Friday, 20 December 2013

A year of process improvements

During the course of projects we’ve run over the last year the question often arises as to the impact our changes are having on other areas. It’s certainly a worry that we are doing exactly what we ourselves point out as a failure of departmentally focussed thinking: improving things that we know about and making things that we don’t know about worse as a consequence. The solution is not simple - defining the boundaries of a project is key to project success, and that does mean other interests may be ignored. Understanding who these other stakeholders are, and what their interest is in the process, is critical, and although we include consideration of stakeholders and benefits when scoping the the project, we perhaps need to give this more thought for projects in the new year.

As well as thinking about the whole institution we need to make sure that individual projects are not an end in themselves, that people do not just think ‘we’ve been leaned’ and therefore don’t need to do anything further with the process. After all, it’s exactly this way of thinking that led to process problems in the first place. Without continuous improvement all we’re doing is shifting the chairs around. We’re not sure that people involved in our projects always ‘get’ this important principle.

It’s often difficult, in a University environment, to talk about ‘the customer’- and we ourselves are suspicious of the strictly commercial approach to what should be a ‘community of scholars’. But often we find that office processes are focussed on the needs of the office, rather than the needs of the student or staff member who is the recipient of the service. It’s hard to change this mindset - after all, the office is the organisational unit which drives and carries out work. How to change this? We need to encourage people to think first about value for the beneficiary, not cost to the organisation.

And this applies to the way that we measure what we do - how many performance statistics are to do with how an office is working (the number of forms it gets through, the cost of providing the service) and how many to do with things the customer cares about (the time it takes to deal with a request, the number of times things went wrong)? Measures need to be simple and actionable, and they should be focussed on those things that can make a difference to service provision, not office efficiency. As quoted by our VC “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are” (Ortega y Gasset).

We’re not immune to this way of thinking ourselves - after all we too work in an office environment and have our own set of tasks and targets. Next year, as well as asking our project teams to think about what the University is for, we need to ask ourselves that same question.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Access to staff accounts and services

Recently, we ran a five day rapid improvement event looking at staff user account provisioning. This process primarily begins when a new member of staff starts employment with the university and they need a staff card and computer account to access key systems and services. However, there is additional complexity depending on staff type, a role change for an existing member of staff, staff retiring or leaving and so on.
During the five days we unpicked the current process which had a number of start points according to staff type and how the enquiry was raised. We also started to create a master list of services that can be requested following the creation of a set of default accounts. This list is long and still requires work to clarify who across the university grants access and how this should be requested.
All in all, the team started to understand how many days (sometimes weeks) of lost work, frustration and inconvenience is can be caused by this complex, unclear process. In addition, the University is constantly evolving and staff types change to meet new needs. We were fortunate to have representation from a number of academic departments and Epigenesys (an enterprise company linked to the university) so that we could focus on getting the process right for all staff types.
The outcome was the draft of a document that will clarify the long list of additional services and access methods (this work will be carried out over the next month), simplification of the process for casual workers employed by the University, working out a way of improving user account provisioning for non standard types of staff/ worker and agreement to undertake some small system enhancements to allow this process to happen before staff start at the university, with the ultimate aim of all staff having access to the right services at the right time.
There is still some further work needed to achieve these aims, but by mid-January some of the initial quick wins will be implemented, and the medium term work will benefit from an improved process and shared staff vision of what is possible and we should be working towards.