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’.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Processes Crossing the Pond

We spent most of yesterday travelling to the Lean HE Hub conference. It gave us the opportunity to observe a number of processes. Initially, we were delayed by traffic on the motorway this is an example we often use to describe problems with process flow (it was much more frustrating to experience it first hand). 

We had two flights with the same airline, the boarding processes were different at both airports which led us to question why there isn't a standard process (no answers yet). The chaotic process of checking people as they go through passport control could also be improved, the process had queues, confusion and sometime apprehension: it is an important process that has a number of potential opportunities for improvement. 

There were a multitude of problems, but my main takeaway was that most people we met were involved in processes which they often have little overview or control. Perhaps, some lean training for the staff and their leaders could help people view the processes differently? A fundamental part of any lean improvement is that the improvement should be "end to end" i.e. for the entire process and win-win i.e. an improvement for staff and customers. Implementing and sustaining lean will be at the heart of a conference theme, I'll continue to blog about some of the outputs. Follow #LeanHE2015 for for information.