Helping schools take big leaps: LEAN Frog

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Byron-Headrick-webByron Headrick launched his Huntsville, Alabama-based consulting company in 2009, and what began as a lifestyle business is now a growth company with 12 employees and more than $1 million in annual revenue. The turning point came in late 2011 when Headrick began to work with school systems for the first time, helping clients make some pretty big leaps in efficiency and effectiveness. Indeed, one Alabama school system saved more than $13 million, which helped enable it to fund a one-to-one initiative that gave every student a digital device to assist with learning.

Lean Six Sigma, which has its origins in manufacturing, is a fairly new concept for school systems. “There have been accountability models on the academic side, but not much on the operational side,” Headrick says, referring to maintenance, custodial, nutrition, transportation, human resources and finance departments. “Anytime lots of transactions and activities are occurring, you’re typically going to find waste and excess cost.”

For example, LEAN Frog saved one school’s maintenance department 2,000 hours of unproductive windshield time by improving inventory management and information flow for vetting problems. Additional savings have been achieved by cross-training the maintenance staff in high-demand trades.

In another project, LEAN Frog helped a school revamp its nutrition program so it could offer free breakfast to students at alternative times (either before school or in classrooms after the second bell). Additional help with meal planning enabled the school to take advantage of food substitutes available from the USDA for a nominal fee. As a result, its nutrition program ended the year with a net surplus of more than $250,000 — up from less than $100 the previous year. What’s more, tardiness and discipline issues decreased substantially.

One of LEAN Frog’s secret weapons in detecting waste is a unique proprietary approach known as the Lean Opportunity Readiness Assessment® (LORA). The free tool allows LEAN Frog to rapidly assess departments or functional areas. For example, if evaluating a school’s maintenance department, the LORA will look at what kind of purchases have been made, how the purchasing is occurring and whether the department has a preventative repair system. It will compare size, age and condition of buildings with regional and national data — along with a host of other information.

“The LORA connects data to the practice, so we know what kind of processes generate what kind of results,” Headrick explains. “It helps us find where the problem areas are — and sometimes it points us to awesome best practices we can share with other schools.” In addition, LORA helps LEAN Frog evaluate how change-ready an organization is and whether it can successfully implement a new tool set, he adds. “Some may not be ready because they have too much on their plate.”

LEAN Frog initially began working with school districts in Alabama, and now the company has expanded to Tennessee and Georgia. Headrick’s goal is to be in every state in the Southeast within the next three years.

One key to achieving this growth is a recent joint venture between Headrick and Clayton Hinchman, founder of Universal Solutions Initiative, a Huntsville-based technology and engineering company. Their new company, AcceleratED LLC, will provide schools with information technology (IT) contract-managed services focused on improving the integration of technology into daily classroom instruction.

“AcceleratED will enable schools to bring on IT expertise more effectively and eliminate redundancies in software being used,” Headrick says. In addition to supplying Tier 1 technicians and network engineers, AcceleratED will provide facilitators who will show students and staff how to use technology better. The company will also help implement IT strategy to get technology in the hands of students faster and help teachers use technology more effectively.

Recently LEAN Frog won the 2015 Best Places to Work Award from the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County. This follows a slew of other recognitions including the U. S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Blue Ribbon Award, Small Business of the Year awards from two chambers of commerce (Huntsville/Madison County in 2014 and the city of Madison in 2013), and the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics in 2013.

Despite accolades from the business community, Headrick views himself as an educational reformer rather than an entrepreneur. “It’s about making a positive difference in the world,” he explains. “That’s what motivated me to move from being a sole proprietor to an S corporation and growing my staff. I don’t mind making money, but I’m more focused on impact. For example, 7,800 kids in one school system are getting to eat breakfast because of us.”

And LEAN Frog’s impact extends beyond students. “Our staff works with administrators who have been ground down because they’re having to do things that are full of waste,” Headrick says. “By helping them facilitate rapid-improvement events where they participate in the design of innovative new approaches, you see them ignite and re-engage. It’s a satisfaction you get that you can never get from a paycheck.”

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Second-Stage Rockstars

Because second-stage entrepreneurs are so focused on their businesses, their contributions often go unnoticed by the media, policymakers, economic developers and community stakeholders. With that in mind, celebrating growth entrepreneurs and communicating their value is part of the foundation’s entrepreneurship mission, which it carries out in a variety of ways.

Among these is Second-Stage Rockstars, a series of online articles that examines the ongoing impact of second-stage companies. These stories chronicle not only second-stagers’ economic growth, but also how they may be transforming their industry, creating empowering workplaces or excelling as corporate citizens. Below are some recent Rockstars; others can be found in our archives.