Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Yet another year of process improvements

Last year I reported that, after the euphoria of our first year of operation, we had experienced something of a reality check. Some projects hadn’t gone so well, and there was evidence of processes sliding back into, if not chaos, then certainly disorder.
I’ll talk about where we are this year with process improvement, but to start with I want to blow our own trumpet a little by talking about external recognition. Early in the year we were awarded a prize for ‘step change in continuous improvement’ by the Institute for Continuous Improvement in Public Services for our work in embedding process improvement in the University, and we were involved with a case study/white paper for ICIPS headed by Zoe Radnor at Loughborough University.
We were fortunate to be able to go to Waterloo University in Canada to present at the LeanHEHub conference. Our presentation was extremely oversubscribed and very well received with 93% of attendees rating it as excellent or very good. It was quite a challenge for us to organise the workshop with so many people standing rather than sitting as we’d envisaged, so we were really pleased.
In other external activities we gave our lean practitioner training to the ‘enabling the student journey’ project team at Salford, and to members of the academic registry team at St George’s College University of London. We gave successful presentations at UCISA PCMG and the AUA conference in York. We’ve contributed to the ‘evidencing benefits of Business Process Improvement’ study by the University of Strathclyde Business Improvement Team, and finally spoken to colleagues at Aberdeen and Strathclyde about our use of games to explain ‘lean’ and process improvement concepts.
Revenons a nos moutons. We had a slow start to the year as far as new projects were concerned, but this has picked up after June and we are now in the middle of setting up several new projects for our HR department. We’ve completed or nearly completed 6 projects altogether, all of them with success (as defined by our project measures). We’ve also run a large number of problem definition workshops to help teams understand and categorise problems in a particular area. These workshops have been very successful, with attendees telling us that they really help to clarify thinking and prioritise actions. Some of these workshops have led on to further projects, which is both encouraging for us, and hopefully useful for teams working with us.
Our training continues to be popular and we have now trained some 32 practitioners and around 250 in general awareness. Slowly the idea that continuous improvement is a University imperative and not a personal development opportunity may be catching hold.

Niagara Falls

Friday, 11 December 2015

Standard Animals and the PA Christmas Coffee Morning

Yesterday I ran some short thirty minute training at the CiCS PA Christmas Coffee Morning organised by Jenny Allsop and Jayne Halsey from CiCS. The aim of the training was to cover a useful process improvement topic that would also be fun and allow attendees to chat to one another. The first difficulty came when trying to select a tool that I could cover in enough detail to be useful and include an exercise all within half an hour. The second difficulty was that as the event was a drop-in so we wouldn’t know until the last minute how many people would turn up!

With this in mind, I opted to talk about the reasons for and benefits of standard work and standard operating procedures. We discuss standard work and its benefits as part of our practitioner and tools training but haven’t before delivered it as stand alone training, however I felt that the topic would be useful to those invited, could be covered reasonably quickly and would allow us to play with some Lego!

We were delighted to see so many arrive for the slot and quickly had to open another packet of fondant fancies! After a short presentation, the group split up into pairs and were each given written standard operating procedures on how to build (out of Lego) either a camel, alpaca or crocodile and an envelope containing the correct Lego to do so.

The teams were then given five minutes to complete their standard animal and I think it is fair to say, there was mixed success. Many commented that the written standard ops were difficult to follow and understand.
The teams were then asked to dismantle all their hard work and were handed a picture of the finished standard Lego animal and given five more minutes to complete their own. This round was much more successful and most of the teams completed their animals before the five minutes were up.  

