Thursday, 28 May 2015

100 Hours Student Placement - Update So Far

We were fortunate enough to be selected by the Careers Service to run a 100hrs student placement project. Its aim is to look at ways of improving student collaboration, particularly with Process/Continuous Improvement Projects. We wanted to know how the Unit can better engage with students when improving processes that directly affect or involve them and the most effective ways to feedback to students on any changes and improvements that are implemented.

Students play a critical part in enhancing and improving the service The University provides through their participation, evaluation and feedback. Currently, we often struggle to obtain a reliable sample of representative feedback, making it difficult for us to get the students’ (customers’) perspective. Listening to the ‘voice of the customer’ is fundamental to our process improvement projects and to designing a process that delivers value to the customer, so we felt that this was an area we needed to look into.

Our student, Anna, started with us last month and has already done a great deal of work! We are very time limited as we are approaching the end of term so were conscious that we needed to get all the student-based data gathering completed sooner rather than later. With this in mind, Anna started to identify students who could be invited to attend a focus group, ensuring representation from across the different faculties, with the help of the departments. Running the focus group proved to be an extremely valuable exercise, and the group came up with many reasons why students do not engage with giving feedback when requested, and 18 different ideas for how we might encourage greater participation in feedback. Following the focus group, Anna designed a questionnaire to put some of the ideas generated to a wider sample of students, and to gather further information about the possible reasons students might not participate. She has kept it short and simple with focussed questions, in-line with the focus group outputs.

Following the collection and analysis of the data, Anna will be creating some ‘customer personae’, with the help of the outputs from the more detailed student interviews that are underway. We hope that these will help us and our project teams to better empathise with and understand our students. Thinking about the needs and feelings of a fictional persona, helps to understand what a real person values and requires from a process, ensuring we design a process with the student (customer) in mind. We also hope to identify areas where the feedback loop could be improved.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Process Improvement Workshops

Why are workshops helpful?

They offer an opportunity to focus on a process and its problems (and opportunities) by the attendees, which can then be clearly communicated to colleagues outside of the workshop more widely. By having representatives from each part of the process at the workshop it allows people to put a ‘face to a name’ making communication of future problems and questions easier. Impartial facilitation helps to keep everyone focussed on what needs to be done, ensuring that the time is spent usefully and objectives are met. As we are impartial and do not necessarily know the details of the process, we can ask the ‘silly’ questions around why things are done the way they are. We are experts who understand process design, and are able to give process guidance and advice. They also give staff time, to properly review the process, rather than trying to squeeze it into short ad hoc meetings. We document the outputs from the workshops (usually within three working days) so that all attendees have a record of the outputs.

What does a successful PI workshop have?

  • Representatives from each area of the process -  to allow a detailed and clear understanding of each process step. Usually no more that 12 people, otherwise it is difficult to ensure equal input from everyone there
  • Engagement by everyone on the team - prior to the workshop, the team needs to be clear why they have been asked to give up a whole day and why it is important
  • Respect for people - by this we mean listening to everyones input and respecting their knowledge and expertise
  • A space where people feel comfortable to question one another and to come up with ideas for improvement.
  • Clear objectives - what is the aim of this workshop and what does it need to deliver?
  • Strict timings - to ensure that everyone gets a chance to input their knowledge and experience and that the set objectives are met by the end. This will mean that issues that are out of scope of the workshop are discussed at a different time.
  • Management support - this may not mean that all suggestions for improvement are agreed to by management, but it is important that the outcomes of the workshop are considered and attendance is supported.
  • Clear outputs and SMART actions to ensure that the excellent work carried out and the time sacrifice by the team is worthwhile.

What are the possible downsides?

