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.

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