After the exercise I discussed with the group which standard operating procedure they had found most useful and the majority opted for the picture, however, some preferred the written instructions. The aim of the exercise was to highlight the importance of thinking about your audience when writing your standard ops (some prefer text, some pictures) and to make them as clear and user friendly as you can.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Grey Granite

At the start of last week we went up to Aberdeen to talk to some of our Scottish colleagues about the games that we use as part of our training. They were interested in finding out whether they could use any of the ideas in the games for their own training, and we wanted to know how we could improve the games for our own use at Sheffield.
Our meeting took place on the top floor of the impressive Duncan Rice Library, with a view out to the grey North Sea. The first game we played was our ziggurat construction exercise - which meant we had to explain what a ziggurat is. The idea of the game is to show that batching up work, while it appears efficient to the individual, results in poor overall process performance. Our colleagues came up with some really interesting ideas for improvement including the idea that we use true pull without work buffers to lower the cost of inventory. They also suggested several ways in which the work process could be made more realistic - for instance people going off sick or being called away from their desk. Some of these ideas will be integrated into the game, for those occasions when we have more time.
As the meeting was split over two days we had time to talk to colleagues informally over dinner at the Adelphi Kitchen. A substantial amount of drink was consumed - although not by the present writer. The following morning was taken up with two more of our games. The first of these is ‘Runners, Repeaters and Strangers’ - which aims to show how team organisation can be used to improve the wait that work is dealt with, and which involves making and flying paper aeroplanes. We had to be careful that flight testing was not too obvious on the other side of the glass windows of our meeting room, as several VIPs were walking to and fro to another University meeting. They may well have questioned why senior Aberdeen staff were engaged in fun activities! Again some suggestions for improvements were made which we’ve taken on board. John Hogg's empties
Our final game - which we explained rather than played -  was the Gemba Gem Company simulation. This attempts to show how important it is to go and find out on the ground what the problems are, rather than jump to conclusions from garbled accounts and management meetings, where opinions rather than facts win arguments.

All in all, a useful couple of days, with ideas from all parties on improvements, and ideas for new collaborations taking shape. We came away with thoughts about a game for showing how standard work can help with quality control which we’ve already started to develop.
So although time away from the office can sometimes seem like a distraction, it’s often, as it was on this occasion, a chance to recharge batteries and get a fresh burst of enthusiasm for the never ending job of continuous improvement.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

‘Continuous Improvement Tools to Support Team Processes’ #myThirty30

This week we ran our ‘Continuous Improvement tools to Support Team Processes’ training for the first time and it also happened to be our first #myThirty30 training!

The training is designed to equip participants with tools they can use with their team to evaluate and improve team processes and covered problem solving techniques, the benefits of standard work and visual management.

We were anxious about delivering this training for the first time, partly because it is new but also because it involved slightly different activities to some of our other training. After a group brainstorming activity, the group were asked to think about and list the different process in their work area and consider which were standard and which could benefit from being standardised. We also asked them to draft a design for a visual management board that would benefit them and their team.

Both these exercises were quite individual and reflective which we feared participants may find a little boring. However after evaluating the training we felt that it was actually helpful to offer participants some time away from the daily distractions to reflect on and consider some of the techniques they were being taught. We also feel that it is important to encourage trainees to leave the training with something useful that they can develop and work on if they wish.

At the end of the training we asked everyone to write down one good thing about the training and one bad thing. We find this a very useful exercise because it captures attendees thoughts whilst the session is still clear in their mind and does not make it yet another task they are expected to complete when they go back to the day job. The group were very polite when feeding back aspects they did not like which does demonstrate one downside of this evaluation technique.

As part of the #myThirty30 training we also asked participants to write on a poster their answers to the question ‘How do I develop best?’. Although this will be sent back to the Staff Development team, we also found it a useful exercise. There were a variety of answers to the question including; one to one, no role playing and as a group, reminding us how important it is to offer training that appeals to a variety of learning styles and that the inclusion of individual exercises alongside group work can be beneficial.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

What Difference Does it Make?

Last month we ran a one-day training session for a finance cluster team. The focus of the day was to give them some tools and strategies for improving their work.

The training covered Introduction to Lean Principles, Value and Waste, Standard Operating Procedures, Process Mapping and Root Cause Analysis. The day culminated with team producing an action plan that helped them to prioritise making improvements in their area and they also mapped two of their core business processes.

