Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Mayhem and Meetings in Manchester

On Monday, I was over at Manchester University for a couple of meetings.

The day did not start well,I was delayed by poor process at Manchester Piccadilly train station: there had been a decision to check all tickets, but insufficient ticket checkers had been allocated to this process, so a queue built up, it also created problems for passengers trying to get off the travelator. A few of us moved the portable barriers and left via a different exit (waving my ticket in he vague director of a station employee).

My first meeting was with the process improvement and change team. As a team they were set up at a similar time to us in the PIU, I hope that the meeting was the first step in us starting to share good practice: certainly many of our challenges seemed to be very similar. I was also able to refer them to the the lean he hub ( and UCISA Project and Change Management Group (PCMG) ( for wider community of practice engagement.

Next meeting was the UCISA PCMG committee meeting. We had a very professional overview of the work of the project team from Roberto Confessore (Head of Projects). We also had an interesting presentation from the Association of Project Managers who have set up a special interest group on change management. We look forward to collaborating with them in the future.

The main business of the day was preparing for our first event which will be on 10 June We also have blogged about this here

We also looked at our group comms and stats, which show steady improvement both in people accessing the tool kits we've produced and in social media usage. Perhaps my favourite part of the meeting was catching up with the committee members, hearing about the projects they are involved in and sharing insights and practice.

You will be pleased to know that the journey home passed without event.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Service Excellence Conference 2015

Last week PIU attended the Service Excellence Conference at Bournemouth University, tying in well with the LEAN in HE Hub Steering Group meeting which was held on the previous day.

The conference had an engaging variety of speakers, both from the academic world and from industry. It began with an ‘On the sofa’ discussion with Vice-Chancellor Professor John Vinney and Pro Vice Chancellor Professor John Fletcher who outlined the importance of Service Excellence within The University of Bournemouth and how The University was embedding service excellence across the organisation to improve the student experience.  Further speakers included Professor Keith Brown on self-leadership and culture and Dr Jutta Tobias from Cranfield University on Mindful Excellence. During a picnic lunch, there was the opportunity to visit student led exhibits and chat to other attendees about the work they have been doing within their organisations.

The main points I have taken away from the conference was the importance of engaging everyone in change and listening to the ideas and experiences of others, as opposed to blindly forcing through your own without consideration. These sentiments strongly held by PIU and are at the core of our work.

The conference was a good opportunity to hear from other organisations, in particular The University of Bournemouth, about their latest work and ideas around service excellence, which we can adapt to our work here at The University.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Lean HE Hub Steering Group

We find it really helpful being part of the Lean HE Hub steering group.  The University of Bournemouth’s Service Excellence Team hosted today’s steering group meeting. The main business was preparing for the conference which will be held in Canada in September The conference programme promises lots of really useful sessions for lean HE practitioners, and the steering group came up with lots of suggestions for well regarded speakers. We also started to discuss the conference for 2016, we should be able to announce the host very soon.
My main takeaway from the meeting was the opportunity to discuss key issues that are occurring in HE institutions globally. Higher Education has very diverse needs and drivers, as a community of lean practitioners the common themes we identified were:
·      Standardisation
·      Data and benefits realisation
·      Leadership
The opportunity to have both formal and informal discussion about these themes was really helpful and has given me “food for thought” about improvements I can bring back to The University of Sheffield. Watch this space!

Creative Problem Solving

Yesterday I was really pleased that PIU were invited to present at a Faculty of Science Development Day. This was a full faculty away day for administrative and technical staff. We co-facilitated the session with the HR staff development team. The theme of the presentation was Creative Problem Solving, a subject I have very strong views on.

I started by talking about root cause analysis and introduced the group to the five whys, which was well received. I then introduced three different tools:
1.     “Chunking” – helping the group to effectively scope an improvement project by breaking it down into manageable parts
2.     Reverse brainstorming  - I’m acutely aware that it can be difficult to break through negative thought patterns that can stymy creative problem solving. I find reverse brainstorming a really effective tool to help people move away from only thinking about one way of fixing things
3.     Affinity mapping – once you have lots of ideas, problems, services etc. putting these into key themes or group so that they become actionable.

Each table had a problem challenge that was generated from discussion earlier in the day. Our main aim was that all staff had chance to try all of the techniques and hopefully find at least one of them useful.

I also really enjoyed linking up with our staff development team to co-deliver the presentation and I hope that this will be the first of many opportunities.

I’d be really interested in hearing about other people’s favourite creative problem solving tools and techniques.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The Continuously Improving University

We had a meeting recently with our VC to update him on our progress, and during the course of the conversation we raised the issue common to improvement units in the University and other sectors:sustainability. We have started to find, as we anticipated, and as many academics and practitioners have found, that improvements gained are not always maintained, and that in a culture where continuous improvement is a desirable, if considered at all, the natural tendency can be to assume that improvements are final rather than temporary. It’s also frustrating but common to find that even amongst project teams who ‘get’ the idea of single piece flow, batching up work soon takes over when work builds up.

So, while we are justifiably proud of the improvements we’ve helped to bring about, we’re also conscious that there’s a lot more to be done. In our original terms of reference we clearly had in mind that training and staff development was a key part of our role, and our training programs have been recognised to the extent that other universities are making use of our services. But this is simply not enough.

What we want to help build is a University that does not require management initiatives, customer excellence programmes, performance management schemes, Service Level Agreements and benchmarking exercises to improve, but where improvement comes from the desire and the will of the people inside the organisation.

It’s a bold and possibly foolhardy aim, especially in a highly federal structure like the University, but we believe that it’s one that everyone should be able to sign up to (there aren’t many people who really like wrestling with bad processes and responding to endless queries when things go wrong, although people do enjoy firefighting and getting rewarded for it). But it’s a long-term project, and University senior management have to lead it actively in order for it to stick.
So what are we doing to get things going? We’re going to recommend the setup of a small group of senior leaders to develop a 5 year plan. Their task will be:
  • to look at ways of making planning round proactive rather than reactive
  • to embed ‘lean’ thinking as part of academic and professional services culture
  • to build a culture where process informs strategy just as strategy informs process
  • to look at way of rewarding continuous improvement rather than heroic firefighting
  • to identify major value streams and assess possibilities for improvement

In a year’s time we will have made a good start on this, and in two years we’ll already be the go-to University for others in the sector who want to see how continuous improvement is done.