Friday, 19 July 2013

A week in Process Improvement Unit

What springs to my mind when I’ve  done a review of all I‘ve experienced in the internship is LEAN.
This is simply the focus of the team of The Process Improvement Unit. Fortunately , I had the opportunity of being part of the team and seeing  the hard work involved in providing exactly what the university needs at the right time, by improving processes such as maternity leave or casual workers fees .
Very often, students  and staff of the University don’t realize the work which is behind from all the daily processes, especially in  making them accessible and available  to anyone, with any budget . The Unit  uses  techniques  for reducing  variation and eliminating waste , just better and more efficient, listening to needs from all sectors , holding   meetings with administrative sector or educational sectors as well .

Before coming to Sheffield, I would never have  known how the university deals with all their daily lives problems, and it’ s been worth it having this experience.

In other words, David, Rachel and Lizzie are the gear of the University of Sheffield , adopting a philosophy of continuous , incremental improvement and taking a long -term view of what the university needs and caring about what can they offer to the university  so that it can become up to date, efficient and competitive . Undoubtedly,  doing their best and cooperating closely with the university is the only way  of facing the future.

It’ s their first anniversary but I wholeheartedly think that they would keep growing faster and faster and becoming one of the most important units in the university.

Claudia Navarro Pascual, Universidad de Valencia

Friday, 5 July 2013

First International Conference on Lean Six Sigma for Higher Education

PIU went to the First International Conference on Lean Six Sigma in Higher Education on 24th-25th June, in the elegant but somewhat eccentric surroundings of the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow. The conference was organised by the Centre for Research in Six Sigma and Process Excellence (CRISSPE) at Strathclyde University.
We were keen to go as the keynote speakers were two of the leading Higher Education exponents of Lean thinking in the States –Professor Bob Emiliani of Connecticut State University and Professor Bill Balzer of Bowling Green State University.
Bob Emiliani has blogged about the conference here: and here: and we don’t want to repeat what he’s said.
Interesting points that we picked up from Bill’s talk:
·      He feels that the improvement he made to the counselling appointments process at BGSU was so worthwhile, that even if it was his only Lean project, it would be a great achievement. We’re going to be looking at our own counselling appointment process soon so it will be interesting to learn whether we feel the same at the end of the review!
·      He introduced a different set of wastes relevant to Universities
o   Waiting
o   Non-strategic effort
o   Missing information
o   Unnecessary transport

Interesting points from Bob:
·      Management support means nothing unless they are prepared to be actively involved in process improvement activities
·      Students work on different timescales to academic staff, and academic staff work on different timescales to admin staff. Bob represented this as a series of clocks – the first in hours and minutes, the second in weeks, and the third in months. We think this is a really good visual indicator of why there is often so much mismatch between the needs of the student and the University – and we plan to pinch it for our own use.

More generally it was interesting to note that although the conference was entitled ‘Lean Six Sigma’ there was a lot of Lean and very little Six Sigma. We were also intrigued by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which has c. 300 students and 2000 staff. They have been implementing a Six Sigma programme, even though they were only set up 4 years ago, in order to accelerate their research into energy resources.
It was also good to reconnect with Steve Yorkstone of Sustainable Futures and Mark Robertson at St. Andrews, and to talk to colleagues from the UK and other parts of the world.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Our First Anniversary

To mark the first twelve months of the existence of the Process Improvement Unit, our Steering Group requested an additional meeting, so that we could update them on our progress.
We started by talking about the number of staff we have managed to involve in process improvement projects (95 staff directly involved in projects and a further 119 contacted/interviewed/invited to give personal opinion). The steering group were pleased to see that almost 50% of academic departments and professional services had been involved in process improvement projects to date. We discussed some of the challenges, which were anticipated, and largely similar to the experiences of other organisations. This included looking at institutional culture, middle management engagement and attitudes towards continuous improvement.
We then updated the group on the outcomes of the projects we have run to date. Every single project had efficiencies to report, in process time, opportunity costs (staff time) and meeting customer requirements much more effectively than the old processes. There were also cash savings, in reducing inventory, paperwork, and overprocessing. We quoted one of our project managers “I would definitely recommend the PIU and the methodologies they use particularly for projects where stakeholders come lots of different areas of the University”.
The VC (chair of the steering group) was pleased to hear that departments are approaching us with ideas for process improvement projects; and steered us to continue to run projects at the request of university staff.
In the next twelve months we will be delivering a number of training sessions, to raise awareness for middle managers and to help staff understand some of the lean tools and techniques, so that they can become more confident in improving their own processes.
We were encouraged to celebrate our success (watch this space) and to identify opportunities to engage with senior managers in the institution, so that they can hear about successes and also enable some of the wider lessons learned to be fed back to heads of department.
It's been a busy year, lots of groundwork to set up the unit, and establish good practice. We are looking forward to the next twelve months, helping people to improve their business processes, engaging with other areas of the department and continuously improving our own professional practice.