Thursday, 19 November 2015

‘Continuous Improvement Tools to Support Team Processes’ #myThirty30

This week we ran our ‘Continuous Improvement tools to Support Team Processes’ training for the first time and it also happened to be our first #myThirty30 training!

The training is designed to equip participants with tools they can use with their team to evaluate and improve team processes and covered problem solving techniques, the benefits of standard work and visual management.

We were anxious about delivering this training for the first time, partly because it is new but also because it involved slightly different activities to some of our other training. After a group brainstorming activity, the group were asked to think about and list the different process in their work area and consider which were standard and which could benefit from being standardised. We also asked them to draft a design for a visual management board that would benefit them and their team.

Both these exercises were quite individual and reflective which we feared participants may find a little boring. However after evaluating the training we felt that it was actually helpful to offer participants some time away from the daily distractions to reflect on and consider some of the techniques they were being taught. We also feel that it is important to encourage trainees to leave the training with something useful that they can develop and work on if they wish.

At the end of the training we asked everyone to write down one good thing about the training and one bad thing. We find this a very useful exercise because it captures attendees thoughts whilst the session is still clear in their mind and does not make it yet another task they are expected to complete when they go back to the day job. The group were very polite when feeding back aspects they did not like which does demonstrate one downside of this evaluation technique.

As part of the #myThirty30 training we also asked participants to write on a poster their answers to the question ‘How do I develop best?’. Although this will be sent back to the Staff Development team, we also found it a useful exercise. There were a variety of answers to the question including; one to one, no role playing and as a group, reminding us how important it is to offer training that appeals to a variety of learning styles and that the inclusion of individual exercises alongside group work can be beneficial.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

What Difference Does it Make?

Last month we ran a one-day training session for a finance cluster team. The focus of the day was to give them some tools and strategies for improving their work.

The training covered Introduction to Lean Principles, Value and Waste, Standard Operating Procedures, Process Mapping and Root Cause Analysis. The day culminated with team producing an action plan that helped them to prioritise making improvements in their area and they also mapped two of their core business processes.

I think it is fair to say the team were somewhat cynical about process improvement at the start of the day’s training. By the end of the session, they were incredibly enthusiastic and had been able to relate many of the things we discussed directly back to their workplace.

Over the past few weeks, we have received a few process maps from the team that we can comment on and help with presentation etc.

I bumped into the team this morning and I was “bowled over “ by their enthusiasm and their gratitude. The team have created a ‘Rant Board’ in the office, where all of the team members can alert each other to process problems. Two team meetings a month have been set aside for process improvement activities. One of the team members said, “We felt completed snowed under with work, you gave us some ways to dig ourselves out. We are so much happier as a team, and look forward to our process improvement meetings.”

It is really rewarding working with teams to help them find ways of improving their jobs on a day-to-day basis. I’m really looking forward to catching up with the team in a few months time to see if they have sustained their improvement activities.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Practitioner Trainee Focus Group

PIU are delivering practitioner training to around 20 members of staff each year; yet we have no standard method to support past trainees and there are very few opportunities for past trainees to assist one another with their process improvement (PI) activities. We fear that this can result in reduced engagement in process improvement or past trainees carrying out process improvements in isolation without support.     

We wanted to discuss with past trainees some of the barriers/problems they had experienced when carrying out process improvement and ideas on how PIU can better support them both with regards to completing their project and their long term process improvement activities.  

So this week, I invited past trainees to a focus group where we brainstormed and discussed problems they had experienced and in groups came up with many ideas for ways PIU could help to mitigate some of these and ideas that the trainees themselves could take forward.