I think it is fair to say the team were somewhat cynical about process improvement at the start of the day’s training. By the end of the session, they were incredibly enthusiastic and had been able to relate many of the things we discussed directly back to their workplace.

Over the past few weeks, we have received a few process maps from the team that we can comment on and help with presentation etc.

I bumped into the team this morning and I was “bowled over “ by their enthusiasm and their gratitude. The team have created a ‘Rant Board’ in the office, where all of the team members can alert each other to process problems. Two team meetings a month have been set aside for process improvement activities. One of the team members said, “We felt completed snowed under with work, you gave us some ways to dig ourselves out. We are so much happier as a team, and look forward to our process improvement meetings.”

It is really rewarding working with teams to help them find ways of improving their jobs on a day-to-day basis. I’m really looking forward to catching up with the team in a few months time to see if they have sustained their improvement activities.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Practitioner Trainee Focus Group

PIU are delivering practitioner training to around 20 members of staff each year; yet we have no standard method to support past trainees and there are very few opportunities for past trainees to assist one another with their process improvement (PI) activities. We fear that this can result in reduced engagement in process improvement or past trainees carrying out process improvements in isolation without support.     

We wanted to discuss with past trainees some of the barriers/problems they had experienced when carrying out process improvement and ideas on how PIU can better support them both with regards to completing their project and their long term process improvement activities.  

So this week, I invited past trainees to a focus group where we brainstormed and discussed problems they had experienced and in groups came up with many ideas for ways PIU could help to mitigate some of these and ideas that the trainees themselves could take forward.

Key Problems Identified and possible solutions:

Short Term
  • Trainees are not clear about the likely amount of time required to complete their project - PIU will outline more clearly how much time previous trainees have needed and encourage them to scope down to what they can manage in the short term.
  • There is limited time to complete the project alongside the day job - PIU and the trainee could discuss the training with the trainee’s manager to encourage understanding and support for the resource required
  • The project hand in date is not always realistic and doesn’t always account for busy periods - PIU will negotiate project hand in dates with individual trainees
Long Term
  • Limited management buy-in and support for PI in trainee areas - The trainee’s manager could sponsor them to take part in the training;
  • Limited time allowed to carry out PI - PIU could work more closely with the trainee and their manager to identify achievable areas for improvement;
  • Limited physical space for trainees to run workshops etc. - PIU could offer to share our room more widely for PI activities;
  • Trainees can feel quite isolated as there is no easy way of keeping in touch with other trainees or PIU - Develop an internal community, managed by PIU, that will allow past trainee’s to keep in touch with PIU and each other to discuss any achievements or problems they have or are experiencing.
  • Training resources are not always easy to find and can not be signposted for others that have not attended the training - Develop a resources tool-kit that can be easily accessed by all

Further key points included:

Many of the trainees be happy to help each other co-facilitate if their managers allowed and would be happy to represent ‘The Community’ at the Steering Group. They all strongly agreed that it would be a benefit if the course was accredited.

What will PIU do next?

  1. Gater wider opinion and prioritise the possible solutions with a short questionnaire to all past practitioner trainees
  2. Investigate what platforms would be the most appropriate for an online ‘Community’
  3. Arrange the first ‘Community meeting’ as an opportunity to update past trainees on improvements PIU have made or will be making to the way we support and engage with past trainees

I would like to say a huge thank you to all those that attended, your input was invaluable!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Lean HeHub Meeting – The University of Strathclyde

Yesterday (5 November 2015) I was at The University Strathclyde. In the morning we held a LeanHE Hub Steering Group meeting ( It was the first time we had met as a committee  since the highly successful LeanHE Hub Conference at the University of Waterloo in September. Considering the evaluation from the conference and passing the learning onto next year’s conference hosts at The University of Stirling (

We also challenged ourselves as group to ensure that we have a clear remit and offering which is appropriate for UK and International staff in Higher Education.

