Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Leah's First Workshop

I was very excited last week to take the lead on a workshop for the first time! I have co-facilitated other workshops with either Rachel or Dave but this was the first one that I was primarily responsible for.
We were asked by The Department of Human Communication Sciences (HCS) to run a process mapping workshop. The aim of the workshop was to map the process for registering distance learning students, in order to clarify what the process is and who is responsible for which steps.

What went well?
Prior to the workshop I felt it would be helpful to meet with HCS  to allow me to better understand where their confusion around the process lay. It became clear that one of the biggest problems was that the department felt they needed to send out numerous communications to students with instructions for registering and to chase them if they did not register because they did not feel clear about what information was being sent out by Student Services. This resulted in students receiving large numbers of emails, sometimes with contradictory information.
I therefore thought that it would be helpful to look at all the different communications going out to students throughout the process and received copies prior to the workshop to look at. This helped us to make a list of all the different communications during the workshop, making it clearer for HCS what information was going out to students and when.
It can sometimes be difficult to know, prior to a workshop, who exactly needs to be there before the scope of the problems and processes to be looked at is decided. It was reassuring to see during the workshop, that we had the right people around the table, allowing us to map the processes accurately.  
We delivered the agreed outputs during the workshop, coming out with a map of the processes, a list of communications to students, ideas for improvement and an action plan of further work.
The timings within the workshop also seemed to work allowing us to cover everything that we needed to without it feeling too rushed.

What will I do differently next time?
There is always a risk of ‘scope creep’ during a workshop as it can often be difficult to know the extent of the problems beforehand. Next time, I will encourage clearer agreement from the group about what is and isn’t in scope for that day earlier, allowing us to better manage our timing. I was not clear enough about the ground rules for the day. For example, I did not explain the use of yellow post-its for questions and green post-its for good ideas. This meant that the group were not clear where they should be recording their thoughts.
We mapped onto flip chart paper instead of on the wall which seemed to work well, but I still have mixed feelings about mapping onto paper. Although it does encourage the group to be more involved with the mapping as they can all be amending and updating it, I do think that it only works for smaller groups, otherwise it is difficult for everyone to see what is happening, it is also more difficult to make any amendments.          

I really enjoyed running my first workshop and I am looking forward to putting in place the improvements I have identified for my next one.        

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Improving our Training

We have just finished delivering our process improvement eight module training to the fourth group of staff. At the end of the eighth module we get the group to undertake an evaluation exercise. We were really pleased with the feedback which was largely positive. The group particularly liked the balance of theory and practical exercises, they felt that the sessions were the right length and the delivery style.

Improvements we are going to make are:

  • Emphasise that people are welcome to put in time with us (outside of the training time) to talk about their individual project.
  • Consider changing our gemba exercise to to a university example.
  • Create some more practical exercises to illustrate value and waste and Theory of Constraints.
  • Review the content of some of the modules, to see if we can remove some of the tools rather than rushing it.
  • Review the scheduling of the training, so that we don’t have more than one session a week .

The next set is scheduled for April, we are looking forward to delivering the improvements.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Working with other universities

We were delighted (with a hefty pinch of trepidation) to be asked to deliver our eight-module practitioner training to a group of 12 staff at The University of Salford. The staff form part the Enabling the Student Journey project team, who had identified a need to improve their process improvement capability.

Immediate challenges for us including scaling up some of the training exercises, we tend to deliver it to smaller groups, so some of our training exercises had to be adjusted. Also we tried to amend some of the training slides to reflect Salford's processes (and images). For the first time we also gave paper handouts (at the request of the team), we usually just give read access to the slides on Google drive.

Delivering the training has been great fun because so many members of the team are very focused on identifying ways to improve the student facing processes. For me it has been some of the practical things that have been most challenging for me. We have a fantastic room for process improvement activities here at Sheffield, so delivering the training in different classrooms, with different AV has caused me some anxiety. We deliver two modules a day, so I worry that staff do not have sufficient time to reflect (although I have no evidence for this). Also, I want to make further refinements to the training exercises now that we have feedback from a larger group.

For me the best part has been reaffirmation that here in the UK, higher education institutions are well placed for sharing good practice, and I applaud the openness of the Salford staff when discussing various problems (which of course I'll take to the grave). One of the most interesting reminders is that process improvement capability in HE is absolutely vital, you cannot take an improved process from another university and impose it elsewhere, we need to understand current state (and culture) and identify value in the eyes of their students and staff.

There are many shared challenges for process improvement in HE, and building on existing networks to share training and good practice is really helpful. What we must avoid doing is giving each other one size fits all solutions, and continue to develop our problem identification and solving skills instead. We're really enjoying doing some work outside of the university, and hope that we'll also be able to improve the training we deliver to Sheffield staff as a result of this experience.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Coaching with Steve Yorkstone.

