Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Taught Students Change of Status Process

We’ve been working with staff in Student Services and agreed to facilitate a rapid improvement event for the University’s change of status processes (for Taught students). Change of status is when a student decides to take some time out from study (leave of absence), withdraw (leave), extend their study, repeat a year (if they have failed) or change course.
This was a process that had been implemented in 1999: students apply for a change of status in one form, and the form has had numerous iterations, mainly to meet external compliance needs.
We carried out two surveys (one staff facing and one student facing) and interviewed lots of people who are involved with the process. Consistently the feedback included old forms being used, the process time is too long, forms completed incorrectly, forms completed without receiving the correct advice and that the form was too cramped to show the guidance and signposting that had been given to the student. We also noted that many staff were writing additional information onto the form, e.g. who to send further information to and the registration status in the margins of the form.
At the 5-day event, we spent a lot of time understanding each of the sub-processes, and identifying where re-work and waiting occurred.
After a lot of work mapping the current process, the project team was keen to make progress on the new processes. We looked at form and came up with four flipchart pages of problems with their design. Some of the group were assigned to redesigning the form while others looked at the repeat sub-process.
The repeat process was particularly challenging to the team; we realised that the ‘ideal process’ required substantial systems development, and major changes in working practices. We were able to make some small improvements to the existing process, and for the first time identify all of the problems with this process. The group recommended that the Project Sponsor take this forward for a separate review.
To improve the four other processes, we created a new clearer form for each process. This ensures that the form only requires information specific to the student’s request, removing room for error. The majority of the form will be completed by staff, who will be familiar with the requirements, once again alleviating room for error. It was agreed that the form should only be available within academic departments, to ensure that the student makes time to consult with staff prior to making an application for change of status, and that only nominated staff can approve and forward the form to Taught Programmes Office (TPO) (helping error-proof and track the form, and reducing the number of paper copies). Further improvements were made once the form arrives in TPO, some of which can be implemented in the short term, and others with minimal system enhancement.
It was incredibly helpful having representatives from five academic departments present at the event, this really helped us to focus on best process from the student and academic department perspective, and ensured that we have five champions to help embed this new process within the next few months.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Lizzie's Training Course

Recently went on a two-day training course at Sheffield Hallam University to look at creating value for attendees through event management. I had no idea what the course would entail, as I wasn’t sure I was an event manager, but there was only one way I would find out!

The structure of the course was unusual - a variant on the ‘un-conference’ (where the attendees set the agenda). We had a session of listening to the facilitators take us through some of the key points in event management, then a presentation by the Head of Fundraising at Sheffield Mencap and Gateway. We were then split into groups with the task of producing a fundraising idea for Sheffield Mencap and Gateway, putting into practice what we were learning from the course.

Lunch on the first day was at Roast, a lovely little health-food cafe near the main Hallam campus. They put on a luscious spread of ‘superfood’ or ‘brain food’ for us, kicking off with a yummy raw beetroot and apple smoothie shot - so yummy I went back for seconds! We had a menu on the table that told us what each course was designed to stimulate and improve, which made the indulgence of eating lots of tasty food even better! One of the nutritionist lecturers from Hallam came along and gave a brief talk on the importance of food and getting the right balance, which was food for thought (sorry!)

Back to the grindstone, and the afternoon was spent productively coming up with an idea for Sheffield Mencap and Gateway (my team decided to hold a Festival of the Arts, including film, theatre and dance, learning disabilities awareness week, and awards ceremony).

We went to the Leopold Hotel for a networking dinner, which was lovely except I was late because I got confused about what time it was. The nice waiter gave me an extra big glass of wine though so all was well.

Friday morning saw us having some chill-out time in the Showroom cafe, drinking coffee and reading articles. Everyone agreed how good it was to have some time out to talk with colleagues and actually read things rather than trying to fit it in during the normal and hectic working day. I had a chat with one of the facilitators about what we do in the Process Improvement Unit, as I had a different job role to the rest of the group. I really appreciated the one-to-one advice, and was assured that I was an event manager despite my earlier misgivings.

Back at the main site we had an ‘over to you’ session, where questions were answered or points discussed in more detail. We finished our projects and gave our presentations to Lucy from Sheffield Mencap & Gateway, and it all went very well. A quick evaluation session followed, with the main evaluation form being sent later this week, then it was home time. A busy two days, but very rewarding.

At first, I wasn’t sure how it related to me. On the surface, none of what was being discussed had any relevance to my job. I soon learned to look deeper however, and found a wealth of knowledge and suggestions hidden there. Gratifyingly, we are already doing a lot of what was suggested, and it was interesting to see how closely the two mirrored each other in certain points, such as continuous improvement. A couple of articles from the Friday morning will be useful to show my co-workers and I think they will be of interest, and I’ve linked up with a couple of people from the course on the Internet since then too. All in all it was a very rewarding experience, once I remembered the old adage of getting out what you put in!