In the afternoon there was a seminar, attended by about 60 people from institutions across the UK and one special guest who travelled all the way from Canada. There were two sessions, the first was expertly delivered by Heather Lawrence and Dr Nicola Cairns authors of ‘A Guide to Evidencing the Benefits of Business Process Improvement in Higher Education” ( The workshop was stimulating, and included a very accessible practical session, that showed that we can all be involved in evidencing benefits of process improvement regardless of role.

The second session was delivered by Craig Martin Head of HR at Glasgow Airport, explaining how they have used a collaborative approach to improvement to ensure customer service excellence. I look forward to visiting Glasgow Airport soon!

All in all, it was a great day, I got to meet new Business Improvement colleagues from across the sector and came away inspired to make further improvements back at The University of Sheffield.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Business Improvement at Strathclyde

On Wednesday afternoon I was able to spend the afternoon with the Business Improvement Team at The University of Strathclyde. (

The team were incredibly welcoming, and willing to share experiences and information about the projects and the training they are running. I was incredibly impressed with the professionalism and the passion for improvement activities with the team.

Key areas of interest were:
 Communications Cells – the team have successfully helped over 30 teams at the University create communication cell boards and coach and support the teams to run communication cell meetings. The boards are produced in a standard format focusing on people, performance measures and continuous improvement. The team provide coaching to support teams to hold daily 15minute meetings, to ensure that all team members are clear about each other’s activities, how the team is performing against specific KPIs and to identify areas for improvement. I got to see the team run one of their meetings on the Thursday morning and was really impressed about the data produced and effectiveness of the meeting.

Embodiment of Good Practice – the team really practices what they preach, from standards for desk and office space, to good visual management and careful inventory standards of the team’s resources.

Project Room – the team are embarking on another large university project and have set up a defined, designated project space. On the walls was clear information about project scope, key information about data to inform scoping. I suspect that this well thought out space will prove invaluable to the project  (and project team) in the forthcoming months.

A big thank you to the team for their time and wisdom. They are achieving great things.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Committee Catch up in Cardiff

The UCISA PCMG committee (Project and Change Management Group) try to meet up every quarter. On Tuesday, I was pleased to attend the latest meeting that was hosted by Cardiff University.

It was the first time we had been able to meet as a committee since our event in June ( We took some time to go through the feedback from the event, which was mostly positive and very constructive. It gave us plenty of food for thought and guidance for planning our event next year.

We were also able to confirm that the latest toolkit guide has been published Early feedback suggests that the guide “Establishing a PMO in an HE Environment” is well received and is a useful resource for other institutions who are starting to set up a PMO. A lot of work goes into writing these guides, so it really helps knowing that they make a difference.

The meeting also gave us an opportunity to gauge ideas about how we can continue to work with other project and change mangers in HE.  If you have any suggestions please let us know via the mailing list (information here or on twitter @UCISA-PCMG

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Improving the Process for Managing Staff Contracts Reliant on Fixed Term Funding Within ScHARR

Last month, we ran a three-day process improvement event looking at the process for managing staff contracts reliant on fixed term funding within ScHARR. We had worked with some of the project team previously mapping and getting some baseline data for the process. The headline figure from the previous workshop is that this takes 11 full time staff a month to manage this process. Our steer for the project was to remove unnecessary duplication of effort and unnecessary delays in decision making.

During the first day of the event we invited two members of staff on the receiving end of this process to share the problems they have experienced. This encouraged the team to think about new problems outside of their own perspective. Next task was spent unpicking the original process map because the process had changed in parts or was slightly different to the previous assumptions.

We used reverse brainstorming as a tool to help the team identify improvements (alongside other good ideas they had already identified). We were particular impressed that the team identified that the existing process was highly reactive and at times dealing with failure demand. The team not only improved the existing process but also designed a workforce planning process that should mean at least 25% of staff never need to go through funding sourcing processes. The new process has a clear comms pan and set of actions to assist implementation. It is due to be implemented on 1 December 2015, so lots of hard work will be required for the next few months.

