Friday, 19 December 2014

Another year of process improvements

Last year at this time we wrote ‘A year of process improvements’.
What were our worries at that time?
·      Whether our project teams were able to move away from the ‘job function’ mindset and towards the idea of  ‘customer value’.
·      Not getting people to understand that improvement needs to be continuous
·      Not considering the impact of our work on other areas
·      And whether we fall prey to these ways of thinking as well
So what has changed in the current year that moves us forward?
The nature of our work means that we are constantly meeting new teams with new and different problems, so it’s natural enough that some of the issues noted above will recur, and indeed they have, and not necessarily where you would expect. We’ve worked with our estates department to improve the reactive maintenance, and were incredibly impressed with their focus on getting things done for their customers, and their frustration with processes that got in the way. We’ve worked with our research teams and have struggled with the different priorities and strategies which tend to pull the process of procuring capital equipment for research in different directions, but again we’ve been impressed with how different offices have worked together to align strategies. In other areas, that might be supposed to have a customer focus, we’ve been surprised to find that lip service comes well before customer service.
We clearly need to keep plugging away with this one.
As to continuous improvement, we think we’re making some headway. Anecdotally we’ve heard from former team members that they’ve thought of new improvements to processes after project closure, and we’ve tried hard to ensure that we keep scanning for problems that arise as a result of improvements so that we can help with further improvements. For instance, we’re currently working with our outreach team to iron out some of the problems caused or not improved by the casual workers project. And we’ve persuaded some teams that a 15 minute improvement session every day or week is a practical and sensible idea. But it’s still a hard message to give – new pressures and demands on staff mean that processes which sort of work are ignored or go to the bottom of the pile for thinking about ‘later’.
‘Systems Thinking’ – understanding the impact of our work is still a major concern. As a unit which is tasked with helping where help is called for, we’re still very much focusing on improvements to individual processes, large or small. There is not yet a culture of ‘lean thinking’ in the University as a whole (it would be foolish to think that there would be!) and we have not yet started our lean leadership training programme which might help.
Are we downhearted? We think that this year has been a reality check for us – projects have been difficult for many reasons – politics, lack of strategy alignment, departmental cultures and so on. But perhaps this is a sign that we’re dealing with the more difficult and more important processes; that we are starting at least to understand the difficulty and length of the journey that we have started on the road to ‘process excellence’.

A very happy Christmas and peaceful new year to our reader.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Continuous Improvement at the British Library

Yesterday, I went to a meeting of the Yorkshire Lean Community of Practice. It was hosted at the British Library in Boston Spa. The meeting comprises two presentations, a tour and time to meet other continuous improvement practitioners.

The first presentation was "Creating a Customer Focused Culture - Customer Service Excellence a Case Study" by Jackie Knowles Head of Customer Services in the Information Directorate at The University of York.

Jackie outlined their on-going journey to promote and celebrate customer service excellence (CSE) from the initial idea through to getting the accreditation in March 2014 and the subsequent work. Jackie outlined the importance of having a core team, supported by champions within the department, the value of having a pre- assessment health check prior to going for accreditation.

Since gaining accreditation in March, the work has become business as usual with staff submitting case studies to demonstrate service excellence, and staff recognising that much of the process involved identifying existing good practice and sharing this with staff. An interesting conversation followed with staff from the British Library (who also have accreditation) comparing their experiences of going for the CSE award.

The second presentation was by Tim Franklin, Strategic Systems Programme Manager at The University of York on Stakeholder Management. This presentation contained really practical advice on managing stakeholders during a change management project. Highlights for me included remembering to distinguish between drivers for change and the why (the common purpose). I also appreciated his reminder about not sharing too many problems in the wider project communications. Tim said " don't tell people about your troubles, 80% don't care and 20% are glad", which made me smile.

IMG_1837.JPGWe had a tour of the British Library, which really is fantastic: of particular interest were the different ways a document may be digitised; and how the British Library manages their two hour turnaround for people ordering fast track books and articles. Viewing the crane in the 21 metre high room, which is programmed to identify and pick up the correct box which is stored in a room with no daylight and low oxygen, then send it along a conveyor belt to staff to in another room to pick the correct book/ journal from the box, digitise the information and send the pdf to the customer, was fascinating.

IMG_1826.JPGI was also impressed with the kaizen work that is happening in the operations area: lots of good visual management; use of kanban; lots of case studies of previous kaizen and evidence of a group of staff who are very proud to be involved in Continuous Improvement. I was inspired to see evidence of lean used in a practical way, every day; I'm looking forward to sharing the detail of the event with staff back at The University of Sheffield.