Key Problems Identified and possible solutions:

Short Term
  • Trainees are not clear about the likely amount of time required to complete their project - PIU will outline more clearly how much time previous trainees have needed and encourage them to scope down to what they can manage in the short term.
  • There is limited time to complete the project alongside the day job - PIU and the trainee could discuss the training with the trainee’s manager to encourage understanding and support for the resource required
  • The project hand in date is not always realistic and doesn’t always account for busy periods - PIU will negotiate project hand in dates with individual trainees
Long Term
  • Limited management buy-in and support for PI in trainee areas - The trainee’s manager could sponsor them to take part in the training;
  • Limited time allowed to carry out PI - PIU could work more closely with the trainee and their manager to identify achievable areas for improvement;
  • Limited physical space for trainees to run workshops etc. - PIU could offer to share our room more widely for PI activities;
  • Trainees can feel quite isolated as there is no easy way of keeping in touch with other trainees or PIU - Develop an internal community, managed by PIU, that will allow past trainee’s to keep in touch with PIU and each other to discuss any achievements or problems they have or are experiencing.
  • Training resources are not always easy to find and can not be signposted for others that have not attended the training - Develop a resources tool-kit that can be easily accessed by all

Further key points included:

Many of the trainees be happy to help each other co-facilitate if their managers allowed and would be happy to represent ‘The Community’ at the Steering Group. They all strongly agreed that it would be a benefit if the course was accredited.

What will PIU do next?

  1. Gater wider opinion and prioritise the possible solutions with a short questionnaire to all past practitioner trainees
  2. Investigate what platforms would be the most appropriate for an online ‘Community’
  3. Arrange the first ‘Community meeting’ as an opportunity to update past trainees on improvements PIU have made or will be making to the way we support and engage with past trainees

I would like to say a huge thank you to all those that attended, your input was invaluable!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Lean HeHub Meeting – The University of Strathclyde

Yesterday (5 November 2015) I was at The University Strathclyde. In the morning we held a LeanHE Hub Steering Group meeting ( It was the first time we had met as a committee  since the highly successful LeanHE Hub Conference at the University of Waterloo in September. Considering the evaluation from the conference and passing the learning onto next year’s conference hosts at The University of Stirling (

We also challenged ourselves as group to ensure that we have a clear remit and offering which is appropriate for UK and International staff in Higher Education.

In the afternoon there was a seminar, attended by about 60 people from institutions across the UK and one special guest who travelled all the way from Canada. There were two sessions, the first was expertly delivered by Heather Lawrence and Dr Nicola Cairns authors of ‘A Guide to Evidencing the Benefits of Business Process Improvement in Higher Education” ( The workshop was stimulating, and included a very accessible practical session, that showed that we can all be involved in evidencing benefits of process improvement regardless of role.

The second session was delivered by Craig Martin Head of HR at Glasgow Airport, explaining how they have used a collaborative approach to improvement to ensure customer service excellence. I look forward to visiting Glasgow Airport soon!

All in all, it was a great day, I got to meet new Business Improvement colleagues from across the sector and came away inspired to make further improvements back at The University of Sheffield.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Business Improvement at Strathclyde

On Wednesday afternoon I was able to spend the afternoon with the Business Improvement Team at The University of Strathclyde. (

The team were incredibly welcoming, and willing to share experiences and information about the projects and the training they are running. I was incredibly impressed with the professionalism and the passion for improvement activities with the team.

Key areas of interest were:
 Communications Cells – the team have successfully helped over 30 teams at the University create communication cell boards and coach and support the teams to run communication cell meetings. The boards are produced in a standard format focusing on people, performance measures and continuous improvement. The team provide coaching to support teams to hold daily 15minute meetings, to ensure that all team members are clear about each other’s activities, how the team is performing against specific KPIs and to identify areas for improvement. I got to see the team run one of their meetings on the Thursday morning and was really impressed about the data produced and effectiveness of the meeting.

Embodiment of Good Practice – the team really practices what they preach, from standards for desk and office space, to good visual management and careful inventory standards of the team’s resources.

Project Room – the team are embarking on another large university project and have set up a defined, designated project space. On the walls was clear information about project scope, key information about data to inform scoping. I suspect that this well thought out space will prove invaluable to the project  (and project team) in the forthcoming months.

A big thank you to the team for their time and wisdom. They are achieving great things.