  • Short amount of time to solve sometimes large and engrained problems - this does mean that more work may need to be done by the team following the workshop.
  • Need the right people there - It can be difficult to ensure that the right people are present at the workshop, particularly if you are not clear what the scope of the workshop is or the problems to be addressed. Without the right people present at the workshop you can miss detail within the process and key areas for improvement. Having too many people there can just end in crowd control.
  • Unlike with our standard projects there is not usually a review period following workshops, it therefore the responsibility of the team to review the actions to ensure they are completed.
  • There is no senior sponsor, so often the team have to get authority (authorization to make the changes post workshop)
  • Very little data about how the process is currently working, few measures to identify whether improvements have been identified and incorporated.
  • No time for training about lean thinking or process mapping training
  • No time to create a wider vision about how the process should be working (which means that continuous improvement can be harder to sustain)

For more information about the different types of workshops we offer just click here

Friday, 15 May 2015

Creative Problem Solving Training

Yesterday, we ran our first Creative Problem Solving Training Course. We cover a lot of problem solving skills and idea prioritisation as part of our eight module practitioner training

The training covered the following skills:
  • 5 Whys
  • Honest men
  • Problem solving
    • Affinity mapping
    • Reverse brainstorming
    • De Bono’s thinking hats
  • Ideas prioritisation:
    • VSAFE
    • Pareto
    • Decision Matrix
    • 10-4 Voting

The training was well received, the only improvements identified were to make the session slightly longer and think about ways of getting people to try out a couple more of the tools.  We really enjoyed delivering the training and were really pleased with the feedback we received.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Using Ketso as a tool for action

We recently hired a Ketso ( set for a month.  Ketso was developed in the 1990’s and originated in Lesotho and South Africa. Ketso is Lesotho for action. It was developed as a tool to give minority people a voice.

The kit comes in a bag, which makes it easy to take to individual workshops. It consists of several large felt mats, with a variety of shapes (ovals, leaves, parallelograms) that can be written on using the non-permanent markers. 




We used the sets at a recent Lean HE Hub workshop ( and for a review with one of our projects.





·      It made a nice change from using post it notes

·      The different colour leaves provided good visual management for each stage of the process

·      The branches allowed us to theme ideas and problems

·      The prioritisation icons were helpful for identifying actions

·      The process allowed for both individual reflection and group discussion

·      It is useful for round table discussions/workshops



·      The leaves were quite small, so it wasn’t always easy to see what people were writing

·      The work was round a table, so it wasn’t always easy to see what was on the leaves at the opposite point

·      The leaf colour was quite muted, and didn’t always inspire creativity

·      The ink on the leaves smudged

·      The are a finite amount of branches which can be restrictive

·      Once we had finished the work, the leaves on the mats did not travel well, many were displaced which made it difficult to type up the results

·      Due to group size, we used two mats, it was difficult to join up the work of the two groups

It’s always fun to try new creative tools, and the prioritisation element of the set certainly gave me some ideas about things we could use in the future.  However, for me, the power of the post-it note still rules as number one.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

PIU Hosting the York CoP Spring Event

As members of the Yorkshire Lean Community of Practice, PIU were delighted to host the spring event last week. York CoP is a York based community of Practice (CoP) concerned with Lean management, process improvement, service excellence and a number of other continuous improvement tools and techniques.

Yorkshire LEAN was set up following the 2014 Lean Management Conference, hosted at the University of York. The CoP is designed to provide a network and forum for people to share tools, techniques, ideas and experiences around the lean process agenda across Yorkshire.

Every couple of months a member of the CoP hosts an event, which usually consists of a chance to network with other members and guests, a talk by an external speaker or a member and a workshop outlining a technique/tool.

The spring event included a talk delivered by Rachel McAssey, outlining who PIU are, what we do and the services we offer, with some examples of past projects. This was followed by a workshop led by myself on ‘Scoping a Project’.  After discussing the importance of scoping a project and the key pieces of information you need in order to adequately scope the main focus of the workshop was on writing a problem statement. We split the group into teams and asked them to write a problem statement based on a series of problems relating to the comment, ‘It is difficult for people to regularly participate in community of practices and other informal networks’. We asked them to use the Take 15 technique to help them formulate a problem statement. This technique helps you to formulate a succinct problem statement as a group. It encourages input from each individual and an output that has been formulated and agreed by the group as a whole. By designing a succinct problem statement (in fifteen words or less) you allow your problem to be clearly and consistently communicated. If you would like to try this yourself or see how it is done, you can visit the tools page on our website at and download the ‘How to’ guide.

Many thanks to all those who attended, it was lovely to see people from across Higher Education, Industry, the NHS and Local Council. I hope you all found it useful! If you would like to hear more about the York CoP and their upcoming events, please visit their blog at