Key benefits will be:
  • A clear, standardised process for all staff involved
  • Implementation of a new workforce planning process
  • Reduction in duplicated effort
  • Removal of unnecessary approvals
  • Better use of the current systems available
  • Involvement of the appropriate staff at the appropriate steps
  • Removal of unnecessary consultation meetings
  • Removal of unnecessary redundancy letters
  • Reduction in staff time managing the process
  • Greater equity for staff on fixed term and open ended contracts
  • Key principles for moving staff from fixed term to open ended contracts

Measures to monitor the improvements include:
  • Staff satisfaction
  • Reduction in numbers of staff on fixed term contract monitoring report
  • Reduction in the amount of bridging funding used
  • Reduction in the number of redundancy letters sent out

We would really like to thank the team for all their hard work and enthusiasm throughout the project so far and are really looking forward to catching up with the team in a month's time to review the progress they have made.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Presenting at the AUA Development Conference

Last Thursday, I was at The University of York for the AUA (Association of University of Administrators) Development Conference. The day was focused on using Lean in HE and the improvements we can gain from this methodology. The plenary sessions were thought provoking, from a wide range of expert speakers.

The workshop that I led was focused on giving people a few tools that they can use for scoping a lean project. I was planning to co-present the session however; my colleague was unable to attend due to illness, this gave me some logistical challenges. So, this is a very personal blog entry not about the importance of good process, or using lean, but that in all these things we must not forget people.

I was incredibly humbled throughout the day, various colleagues (and good friends) from other institutions stepped in to help, made offers of assistance, stayed behind after the session (missing vital lunchtime) to support me. I couldn’t have delivered my session without the support of the AUA staff and The University of York who managed at short notice to get me extra flipchart paper and a lapel mic etc. Alongside the patience of the group I presented to (things took a little longer than planned), the support of a few strategically placed helpers and the people who chatted to me afterwards who also helped to clear way the post-it notes it really made a difference. A very personal thank you to everyone from me.

It has also reminded me, when we make our improvements that the actions, and the buy-in for the activities relies on a lot of people and we must not forget the activities that are required to help all of our stakeholders implement improvements.

Friday, 16 October 2015

My last day in the Process Improvement Unit

Today is my last day after spending three week in the Process Improvement Unit and now I can confirm what everyone told me when I started : I can’t wait to never see any post-its again :D

In the three weeks that I have been here, I’ve learned a lot. How to create flow charts on the computer, how to improve your workflow, what LEAN is and what the connection between Toyota and Process Improvement is.

Before I started here I’ve never really thought about how to make work easier or how much work it is to try to improve processes.  But now I think that it is really important to thinkover your workprocesses and think about how you can solve every-day problems and maybe I’ll even try some of the things I’ve learned in my company back home.

But most importantly it was a lot of fun to be here and definitely worth the experience. I also want to thank Rachel, David, Leah and Gillian for making the three weeks fly by and letting me be a part of their work.
Alisha is from Kamen, Germany. She spent three weeks with PIU undertaking a work placement shadowing the Co-ordinators  who support Process Improvement projects and training.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Process Improvement Events – why?

What are they?
We run the majority of our projects via Process Improvement Events, these are run over three to five days consecutively. Needless to say,  they can be difficult to schedule and pose some challenges for covering the day job of our attendees.

The entire project team attends the whole event, which gives consistency and continuity. The event is opened by the project sponsor who reminds the team about project scope, hope the project fits strategically into the institution and remind the team that they have been given the authority to make changes.

Staff from the Process Improvement Unit facilitate the event. We are impartial, lean thinkers who actively steer the team through the problem definition and solving process from a lean perspective.

We insist that the team set some ground rules at the beginning of the event, usually around break times, confidentiality, how decisions will be reached and use of mobile devises. This can feel quite strange at the beginning of the event but early always proves a useful way of ensuring that the team focuses and works well together.

We apply a methodical approach to our Process Improvement Events; first stage involves unpicking the process and understanding the process problems from everybody’s perspective and creating a situation where there is shared understanding and ownership of the problems. We try to get the data in advance of the event, but often have to gather more data during the event.

