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The leader of Harrisburg University’s project management program believes he can help Pennsylvania policymakers solve their budget deficits.

Dr. Tom Sheives runs the new Agile Lean Center at HU, just blocks from where thousands of state employees work. The center aims to improve outcomes for governments and businesses through nimble project management practices that reduce waste. The practices also would foster quick changes of directions and close relationships with customers.

“I feel like the biggest impact the Agile Lean Center can have is on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Dr. Sheives said. “It would save the state of Pennsylvania and the taxpayers hundreds of millions — if we could lean up our state government and make it more agile. There are areas within the Commonwealth that have already recognized the value of Lean and we are positioned well to help them.”

A ‘knockout punch’

The center is all about rethinking the way teams work. Instead of setting long-term deadlines and running the risk of disappointing customers at the end, the Agile Lean Center promotes constant contact between a product development team and clients. Customers offer valuable input throughout, reducing the chance of failure.

Like its name suggests, the center melds two strategies.

The Agile movement began in 2001 when a group of software development experts examined why so many projects soared over budget, languished behind schedule or failed to impress clients. They coalesced around an Agile Manifesto that constructed a new way of working in teams.

That has been paired with lean management practices developed by Toyota, which focused on increasing value and eliminating waste. Dr. Sheives offered the hypothetical example of a credit card company reducing the time an application sat on a desk before it was processed. The less time it waited, the quicker a customer could use the card.

“There was a whole process that Toyota had done that we’ve applied to teams,” Dr. Sheives said. “How do we get better teams? How do we improve our process? Using those principles with Agile is a knockout punch for most projects.”

HU allows program to flourish

The practice significantly improves everything from the ability to manage changing priorities to team productivity.

After learning about it years ago from an “agile evangelist,” Dr. Sheives brought the philosophy to HU, where he founded the Agile Lean Center.

The school has given him room to put it to work.

HU’s master of science degree now includes a course on a subset of Agile. The school is in constant demand for new Agile Lean instructors to meet student demand.

The center also lends its expertise to projects and offers foundational training and certification. It will host an Agile Lean Summit on May 1.

Nearly 200 registrants attended the first gathering in May 2016, which exceeded expectations. Many state employees came, proving Dr. Sheives’ ultimate goal could come true.

“I probably couldn’t have done anything like this at other universities,” Dr. Sheives said. “HU is very open to new ideas. We experiment, and if it doesn’t work, we figure out something else. I’m looking forward to one day saying this has really made an impact on the Commonwealth.”

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