Monday, 10 June 2013

Working with Software Hut Students

Students are frequently the customer of many of our process improvement projects and within the unit we are often looking at ways of capturing the voice of the customer. Often we are reliant on the use of focus groups, questionnaires, input from the Union of Students and looking at the process data eg emails from students about problems they are having with a process, or emails that identify questions that students may ask about a particular process.

When an email came round in January asking for people to identify projects that would like software developed by 2nd year computer science students as part of the Software Hut Project, we thought that it would be both useful and interesting.

We agreed that we would identify a software development project from the casual workers process improvement project, for two reasons: 1. our project had similar timescales to the software hut student project and 2. some potential for software development had been identified as part of our project.

We wrote an initial specification for the system, which would include registration of casual workers, approval within the department they were working in, and then a system for casual workers to submit time sheets, these to be approved by line managers, coded and approved by departmental administrators and then sent to payroll where the information would be exported in bulk for entering on to the university finance system. The system would need to allow for tracking the progress of the pay claim.

We were allocated three teams of students, over the twelve week period we worked together to agree a requirements document and to work with the teams as they developed the systems. This included six formal meetings with the teams, and three demonstrations of the systems in weeks 3, 5 and 10. The teams worked incredibly hard, and we had to ensure that we provided each team with the same information. It was quite challenging when some teams asked questions, to work out how much should be shared with the other teams. We were really conscious that it was student coursework as well as a traditional client/developer relationship.

The three teams submitted their systems on time, we tested the systems and marked them against a very clear marking scheme. One of the highlights was attending the final presentation, all students from the module attended, each client got the opportunity to feedback to their teams and declare their winner. We hope that all of our teams had a good learning experience working with us, and thank them for all of their hard work.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Inter University Project Management Group

On 4 June Sheffield Hallam University and The University of Sheffield co-hosted a meeting for the Inter University Project Management Group. The theme of the day was Business Analysis and Process Improvement across universities. It was the first time that I had attended this event, though I am told that the attendance was the largest to date.

The day started with presentations outlining how things work at both of Sheffield's Universities and some facts and figures. Pablo mentioned our peregrine falcons and we even looked at a few minutes footage - the chicks were very active in their messy nest.

There was a session on what does business analysis / process improvement mean to you? There was broad agreement that it is about helping people to understand their process, help people identify improvements, asking the challenging questions and creating an environment of continuous improvement. All of these ideas were identified using post-it notes!

There were some excellent presentations from people had benefitted from business analysis at SHU  and an interactive session based around the TV show Family Fortunes to help us understand some of the challenges of a BA, e.g. how do you identify customer requirements.

Post lunch, I gave a presentation about the work we are doing in PIU, I managed to use examples from Mary Poppins and talk about Lego. It was far from highbrow, intellectual debate one might have wished to engage in, but that's always the challenge when presenting post-lunch; sometimes basic and "fun" can be effective... I got some good feedback, and lots of people were interested in developing links with the unit.

Finally, there was presentation about process improvement in action at The University of Sheffield, covering the value of a kaizen event, the frustrations when impetus for change dissipates; it was referred to as  "a trough of despair" (and I saw lots of people nodding in agreement) and the challenges of continuing with an improvement when a project takes longer than anticipated.

Final Q&A touched on how to get academic involvement, identifying the voice of the customer and lessons learned.

All in all, a great day, I met some fabulous people, we were able to highlight some of the good work happening in Sheffield, and take lots of ideas back to the office.