The next stage involves creating shared vision of the perfect process, often unattainable in the short term but it gives the team a goal for future continuous improvement activities. We also identify an improved practical process that can be implemented within about six months. Alongside this, the team produce a very specific action plan to allow implementation, a communications plan for stakeholders and specific actions around gathering future state data to measure improvement.

The team also prepare and deliver a presentation for the project sponsor. This is to achieve two main objectives, firstly to explain to the sponsor what the team has created and what actions are necessary and secondly, the team find it a helpful exercise to review, confirm and create a record of the outputs and benefits.

The events are a fantastic way of creating a strong focused team over a very short space of time, we document all of the key outputs of the event, so nothing is lost and it is accessible to all.  In my humble opinion they are the most effective way of achieving a strong project team with collective responsibility for improvement activities.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

My first week in PIU

The first week of my student placement is over and I can already tell that the next two weeks are going to be even more interesting.
Before I started my internship I didn’t know what LEAN was or how much work it is to improve processes. That’s why it was a great learning experience to begin the first week with a 3-day event involving a real case and a flowchart which I got to create on my own on the second day. Talk about responsibility…
Now in my second week I’m more involved and I even got to create paper airplanes and play with Lego (for educational purposes of course) .Not something that you do often in your everyday job.
I hope that the next two weeks are going to be as informative and varied as the first one and that I get to learn a lot more about process improvement.

Alisha is from Kamen, Germany. She is spending three weeks with PIU undertaking a work placement shadowing the Co-ordinators  who support Process Improvement projects and training.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Lincoln visit

On Tuesday we hosted a visit from the Continuous Improvement Office at The University of Lincoln. I love meeting up with fellow practitioners to share experience and best practice. There were a lot of similarities which helped us bond:
  • we both use a five day rapid improvement event model for our projects.
  • we are both delivering a mix of project work and training.
  • we’ve worked on some similar projects.
  • we are working to ensure that our approach embeds continuous improvement and not one off change.
  • we focus on process rather than IT solutions.

I was pleased that we spent the day sharing experiences about engaging our project teams, engaging academics and getting stakeholder buy-in rather than  comparing tools or specific project outcomes. It was a delight to speak to people who understand that a one-size fits all approach is not appropriate and depends on the specific process problems and the specific culture of the team/ business unit/department.

We were very impressed with the work that has been undertaken at Lincoln and look forward to visiting them in the New Year.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Lean HE Hub Conference #LeanHE2015 Driving Lean Change in Higher Education

More than 170 people from four continents attended the Driving Lean Change in Higher Education Conference. Delegates had varying amounts of experience in using Lean in Higher Education, but a goal shared by all was the desire to learn and understand more about Lean in Higher Education. There were three presentations from universities comparing and contrasting their experiences and lean journeys. The message from all seemed to be embedding Lean in HE is a not a one size fits all approach, it depends on culture, leadership, institutional history to name but a few things. It was also impressive to hear how different institutions were collaborating and supporting each other even when they had different models within their intuitions.

There was also a good selection of workshops led by experienced Lean HE professionals, I was able to attend workshops on value stream mapping, lean model cells, evidence based support for lean to name a few. The mix of workshops and larger lectures were a good balance across the two days. In every single session, and the breaks in between there was an atmosphere of learning, mutual respect and the desire to grow and sustain lean in the sector.

I came away with at least ten actions of things that we could consider doing back at Sheffield (watch this space). I also came away having met some amazing, professional and proficient people: many of whom I hope to stay in contact with.  The presentations will go on the web in the next few days

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Lean HE Hub Steering Group Meeting (September 2015)

We try to meet as a hub every quarter. Last Wednesday’s meeting was a little it different, the main order of business was preparing for the #LeanHE2015 Conference. The University of Waterloo had done all of the hard work organising the conference, as a steering group we made sure that we were all clear about the agenda, activities and the support activities we were expected to fulfil. Other items of business included firming up on some ideas we’ve had for mentoring, improvements to our website ( and an interesting and fruitful discussion about ensuring our work also focuses on teaching activities. Helping to improve teaching processes has proved to be a challenging area for many institutions, watch this space.