We aim to continuously improve here in PIU as well as other people, and we often try and block out an hour in order to improve our services (training, workshops and process improvement projects) as well as our internal processes. Sometimes we benefit from some external help. Steve Yorkstone has been working with The University of Sheffield since 2011, when he facilitated the two lean pilot projects. Since then he has acted as a critical friend and coach.

The aim of our day was to reflect on the changes within PIU (many of you will have read about this http://processimprovementunit.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/new-year-new-piu.html) to ensure we are clear about roles and responsibilities, to review our documentation to ensure it has not become overly bureaucratic and to kick start some training we are designing to explain standard work.

In the morning we had an icebreaker, which helped us explore each team member’s understanding of the purpose of PIU, and our own roles. The exercise involved music but fortunately (for some) no singing. Then we explored our visual management to ensure that it helps all members of the unit manage and plan our work. We have spent a lot of time improving our visual management and we were pleased to be told that it was mostly fit for purpose - although we still identified six further opportunities for improvement.
Like so many of our project teams we had demanded a bit too much from the day, so we decided to leave looking at our documentation for the time being. We spent the afternoon reflecting on standard work. A particular difficulty we have is explaining to experts (e.g. counsellors, student advice workers, developers, academics etc.) how and when standard processes can either free up their time to get on with the day job, or is the right thing to do for our customers. We made a good start on creating some training, and we look forward to testing it out on a few cics-chat volunteers in the future.

We also spent some time talking about the direction of the unit in the next twelve months, some of us more positive than others. We were all agreed that the training we offer, the process improvement projects we deliver offer good value, next steps may include higher value projects and looking at how we can work with our steering group to influence strategy (watch this space).
Key learning/reminders for me during the day were:
  1. Improving processes is hard even when it’s your day job.
  2. Good communication can be hard even when a team is small and sees each other relatively frequently.
  3. A day of introspection needs to be carefully managed: it is all too easy to only look inwards towards the team and forget about our customers, and the wider university community.
  4. Even when we’ve taken a lot of time to improve something e.g. our visual management board, there are always improvements that can be made, and it is really helpful to have a critical friend who can help improvement.
  5. Taking some time out with the team to reflect on purpose and role is a fantastic way of getting people to voice their hopes and concerns: expert facilitation means that they can get heard.
Thank you Steve!

Steve Yorkstone has exceptional knowledge of Lean in Higher Education. He has worked at St Andrews and Edinburgh Napier University. He is the chair of the Lean HE Hub and editorial board member of the Lean Management Journal. www.stephenyorkstone.com

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Continuous Improvement week and what a way to start!

Back in January we were delighted to hear that The Process Improvement Unit had been shortlisted for an award, ‘Step Change in Embedding Continuous Improvement’, by The Institute for Continuous Improvement in the Public Sector. As a result we were invited to attend their annual conference and awards ceremony last week at York Racecourse.

The conference marked the start of Continuous Improvement Week and what a way to start! PIU received the silver award in the Step Change category after our application shone out from a record number of applications from organisations including the NHS and central government. The award was in recognition of the work the PIU have been doing in order to embed continuous improvement across the University through our process improvement projects, workshops and the process improvement training that we deliver throughout the year.

The focus of the conference was to reflect on the benefits of collaboration with colleagues, customers, communities and suppliers through a combination of talks and workshops with guest speakers from a variety of institutions with many different experiences. Chris Daykin from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution outlined the factors which led the charity to implement continuous improvement: an expansion in the roles of the RNLI to include coastal safety and flood rescue, a growth in its costs and a reduction in its donations following the financial crisis. Chris also discussed the ups and downs they have experienced so far and the lessons they have learnt, most significantly the need to embed a culture of continuous improvement across the organisation, from senior managers to front line staff, in order to effectively deliver future improvements and sustain and improve those that have already been implemented. Professor Zoe Radnor from the University of Loughborough discussed the importance of good customer service in Public Services and the need to improve processes both for staff within the organisation and its customers. This message was echoed by Dr Owen Jones from the University of Buckingham who whilst working with the Ministry of Justice observed the importance of aligning the priorities of senior management and frontline staff in order to improve the experience and care their ‘customers’ receive.

A recurrent theme throughout the conference was the need for active senior management involvement both in the embedding of a culture of continuous improvement and in tackling strategic process problems.

There is definitely a lot for us to think about following today, particularly, how can we get our leaders to support and champion process improvement and use it to support their staff and improve the service experience of our customers. Throughout many of our projects we have seen how difficult it can be to decide who ultimately are customers are and many of the talks today highlighted the importance of answering this question clearly before rushing into any improvements, as any changes need to be considered with the customer and their experience in mind.