VantagePoint: Dagmar Vlahos, UNH IT Project Management Office

February 2, 2016

by UNH IT Staff


Dagmar Vlahos is a black belt. In fact, she’s got two. Although these belts don’t involve tossing people to a matte or breaking boards with her bare hands, they’re in areas that require just as much discipline, muscle, and finesse as the martial arts: Six Sigma and Lean. Both methods help gain efficiencies in all areas of manufacturing, higher education, and any work which involves processes and people.

Dagmar has been involved with Six Sigma and Lean since 2005. Before coming to UNH, she used these skills in various roles at Fidelity Investments. Here at UNH, where’s she’s worked since 2012, Dagmar leads the Project Management Office’s (or PMO) UNH and USNH Lean Training initiative. In March, Dagmar and the PMO will host the Second Annual New Hampshire Lean Awards. Signals: IT News sat down with Dagmar to discuss this event, and how Lean is changing the way people work at UNH.

Signals: IT News: Dagmar, how did you get started with Lean?

Dagmar: Well, my first exposure to Lean started in 2005 when I worked at Fidelity Investments. They were teaching and applying the concept of Lean to an operational environment where customer service focus was important to them. They asked me to attend the class. My management team approached me and asked me to attend a class on Lean, completely unaware of what it was about it.

Then, I took the class and just became hooked on Lean from the get go from that perspective. It was an introductory course. I took that and immediately just was wondering how can I further my education in that area Originally, it was about saving money and the company was really focused on saving money, but as I moved forward, it became more about teaching others how to do Lean and the concepts that they could get from that.

Signals: IT News:  How do you think Lean can benefit the university?

Dagmar:  Well, with budget cuts recently impacting the university with the increase of incoming freshmen into the university, having to support a larger customer base with the same employees that we have, I think the university can benefit in many ways.

We can show that we're being fiscally responsible by looking at our operations and how we service our customers. We can Lean out and help the university increase employee morale. Employees will have a voice and be empowered to be able to make these changes as they make Lean efficiency improvements. We can enhance the customer experience and ensure that we're supporting our customers in the way that feel benefited in the long run.

Signals: IT News: What are some examples of successful Lean projects here at UNH?

Dagmar: There's been many. There have been areas that were worked on. From Housing dorm damage to curtailed operations did a great project recently to Navitas billing looking at graduating seniors and how we can support our seniors as they're departing from the university. Professional development and training, refunding opportunity, and how do we refund our employees that don't attend classes.

I want to go back to the Navitas example. Navitas was a great project that the teams had worked on and we were looking at the billing aspect of how we're billing our Navitas students, which are international students that are coming to the university. The customers, we found, were very confused about where to go to pay for what. We really took a look at that and changed the billing cycle. We changed how we bill them; we change where they go to be billed.

What that resulted in was better customer service, less confusion for our customers, reduction in operational cost both on the university side and also with our Navitas partners. Most importantly, it spawned in extra projects that people were working on and really broadened the view of what else can we do at the university, and what changes can we make.

Signals: IT News: What do you hope to accomplish with the Lean summit? Is this the first year that UNH has hosted it?

Dagmar: Actually, this is the second year. We were approached by the state of New Hampshire, last year. They were looking for a forum to hold their Lean summit. We partnered with them last year and we did an initial introduction at the university about the Lean summit. The State of New Hampshire gave out awards for projects that were done. The university just wanted awareness and visibility into Lean and how it could help the university. This will be the second year that we'll be hosting it here at the university.

Signals: IT News: Could you briefly describe what the summit will look like?

Dagmar: Absolutely. The summit will be comprised of keynote speakers as well as awards to great work that's been done at the State of New Hampshire, and for the first time this year we're going to be giving out awards for university projects that were done here at UNH over the past few years. We want to be able to make sure that we're recognizing and celebrating the success of the Lean projects that were done here.

From that, we're going to have a panel of industry leaders that are going to come to the university and talk about how they've incorporated Lean into their university. The day will close out with Chris Clement, Vice President of Finance Administration, talking about how it's impacted the university and touching upon balance scorecard as well. It's going to be a very well-rounded day. I think the benefits are going to be many that participants are going to get from that.

Signals: IT News: Dagmar, the State of New Hampshire uses Lean extensively in a lot of different areas. Chris Clement came from the Department of Transportation. He was the commissioner there. He applied Lean principles with his department. How has UNH learned from the State of New Hampshire and vice versa in terms of learning how to apply these principles?

Dagmar: It's a great question. We've partnered with the State of New Hampshire in 2014 where we just started to attend their training and to really understand how they're applying the concepts of Lean within state agencies. We felt as though the concept and the methodology was something that would work well at the University of New Hampshire. We took those training ideas and brought the concept to the university. We've been able to partner with them to look at projects that they've worked on, see how we could apply similar learnings to the university, and to expand that out.

I think it's been a great partnership with the State of New Hampshire. We're both looking to be more fiscally responsible in the area of cutting cost for how we operate. It's just been a whirlwind of great excitement and adoption over the past year and a half.

Signals: IT News: Last question. If a UNH department wanted to train their employees and they also wanted more information on this, is it a fee-based service through the project management office? How do you offer your services to the university?

Dagmar: Anyone that is a UNH faculty or staff member can attend a free introductory to Lean course that we offer on a monthly basis. Those are posted out on the IT calendar for training. If you were to search Lean within the university website, you'd be able to locate those classes. We also offer yellow belt training, which is expanding your Lean concepts and learning. We also offer additional courses beyond the yellow belt class.

All of these classes are offered free to university faculty and staff as we want to make sure that we're expanding that knowledge and giving everybody the base tools that they need. As far as the project management office goes, our services are all offered to university departments free. We come, we help. We help you to understand what projects you can work on. We facilitate projects where we'll work with your teams to help you understand the concepts. We just want to make sure that everybody's applying these concepts in a positive manner.

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