Monday, 25 November 2013

Improving the Improvers

We've been in Edinburgh for the first meeting of the Lean in HE Hub committee meeting. The group has been created in response to the growing practice of lean in HE, we will create a website which will be a source of information about what's happening with lean in HE and there will be an annual conference. For me, the opportunity to meet with fellow practitioners and focusing on making continuous improvements in our practice was invaluable. The meeting was great, the networking  is always good, but perhaps most useful for me was the afternoon workshop where we discussed how to best support and develop lean advocates; the session generated loads of ideas and I can't wait to put some of the ideas in practice.

The next day, I took the opportunity to go up to St Andrews and meet with the Mark and Finlay. St. Andrews has had a Lean unit since about 2007, having the opportunity to meet them, see their training room and discuss opportunities and problems was incredibly helpful. Immediate actions for me will be thinking about ways of reminding project participants that we work for The University of Sheffield, rather than in their own departmental silos. I also want to think about props to use for walking participants through an improved process, maybe even some lego mini figures? We also shared some ideas around 5s, ground rules for events and how to focus the group onto the needs of the student.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Training our Project Participants

We’ve just run a training event for the project team for the Staff User Account Provisioning Project. The training is a hybrid version of the lean awareness training and the process mapping training we deliver to small groups.

Lean principles are still relatively new concepts to our project participants, the training frequently generates interesting discussions about the term ‘customer’, ‘student’, ‘user’, ‘beneficiary’ etc moving people on from questioning terminology to focusing on the main concept of designing processes with the primary customer's needs and desires in mind, can be challenging. Equally concepts of value, waste and flow can be thought-provoking and quite difficult for staff who are part of a process that is managed across many different university departments.

One of my favourite parts of the training is process mapping the tea making process, it always creates lively conversations, and people struggle to work through the steps of the process (often forgetting to add water/ turn the kettle etc). Staff find it a helpful introduction into the basic concepts of process mapping.

Last but not least, an exercise that involves lego; it requires people to go through various iterations of lego ziggurat building which helps people to understand the priciples of single-piece flow, pull and continuous improvement, so far it has been incredibly well received and it really helps people to gain an understanding of lean.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Process Stats

I’ve just finished six days training in advanced statistics. The course focused on understanding the data we collect and making sure that we collect the right sort of information. We also discussed how to interrogate the numbers to fully understand how a process is working (both current state and following improvement).
As you might expect the statistics often prove what common sense/ gut instinct might have prompted us to look at e.g. days with less staff lead to longer customer waiting times. “The theory of probabilities is at bottom nothing but common sense reduced to calculus. “Laplace, Théorie analytique des probabilités, 1820. Of course, data can also be used to prove/ disprove a lot of theories, and when a project team has certain ideas about what may be causing a problem with a transactional process we can use the data to give a shared understanding of what is a problem and indeed, what is the biggest problem we need to focus on.

For many of our process improvement projects we do not have a lot of accessible data about how the process is behaving; so often we need to collect it from scratch. One of the biggest challenges is collecting sufficient amount to be statistically useful without overloading staff that are involved in processes with additional workload. Frequently, we would love to have more, but we need to ensure that our collection methods are lean and focused only on the scope of the improvement project. To me one of the biggest advantages of using statistical measures is following on from the improvement phase, providing staff with basic control charts or building in simple data collection methods that enable people to monitor their processes and continue to identify problems and areas for future improvement.