Monday, 24 February 2014

Respect for People

Fundamental to lean is the concept of ‘Respect for people’. The phrase rolls off the tongue easily, it sounds ‘nice’: after all, who doesn’t think that people should be respected in the workplace, and which organisation doesn’t include some words in its strategy about the central importance of people to its mission? But beyond the commonplace and anodyne, what does it really mean?
For us it’s certainly not about being nice to people (although we are anyway!). Our role as facilitators means we often have to ask difficult questions. Why do you do that? how long have you been doing it that way? Why do you need to sign that form? What’s the point of this activity? It’s challenging to be asked these questions, and it can be very uncomfortable for participants. People don’t like the implication that they’re doing things ‘wrong’, or that they’re doing work that doesn’t need to be done. But the point of the questions is to find a better way to work that makes better use of people’s skills and abilities, and at the same time improves the way the work gets done. And that’s where the real respect is - not expecting people to carry on with broken processes and unclear objectives or assuming that everything’s ok because the work gets done somehow, but allowing and encouraging them to use their brains and knowledge to improve the process, and in doing so improve their job.
Spreading that way of thinking across the organisation is an enormous undertaking, and success is always uncertain. We need to make sure that, as far as we can, we send people away from our projects with the skills and confidence to carry on improving.

Parting is.....

On Friday last week our project assistant Lizzie left the unit to move to a different role in our department. We have depended heavily on Lizzie to organise our events, to chivvy us about about things we haven’t done, and to keep a track of all the mechanics of our projects so that we are up-to-date with our documentation. She’s also maintained the web site, and wrestled with the complex timetabling of our steering group meetings.
Without the support of a project assistant it would be very difficult to function effectively as a team, and this reminds us that, as lean practitioners, we need to understand and value the work of everyone involved in the processes that we help to improve. Often the invisible work is the most important.
We will very much miss Lizzie and all of the strengths and talents she brought to the unit. We wish her every success in her new role and hope that she’ll also be pleased to know that we are using this experience to reflect on how people can have a very positive impact on process.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Academic Input

Rapid improvement events are still relatively new at The University of Sheffield. Anyone familiar with process improvement activities  will understand that it is imperative to have the input of all the process actors and immediate stakeholders. It is still early days here and getting the right staff to attend can sometimes be really difficult.

We've been very fortunate to have academic staff attend two of our rapid improvement events (RIE) recently (Learning & Teaching Contacts and Academic Probation). Getting academic staff in the room gives invaluable input because they tend to have loads of direct student contact. Our attendees have been very focused on the student experience and have lots of really good ideas to help improve things.

However, it can become very confusing. We tend to interview lots of academic staff as part of the planning stage of our projects, and each will have  a slightly different viewpoint according to faculty, department, teaching duties, research and personal interests etc. The variety is useful, yet it’s really hard to ensure that all of that information is fed back to the team and into the improved process. We’re working on it and want to get better at it.

Our challenge is to work with academic staff in the institution to raise awareness about process improvement projects and to continue to improve our own information gathering/sharing exercises. There is also more work to be done to grow a culture where participation in continuous improvement is understood and encouraged.