Thursday, 29 March 2018

Communities Enabling Change

On Tuesday, we held one of our Community of Practice events. Every time we meet up with our community of practice I feel really energised as a result of mixing with people who are doing their best to implement improvements in the workplace on top of very busy day jobs.

For a variety of reasons, we have had a longer gap than I would like between meetings, to compensate for this we tweaked our standard format. We would usually have an external speaker but decided on this occasion we would use to focus on activity within our institution.

The agenda for the event included:
·      An overview of the Standard Process Mapping Guidelines that we have recently produced.
·      An exercise on customer requirements gathering – making sure that we check our understanding and assumptions.
·      An explanation about work shadowing and how this can be used to inform our understanding of process.
Feedback so far has been really positive and we’re already planning our next event. A big thank you to everyone who generously gave up some of their time to attend the event.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

How shadowing can be useful tool to help you understand a process

How shadowing can be useful tool to help 
you understand a process - 
Leah March, 
Process Improvement Facilitator

What do I mean when I say shadowing?

I’m sure any poor person that has had me shadow them would say shadowing is me sitting 
with them watching a process and asking lots of obvious questions for ninety minutes whilst 
making copious amounts of illegible notes.
Process shadowing traditionally involves an observer and the process actor. Shadowing 
activities are usually kept to no more than ninety minutes with one person and involve the 
process actor undertaking the process (or portion of the process) as normal whilst explaining 
the steps as they go along to the observer, who may ask questions to clarify points and insure 
they have understood correctly. Shadowing can be a useful technique to gather insight into 
the technology, people, customers and resources involved. After the shadowing exercise it is
 then the responsibility of the observer to record what they have seen and to share it with the 
process actor to allow them to check and verify.

Why is it helpful?

Warts and all
Shadowing can help you to see the process in reality and all the critical process steps, some
 of which can be missed during a workshop exercise as they have become second nature to
 the process actors so are not relayed from memory e.g. extra spreadsheets they have to make
 a note in, all the places they have to search for a particular pieces of information or even searching 
for a working stapler.
Shadowing can also help you to identify key issues from the point of view of the process actors that 
they may not feel comfortable raising in a workshop setting.
Build relationships
Shadowing can help you to build relationships with the teams you will be working with when improving 
a process helping you to gather greater insight into how people feel about the process, systems and 
resources e.g. forms, printers involved.
Shadowing on a  1:1 basis allows the observer and process actor to discuss issues and ideas for 
improvement in a way that is often not possible in a group setting, this can help to ensure that the 
observer fully understands the root cause.
There are always exceptions or ‘special cases’
I have found in the past when mapping a process in a workshop setting it is often difficult to capture all
 the process exceptions or ‘special cases’ as there isn’t the time or they don’t involve the majority of 
people present or we can become bogged down in the differences and trying to fit them to the majority 
process. Alternatively we just do not know about them in the workshop as they don’t come to people's 
mind until they happen. Shadowing allows you to first see the exceptions as they come up and 
observe how they are dealt with in reality, making sure they are not skated over.  

When is shadowing particularly useful as a method for understanding the process

  • When the process is large and complex with numerous possible exceptions
  • Process where there is no process documentation already available to sense check against
  • When it is not possible to gather a representative group for a long enough period to conduct a 
  • When the process requires a high level of interaction with systems as a removed process 
    mapping exercise will not necessarily allow you to gain a full understanding  

Pros and cons

There are numerous tools that can be used to help you understand a process including; process 
mapping, process stapling, process walkthroughs and process data analysis such (e.g. process time, 
staff time, errors and customer feedback). It is often necessary to use a combination of different tools 
and as with all tools there are pros and cons to shadowing.
  • Allows you to understand and capture each process step - including those which may be 
    unintentionally left out when the process is explained rather than observed. It is often these 
    steps are the grit (frustration points) in the process.
  • Engages the people actually doing the job who know the what is and isn’t working.
  • It is more personal and allows the observer to build a relationship with the people doing the job 
    so that they can gather insights that might not be shared in a group setting.

  • Costs a lot of staff time, both the time of those that have to give up their time to allow you to 
    shadow and the observers to shadow and then write up and share their findings. It is often 
    requires much more facilitator (observer) time than a workshop.
  • Picking the right time can be difficult as it is often most valuable to shadow at busy times when 
    you are more likely to see the reality of the process. It is important to avoid shadowing tasks 
  • Need to shadow an appropriate sample size to make sure that you are getting a true picture as 
    there is not the natural validation that you would achieve by numbers in a workshop setting.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Supporting Change Initiatives

Fifteen months ago at the UCISA CISG-PCMG Conference in Brighton November 2016, one of the final keynotes: Jonathan Macdonald (@jmacdonald ) talked about how to build an effective environment for change. He challenged the audience by saying that when we look back in twenty years’ time, the period of change we’ve had in the past five years will feel like steady times. Jonathan’s premise was that politically, economically, socially and technically the future will dramatically increase the change momentum. I’m inclined to agree.

