIO 100 Award for a culture shift that started with training staff in Lean Six Sigma, a methodology used to help continuously improve how organizations work and the services they provide. Photo by Xavier Bailey

Each year, the CIO 100 Awards celebrate 100 organizations across the globe driving IT innovation. This year, UC San Diego received this distinction for setting an inspiring example of how IT leadership, business partnerships and customer engagement are shaping the future.

UC San Diego was honored for a universitywide continuous improvement renaissance that started in late 2016, when IT Services committed to Lean Six Sigma (LSS) training for all its staff. Lean Six Sigma is a methodology used to help continuously improve how organizations work and the services they provide. As in martial arts, different levels of expertise are signified by belts ranging from beginner (yellow) to intermediate (green) to expert (black).  

What started in one department quickly spread, helping UC San Diego challenge what we do and how we do it. “This is truly a bottom-up movement,” said UC San Diego Chief Information Officer Vince Kellen. “We went from 400 Lean Six Sigma-trained staff in IT Services to over 3,200 campuswide. People quickly realized how useful this training is in their job environment and they want to be part of it. To me, it’s the heart and soul of how we operate.”

About a year later, leadership from IT Services, UC San Diego Extension and the Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) created Process Palooza, an annual conference that that draws over 800 professionals from universities and nearby businesses to collaborate on business excellence, operational efficiency and continuous improvement.

A unique element of Process Palooza is the Great LSS Race, during which teams compete to improve specific campus processes using what they have learned in Lean Six Sigma training. "Having our processes analyzed by the teams provided us an invaluable opportunity to hear an external perspective,” said UC San Diego Assistant Director of Fleet Services Greg Nishihira. “Having this fresh look presented many useful ideas that have helped us improve accountability of the vehicle request process and improve communications. This has translated into a greater understanding of why we do what we do, along with how the process works.” 

The combination of these efforts drove a cultural transformation around process improvement that was recognized by this year’s CIO 100 Award, which continues a string of recognition for UC San Diego, as campus Chief Information Officer (CIO) Vince Kellen was inducted into the CIO Hall of Fame in 2019. 

The award ceremony will take place on August 19, during the CIO 100 Symposium, where UC San Diego will be honored along with other 2020 winners including Jet Propulsion Labs, Kaiser Permanente, Nestlé, Samsung and Verizon. Mojgan Amini, Director of Process Management and Continuous Improvement, and CIO Vince Kellen will accept the award on behalf of the university.

someone writing on whiteboard while competing to improve campus processes

At Process Palooza, teams compete to improve real campus processes using their Lean Six Sigma training.

“I think that one of the most important things the university did in getting started with the drive for continuous improvement was to select the right methodologies—ones that are concrete and yet flexible,” said UC San Diego Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth H. Simmons. “The core of this effort is Lean Six Sigma. It gives measurable results, provides people with a common set of practices, and it offers a core vocabulary that they can use to approach things collectively and communicate with one another well. Everyone has something to contribute to the culture of improvement at UC San Diego, regardless of where they work in the university. Having this framework makes it possible to do more than we ever could have imagined.”

For example, hundreds of people have participated in process analysis and mapping exercises for projects to deliver new software solutions for research, academic personnel, financial management, student information and more. Work is led by the Lean Bench, a select set of campus expert practitioners of Lean Six Sigma methodology who engage and lead these crucial efforts around process improvement, operational excellence and business efficiency.

For UC San Diego, this means any savings in time or money get directly reinvested back to the university’s core mission. The result is more than $10 million in measurable process improvements at UC San Diego, and approximately $75 million in cost avoidance in the resulting digital transformation of all enterprise systems.

The investment continues to pay off. “Our culture of continuous improvement has definitely helped to shape the university’s response to the COVID-19 crisis,” explains EVC Simmons. “The campus was able to re-design processes and transition to remote teaching, learning and working almost overnight, and we are planning how to institutionalize some of these key changes to improve how we operate in the future.”

This year, Process Palooza was cancelled due to social distancing requirements. But a webinar series, called Palooza Tuesday kicked off May 12. The next event in the series, called Empowerment and Innovation: Cultivating a Continuous Improvement Movement, will be held at 11 a.m. May 19. Register and see session descriptions at

Visit the Lean Six Sigma website for resources, including training provided by Operational Strategic Initiatives (Yellow Belt) and UC San Diego Extension (Green and Black Belts).

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