Thursday, 17 April 2014

Process and Process at the AUA

On Tuesday we spent the day at the AUA (Association of University Administrators) Conference in Manchester, where we ran a morning workshop for about 60 attendees. The aim of the workshop was to focus people’s minds on fixing process rather than blaming people. Almost consistently during our projects we observe staff going above and beyond what is required because they are dealing with failure demand or a whole series of process errors that take away people’s time to stand back and fix things. It can be easy to question people’s actions, but harder to take time out to look at the end to end process.

We gave an overview of how and why the Process Improvement Unit was set up, a little bit about how projects are identified and a couple of case studies (readers of our blog will be familiar with this). For me the most useful and interesting part was the discussion that ensued: the majority of universities are starting to think about process, although this is still fairly peripheral and there are challenges in getting buy-in across academic and administrative departments. There was some dissatisfaction expressed about the use of consultants, who don’t always understand the needs of the institution, or aren’t there for project implementation.

Various methodologies are being used (not exclusively Lean), but it was pleasing to hear that the concept of focusing on customers' values and needs is growing in popularity. There was also general keenness to map processes, and our steer was very much to go to the gemba (where the work happens) to see the reality of the processes, rather than the picture in someone’s head.

The rest of the day allowed us to catch up with a few colleagues, make new contacts and hear about the work happening in their universities. A couple of really good plenary and workshop sessions dealing more generally with change and how universities are addressing change. A few mentions of the work that is currently ongoing to produce Diamond 2 - the follow up to The Diamond Report (2011), so it looks like the focus on efficiency and effectiveness in HE is going to continue to be on the agenda for the time being.

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