In the afternoon we usually host a seminar, however rather than have a seminar and conference in one week, we had a tour of The University of Waterloo’s Velocity Hub. It is an impressive place that has been set up to support student (and recent graduate) entrepreneurship. Student companies receive some space mentoring and guidance to help them successfully develop their businesses. We got to talk to some of the people and I was impressed with how focused they were (possibly because the company’s get to keep all profits and intellectual property, the university does not take a cut). The result was a very respectful, reciprocal relationship that continued to last even once the companies had moved onto bigger things.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Why Bother With Data Collection?

Why is data gathering so important?
Throughout all of our improvement projects we bore people rigid with our desire to gather data, we do this for two main reasons. Firstly it helps us and the project team to understand the process, specifically whether the process is stable and meeting customer expectations, if we find that it isn’t, it helps us to focus any improvements to address this. Secondly it is important to gather data on the process pre and post improvement in order to measure how effective any improvements have or have not been.

What are the difficulties around data collection?
What, when and how much?
It can be difficult to collect the right data at the beginning before you know what improvements will be implemented, for this reason we try to collect standard types of data for all our projects, measures that we hope to improve following any improvement project and I shall discuss these more later. The nature of the University year can make it difficult to obtain accurate data as volumes and staff workload can be very different according to the time of year e.g September. In contrast to the manufacturing environment many of the University’s processes are non-standard and ill-defined. This makes much of the data e.g. process time, staff time etc extremely variable and by not collecting enough you can get a false impression of the process.
In our experience much of the system data available is partial, either because part of the process is not carried out or recorded using the systems or because the information out of a system is only as good as the information that has gone in.
People can feel threatened by data collection because they fear it is being used to record their performance etc. It is therefore extremely important to involve everyone in data collection and make it clear that it is needed to improve a process for everyone involved and not as a comment on individuals.
Time consuming
Data collection can be extremely time consuming for staff involved in the process and those that need to analyse it after. It is therefore important to make it as easy and intuitive as possible.  

What sort of data do we collect and how?
As discussed earlier PIU have standard measures that we use for our PI projects. These measures allow us to analyse whether the process is stable. They also allow us to compare between our own projects.
  • Process time
This is the total time the process has taken from start to finish (both active and inactive). For example, a customer completed their printing estimate request form on Monday at 3pm, they received their estimate on Wednesday at 3pm. The total process time was 48hrs. This measure is particularly useful in helping you to see how stable the process is (were most done within 48hrs) and whether the customer expectation is consistently met (do they expect it within 24hrs?). You can use a range of techniques to measure the process time, sometimes this information will be available in the system, if not we often use chitties.
  • Staff time
Similar to process time but this is the time it takes for staff to actually work on the form or product. If we take the print estimating example, the estimator had to complete 5 tasks in order to produce the estimate and each step took 5mins so the staff time is 25mins. You want to get the process time as close to the staff time as possible as not only will this improve the service for the customer, it will also potentially help you to eliminate waste for the process. Chitties are also a useful technique to measure this along with process stapling (following the process from start to finish and recording how long it takes staff at each stage.
  • Volumes
When designing a new process it is important that you design one that is fit for purpose and can cope with the volume of work going through it. Volumes can be simple to record and we often ask people to keep 5 bar gates to do this.
  • Error types and rates
This includes measuring how many times the process went wrong and things had to be corrected. Errors want should be reduced in the new process and it is important to understand when and why they occurred to do this. Customer complaints can be a really useful way of identifying these.
Qualitative data can be really useful in understanding the current process and this can include talking to staff within the process about what works well and what doesn’t as well as customers of the process to understand their experiences. We use a number of different ways to gather this sort of data including; interviews, surveys and focus groups.

Collecting data is really important as it helps you to ensure you are addressing the right problems and allows you to measure success. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts’.