Thursday, 27 August 2015

Three Years of Continuous Improvement

Three Years of Continuous Improvement
It’s been three years since the Process Improvement Unit was first set up. What have we done with our time?


ocean dragon by AsatorAriseWe think we’ve created, at least with those people with whom we’ve worked, a real sense that change is possible. Many of our projects have dealt with seemingly intractable problems, built up over a number of years. The history of poor process and failed improvements has a draining effect on people’s ability to think about better ways of working, and indeed, encourages a sense that change is not only impossible but undesirable - being fraught with difficulties and unforeseen dangers.
Why is what we do any different? Of course, sometimes it isn’t, and below I’ll detail some of the many ways in which we’ve failed. But where we do succeed, I think it’s because we encourage our project participants to see that there can be a better way to organise work, and we give them the confidence to put some of their ideas into practice.
We’ve been particularly pleased with the work we’ve done with the Counselling Service for instance, where we helped them to reshape the way that students come into the service, and at the same time removed the waiting list which took up oceans of counsellors’ and administrators’ time.
We have also been pleased with our work with Finance and HR on some of their processes, particularly with the way that they have been willing to alter the location of work in order to achieve greater efficiency.
Our training has been well received wherever we have given it, with participants declaring that it’s the best training they’ve been on, and some of the most useful training they’ve had at the University. We’re really pleased with this validation of our efforts, because we know that it’s only through passing skills on and embedding a culture of continuous improvement that we can hope to effect real and lasting change in the University’s way of working.
Original (3000 × 3000)Our work has been recognised externally, both by formal award, and by colleagues from other institutions such as Salford and St George's London signing up for bespoke training. While recognition by the sector might not be directly beneficial to the University, it surely adds to the acceptance of the ‘lean’ way of thinking, and therefor makes sustainability and improvement more possible.


Problems are still plentiful. We haven’t always convinced our sponsors of the importance of following through on commitments to resolve resource constraints, with the result that projects have stalled at the implementation phase.
With increasing numbers of projects implemented, we’re aware that we haven’t time to re-check on progress and problems with process, and we fear that in some areas entropy has set in - as is inevitable if continuous improvement is not a daily activity. As King Tang (pictured)  said, ‘if you would improve yourself, do so from day to day - yeah, let there be daily improvement’.
We still face the difficulty that process improvement is seen by the University as an add-on - not something which is at the heart of what we do. In spite of initial enthusiasm at senior level, practical support is not forthcoming. Indeed we sometimes feel that we are acting as window-dressing (every University needs a continuous improvement office of some sort after Diamond I). In spite of continuous efforts to become part of the management training programme, we have had no success.

The Future

What’s in store for the next three years?
Much more training - if we have to work from the bottom up, as seems inevitable, then training leading to wider awareness of the philosophical approach seems the best route to sustainability.
We will also be revisiting the idea of embedding ourselves in a department to help them review their major processes. We have started working with HR operations on this tack, and are hopeful that it will show the visible difference for the University that enables us to tackle bigger and more strategic projects.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Process Improvement Training

PIU currently offer training in Process Improvement Awareness, Process Mapping, Creative Problem Solving and Lean Leadership in addition to our 8 Module Practitioner training. Colleagues can find out more about our training on our website and can sign up to these training sessions via the University's Learning Management System.

In addition to our standard offering we have started to see an increase in requests for tailored training for teams and groups, both internally and externally, covering techniques and theory directly relevant to the process problems experienced by the team.

We have found that there are some real benefits to whole teams undertaking process improvement training together. Firstly it can sometimes be difficult for an individual who has taken part in some of our training to go back and make improvements without some shared understanding with their colleagues of Lean and the PI techniques. With this shared understanding making improvements and solving process problems can be much easier. It is also a useful opportunity for teams to have the time and neutral space to discuss some of their process problems and how they might make changes and improvements.

Topics often requested include:
  • An introduction to Lean
  • Process mapping
  • Value and waste
  • The benefits of standard operating
  • Problem definition
  • Visual management

However training does often require a significant input of time by the attendees, usually half a day, in order for the theory and techniques to be covered in enough detail to be of practical use.

If you would like more information about how PIU could help your team, just get in touch via our email

Monday, 3 August 2015

Improving the prospectus production process

Last week we ran a four-day event to improve the process for the production of the prospectus. This process involves over 100 members of university staff and is a key recruitment document for the university. The production of the undergraduate prospectus is governed by key recruitment events, which means there are production deadlines that cannot be missed.

We spent the first part of the event unpicking the current process so that we could get a shared understanding of the process and its problems. Our sponsor had given us a very clear scope, but we still found ourselves sometimes unpicking the prospectus as a product (i.e. the sort of information it contains) rather than the production process. The problems we agreed to improve were: reduce the administration in the process so that more time could be devoted to value added work (such as creating clear, interesting content), remove some of the rework at proof stages, make it clearer to academic departments what content was required, make the sharing of key recruitment data easier, explore ways of proofing on one document rather than update on may different documents, having one source of data and starting to prepare the content for the online prospectus earlier in the process.

The event benefited from having some key staff from Recruitment and Corporate Affairs attend the Wednesday afternoon session to create a four-year vision. By the end of Wednesday we had a shared view about the problems we were going to address ad a shared view about the future.  

We used an agile prioritisation tool (MoSCoW) to prioritise our good ideas, and then drilled down to reach consensus about which good ideas would be implemented for this year. The improvements for this September will be:
  • A briefing meeting for academic departments and professional services so that everyone understands the brief for prospectus production.
  • More and targeted 1-1 meetings with academic departments to create good quality content.
  • A move to one source of data.
  • Prescriptive/specific templates for departments who are providing the print Marketing team with information.
  • Better use of Google documents (rather than emailing and filing word documents and spread sheets), shared with key staff.
  • Use an Online Proofing system.
  • 2 stage proofing (to reduce rework).
  • Bring forward digital update (where possible).

Measures for this project will include staff satisfaction, increased number of departmental sign-offs at first stage and a reduction in administration time in the process.  We look forward to catching up with the team in one month’s time to review progress.