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Process Palooza's Backstory & Lasting Impact

Be Efficient or Go Home

Goal #5 of UC San Diego's Strategic Plan is: To create an agile, sustainable and supportive infrastructure by ensuring a dedication to service, people and financial stewardship. Various forms of the word "efficient" are used 11 times to explain the goal further.  

Translation: Be nimble, do more with less. For UC San Diego, that means any savings in time or money gets directly reinvested back to the university's core mission.  

"Continuous improvement" is the mindset, and Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is one way to do it. LSS is all about eliminating waste and reducing defects. The practical effect is that users have a shared language and practice to streamline and optimize to improve quality. The principles apply to all facets of campus: academic units, medical centers, research administration and so on. There are over 3,200 certified LSS practitioners at UC San Diego who have earned Yellow (beginner), Green (intermediate) and Black (expert) belts through the Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) and UC San Diego Extension.  

Meanwhile, starting in 2017, momentum was building on multiple fronts: 

  • A handful of people interested in change management, continuous improvement and project management were meeting informally to grapple with merging all three concepts.  
  • The university was in the early phases of kicking off Enterprise Systems Renewal, a massive ERP effort with process optimization at its core. 
  • Leadership from IT Services, UC San Diego Extension and the Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) knew employees were getting LSS training and wanted to show value to campus executives.  

We had the skillset, the interest and the need, but something was missing: A way to bring LSS practitioners together and harness the collective knowledge.  

2017 Continuous Improvement Event 

What's the best way to bring everyone together? Conference? Expo? Workshop? Competition? We decided to do them all at once in the name of efficiency. Thus, Process Palooza was born! 

Everyone made the invite list: faculty, students, researchers, staff, LSS practitioners, non-practitioners and UC San Diego extension LSS alums. Conference goals were twofold: 

  • Provide each attendee an opportunity to experience, learn about and grow LSS practices across campus.  
  • Bring together LSS enthusiasts and deploy their collective knowledge in a structured, impactful way.  

Process Palooza, co-sponsored by IT Services and UC San Diego Extension, is truly a three-in-one event – after all, it's put on by people specializing in efficiencies! Components include: 

  1. Process improvement competition – aka, The Great LSS Race 
  2. Learning tracks centered around LSS, project management, organizational change management and more
  3. Networking and community building  

The Great LSS Race

A key goal is to show process improvement in action. And what better way to do that than with a competition? Attendees with at least a Yellow Belt certification are eligible, and there are usually enough to make six teams of six. The idea is to put their skills to the test by analyzing a messed-up process and havjudges evaluate just how significantly they improved it.  

Here's what separates the competition: We use actual campus business processes 

Want to know what the Great LSS Race is really like? Check out these news stories, which also include team rosters:

Conference: Learning, Sharing, Inspiring 

Process Palooza component #2 consists of a traditional set of breakout workshops, covering everything from LSS basics (in a quickie White belt session) to use cases showing how LSS is being applied at UC San Diego. Meanwhile, series of posters showcasing university efficiency efforts by visually displaying problems, the LSS effort, outcome and value.  

Miss a session or want to relive the excitement? Visit the Events page to find information and session recordings from past Process Paloozas. 

Connecting: Networking, Recruiting and More 

Throughout the day, opportunities for networking and making connections are in abundance, including networking lounges and booths for departments and workgroups to either showcase their projects or ask for help – including for BECOP and Lean Bench.  

Lasting Impact

Process Palooza 2017 was a smashing success, and the co-sponsors decided to make it an annual event. Participation soared to over 800 just one year later, and invitations were extended to other UC campuses and across the California higher education landscape, as well as to local businesses and non-profits. 

In 2019, we hosted the Continous Improvement Summit powered by Process Palooza, during which vice-chancellors and other campus leaders showcased the measurable results of continuous improvement efforts in their areas. 

Our 2020 event was transitioned to a virtual format consisting of weekly webinars. Over 2,100 people tuned in for inspiring stories of adapting to COVID-19 and other continuous improvement success stories.

The outcomes from each Process Palooza have rippled across the UC San Diego campus and beyond. Read below for a snapshot of all the positive outcomes.

Business Excellence Community of Practice

Process Palooza turned out to be the ideal incubator of our unique Business Excellence Community of Practice (BECOP). Open to all, BECOP addresses the intersection of organizational change management, continuous improvement and project management. Members come together to share best practices, learn from each other and look for opportunities to strategically deploy skills. Process Palooza served as a central point to both fully explain the concept of BECOP and actively recruit. Since Process Palooza 2017, a formal board of directors was formed, 130 people have joined up BECOP leadership enters its second year. Learn more: 

Lean Bench

Process Palooza was  key in populating the UC San Diego Lean Bench. The “Lean” is from Lean Six Sigma and the Bench refers to a roster of 12 process improvement experts. A highly selective application process resulted in the identification of these 12 LSS experts. Lean Bench members are assigned to assist departments in need by applying their expertise to optimize clunky or inefficient campus processes. The concept of a bench means that members keep their normal positions in their home department. Through interdepartmental consulting agreements, they analyze processes with an objective, outside perspective. 

The Lean Bench has already been deployed to provide process improvement reviews to multiple large ERP-renewal efforts, including Research Administration, Financial Services, Academic Personnel, with several others waiting in the wingsThese ERP-renewal efforts are equal parts process improvement and technology upgrade – there’s no reason to apply new tech solutions to bad processes.  


Real Processes

The competition element of Process Palooza is fun, but also impactful for the departments that put their processes through extreme scrutiny. Following the 2017 Process Palooza event, participating departments implemented some of the solutions, and realized the following results:  


Associated Students travel request process: $96,000 savings, 41% reduction in processing time, 50% reduction of rework, 50% reduction of advising time, increased customer satisfaction by 80%, increased process understanding by 100%. 

Transportation Services new employee commute: By implementing only a small number of improvements, achieved $105,000 in labor savings and 30% reduction of in-person procession.


Fleet Services Vehicle Request Process: Request process cut down to three days from up to 20, 50% vehicle reduction, overall $1.7M savings in capital costs.