Change can be energising! Change can be exciting! I suspect that most change practitioners believe this to a certain point. However, change requires dedication, challenge, ongoing snagging issues that need to be addressed, problem solving, motivating others and lots of action. Implementing change carries the very real risk of staff burn out.

I think it’s time to consider change fatigue. Good old wiki defines organizational change fatigue as “a general sense of apathy or passive resignation towards organizational changes by individuals or teams.” Personally, I think the definition should also encompass tiredness; staff involved in making change happen along with business as usual sometimes just get tired out.
So, what might we do to address change fatigue? Here are a few ideas to get us started:
·      Start talking about change fatigue, bring the issue to the forefront.
·      Ensure that our leaders are skilled and competent in leading change.
·      Actively prioritise large change projects, so that only the critical few proceed.
·      Create a culture of continuous improvement: smaller, simpler changes are usually more palatable and easier to implement.
·      Use/create a change map to ensure that there is understanding and clarity about how many change projects are currently happening and a clear pipeline of change activity.
·      Stop managing change as a collection of projects. Instead view change as an interconnected journey the organization is taking and lead and manage accordingly.
·      Every change you initiate, regardless of its size, needs to begin with an intended outcome and benefit. The vision and intended benefits need to be understood and meaningful to the people affected.
·      Involve the right people in identifying and implementing change.
·      Use data to drive identification, prioritisation and implementation of change.
·      Create time for people to engage in the changes – this requires clear senior prioritisation of non-essential activities.
·      Try to make the change predictable (and positive), it is often unexpected change that people find most difficult.
·      Ensure that effective change resistance surveys are carried out.
·      Effective management of people who actively or passively block changes.
·      Encourage a problem solving culture.
·      Reward people who support and implement changes.

I appreciate that some of these suggestions are time-consuming and possibly challenging, but it is really important to ensure robust foundations for our change platforms.
I’d be really interested in hearing about some of the activities other people are supporting in order to address this

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The unwritten qualitities of a lean practitioner

Over the past few months we’ve been reviewing the skill set within the Process Improvement Unit: looking at opportunities for future roles and ways to continuously improve our own skill sets. As part
of this review process we identified a number of key characteristics and qualities that may not always appear on the Job Description. I thought I’d share a few of my ideas with you:

·      A deep appreciation for Post-it© notes and a willingness to use them often. An allergy or dislike of these key tools of the trade would be highly problematic.
·      An ability to deal with challenges to personal credibility. To demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the fundamental facet of the continuous improvement profession.
·      Ability to challenge people who demonstrate a lack of understanding/ appreciation of the Process Improvement skillset; showing use of a breadth of process improvement tools and techniques (it’s more than just process mapping).
·      Deal with rejection with professionalism and resilience – it is likely to happen on a regular basis!
·      Not take credit for other people’s improvements, when team’s make changes they should be given the recognition for the improvements
·      Be prepared to be amazed and overwhelmed at people’s capacity to implement changes, some team’s quickly grasp the concepts and are prepared to swiftly implement improvements. This can be emotional.
·      Manage one’s frustration with people who block and/or fear change and reflect on your own practice. Change blockers are a well-researched concept; it is inevitable that we will come across these individuals. As a change practitioner getting frustrated with the blockers is generally unhelpful, instead we should be prepared to reflect on our own practice – what could we do differently next time?
·      Know when to walk away from/ close a project– even if you can see further improvements, the team needs to own the changes and be willing to implement further improvements. If they are not willing, recognise that you are a valuable resource who could be helping others.
·      Embody respect for people: demonstrate inter-team working; sincere communication and inclusivity; alongside a high regard for people’s expertise.

It is a privilege to work in process improvement, helping people find the space and the concepts that address their problems and add value to our stakeholders is truly rewarding. My ideal practitioner would demonstrate all of the above and when times get hard I know that we can call on our #leanhe colleagues who always have wise words and find time to help a fellow practitioner continuously improve.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Standardising our institutional process maps

Over the past twelve months or so I’ve been delighted to see the results of a great deal of independent process mapping activity that’s been happening across the university. In my opinion, this is an artefact that demonstrates people are starting to think about how work happens as a process.

During a discussion in the Process Improvement Unit (PIU) where we celebrated this step change in mapping activity, we also identified number of concerns, these included:
·      variable quality of maps;
·      use of a number of different tools for mapping;
·      variance in the use of mapping symbols;
·      process mapping in isolation;
·      people unclear why/ for what purpose they were process mapping;
·      Lack of understanding of levels of process mapping. Leading to people taking time to unnecessarily produce detailed maps.

The following discussion was two-fold:
 1)    whether or not our concerns required any intervention. Does it really matter about the lack of clarity and variation? Certainly, from strategic point of view it is not a priority, however if the outputs of a mapping event can’t easily be shared or people are taking too much time on mapping it is something we could help with and it’s certainly within PIU’s remit to help;
2)    What is the Cause and Countermeasure for this problem? Cause – lack of guidance, with the countermeasure being the obverse –    produce some guidance.

It was agreed that PIU would proceed with producing the guidance. Over the past few months in consultation with other experts I’ve been creating the guide. The process for creating the guide was:
1.     Identify the Users and their requirements. We identified to key groups
a.     Subject Matter Experts who need a little bit of support on the basics of process mapping - symbols, purpose and levels of mapping.
b.     Process Experts E.g. Business Analyst, Process Improvement Experts who are undertaking mapping for large projects or cross-functional activities who need guidance on standard and “The University of Sheffield Approach to Process Mapping” – symbols, formatting and adherence to standardisation.
2.     Lots of research and consultation
3.     Sign-off

Using the 80:20 rule, the guidance is approximately 80% complete, initially it will be circulated as a simple slide set. Future steps will include working with Print and Design Experts to make the guide look a little more “polished” and creation of a short film to help with socialisation of the guide.

I suspect that there will still be a place for the training and coaching we offer in this area, but it is anticipated that the time we spend with staff can focus on value adding activities and the standard information set will be either preliminary reading/viewing and subsequently a reference tool.

How will I measure success of the guide?
·      Number of times it is downloaded.
·      Feedback/ satisfaction.
·      Most importantly I want to measure usefulness and how often it is used.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Festive frivolities

We have a standard framework for our projects and workshop which really helps us to provide a consistent service to the university staff that we serve and helps us in planning, preparation and delivery. One of the things I love about standard frameworks is that they should provide sufficient flexibility to ensure that we deliver the right service to the correct groups of staff. After all, our projects and workshop are about problem solving and different problems need different approaches to solving them. This seems simple, but I often hear surprise from staff that the workshop is different to last time. Also, the problems need to be solved by people and the solutions need to be owned by the people, again identifying activities that are meaningful and appropriate is vital.

We are working with a team who have been working incredibly hard to implement the new processes over the past three months on top of an incredibly busy day job. We agreed to hold a workshop for them to reinforce and congratulate staff on the progress made to date and give them some space to reflect and identify ongoing issues that are systemic rather than teething problems.

We decided to try something quite different for the workshop and themed it around Christmas and New Year. In some ways this was a risky strategy: we knew that people were tired and they might find the theme a bit too light-hearted or patronising. To manage this risk, we gave a clear introduction and allowed people to acknowledge this at the beginning of the workshop.

The format of the workshop allowed time for individual reflection on achievements to date, alongside an individual Christmas wish-list. This was followed by the use of Christmas finger puppets and stretchy snowmen to do a bit of role-storming. I love using role-storming as a way of achieving an element of empathy with other people in the process, but again it needs to be introduced sensitively, otherwise it will only ever generate stereo-typed outputs.

The final third of the workshop was focused on small group work where people agreed the three or four improvements they would like to make and then each group added the parcel in one of three stockings: staff, students or joy to the world (a win for everyone). I was delighted to see the majority of the sixteen imp

rovements did indeed end up in the Joy to the world stocking. This enabled us to create a short implementation action plan.

 All of this was accompanied by snacks and a homemade ginger cake. This group of staff have worked so incredibly hard; rewards were well deserved.

I was impressed how we used our standard workshop framework: individual reflection time, brainstorming problems and improvements from every perspective, prioritising improvements and creating a robust action plan for implementation could be embellished with seasonal wrapping. Was it effective? Well my two measurements of impact are feedback, which was very positive and secondly, whether actions get implemented we wont know this until end of January, and wont be able to measure the effect of the actions for another few months.

My learning/reminders:
·      ensure your standard processes allow sufficient flexibility to try something different (if your colleagues agree it is appropriate to experiment);
·      process improvement only works when people are motivated and encouraged to implement the changes treasure them and acknowledge their hard work;
·      experiment appropriately with gamification and fun activities, we know that research shows it helps innovation, as facilitators we shouldnt take ourselves too seriously (albeit we need to demonstrate respectfulness with our colleagues).

While I do not wish it could be Christmas every day, I will challenge myself to pilot new things with our teams in order to support daily improvement.

Happy Christmas readers, may you have a restful and innovative holiday.