Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Yet another year of process improvements

Last year I reported that, after the euphoria of our first year of operation, we had experienced something of a reality check. Some projects hadn’t gone so well, and there was evidence of processes sliding back into, if not chaos, then certainly disorder.
I’ll talk about where we are this year with process improvement, but to start with I want to blow our own trumpet a little by talking about external recognition. Early in the year we were awarded a prize for ‘step change in continuous improvement’ by the Institute for Continuous Improvement in Public Services for our work in embedding process improvement in the University, and we were involved with a case study/white paper for ICIPS headed by Zoe Radnor at Loughborough University.
We were fortunate to be able to go to Waterloo University in Canada to present at the LeanHEHub conference. Our presentation was extremely oversubscribed and very well received with 93% of attendees rating it as excellent or very good. It was quite a challenge for us to organise the workshop with so many people standing rather than sitting as we’d envisaged, so we were really pleased.
In other external activities we gave our lean practitioner training to the ‘enabling the student journey’ project team at Salford, and to members of the academic registry team at St George’s College University of London. We gave successful presentations at UCISA PCMG and the AUA conference in York. We’ve contributed to the ‘evidencing benefits of Business Process Improvement’ study by the University of Strathclyde Business Improvement Team, and finally spoken to colleagues at Aberdeen and Strathclyde about our use of games to explain ‘lean’ and process improvement concepts.
Revenons a nos moutons. We had a slow start to the year as far as new projects were concerned, but this has picked up after June and we are now in the middle of setting up several new projects for our HR department. We’ve completed or nearly completed 6 projects altogether, all of them with success (as defined by our project measures). We’ve also run a large number of problem definition workshops to help teams understand and categorise problems in a particular area. These workshops have been very successful, with attendees telling us that they really help to clarify thinking and prioritise actions. Some of these workshops have led on to further projects, which is both encouraging for us, and hopefully useful for teams working with us.
Our training continues to be popular and we have now trained some 32 practitioners and around 250 in general awareness. Slowly the idea that continuous improvement is a University imperative and not a personal development opportunity may be catching hold.

Niagara Falls

Friday, 11 December 2015

Standard Animals and the PA Christmas Coffee Morning

Yesterday I ran some short thirty minute training at the CiCS PA Christmas Coffee Morning organised by Jenny Allsop and Jayne Halsey from CiCS. The aim of the training was to cover a useful process improvement topic that would also be fun and allow attendees to chat to one another. The first difficulty came when trying to select a tool that I could cover in enough detail to be useful and include an exercise all within half an hour. The second difficulty was that as the event was a drop-in so we wouldn’t know until the last minute how many people would turn up!

With this in mind, I opted to talk about the reasons for and benefits of standard work and standard operating procedures. We discuss standard work and its benefits as part of our practitioner and tools training but haven’t before delivered it as stand alone training, however I felt that the topic would be useful to those invited, could be covered reasonably quickly and would allow us to play with some Lego!

We were delighted to see so many arrive for the slot and quickly had to open another packet of fondant fancies! After a short presentation, the group split up into pairs and were each given written standard operating procedures on how to build (out of Lego) either a camel, alpaca or crocodile and an envelope containing the correct Lego to do so.

The teams were then given five minutes to complete their standard animal and I think it is fair to say, there was mixed success. Many commented that the written standard ops were difficult to follow and understand.
The teams were then asked to dismantle all their hard work and were handed a picture of the finished standard Lego animal and given five more minutes to complete their own. This round was much more successful and most of the teams completed their animals before the five minutes were up.  

After the exercise I discussed with the group which standard operating procedure they had found most useful and the majority opted for the picture, however, some preferred the written instructions. The aim of the exercise was to highlight the importance of thinking about your audience when writing your standard ops (some prefer text, some pictures) and to make them as clear and user friendly as you can.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Grey Granite

At the start of last week we went up to Aberdeen to talk to some of our Scottish colleagues about the games that we use as part of our training. They were interested in finding out whether they could use any of the ideas in the games for their own training, and we wanted to know how we could improve the games for our own use at Sheffield.
Our meeting took place on the top floor of the impressive Duncan Rice Library, with a view out to the grey North Sea. The first game we played was our ziggurat construction exercise - which meant we had to explain what a ziggurat is. The idea of the game is to show that batching up work, while it appears efficient to the individual, results in poor overall process performance. Our colleagues came up with some really interesting ideas for improvement including the idea that we use true pull without work buffers to lower the cost of inventory. They also suggested several ways in which the work process could be made more realistic - for instance people going off sick or being called away from their desk. Some of these ideas will be integrated into the game, for those occasions when we have more time.
As the meeting was split over two days we had time to talk to colleagues informally over dinner at the Adelphi Kitchen. A substantial amount of drink was consumed - although not by the present writer. The following morning was taken up with two more of our games. The first of these is ‘Runners, Repeaters and Strangers’ - which aims to show how team organisation can be used to improve the wait that work is dealt with, and which involves making and flying paper aeroplanes. We had to be careful that flight testing was not too obvious on the other side of the glass windows of our meeting room, as several VIPs were walking to and fro to another University meeting. They may well have questioned why senior Aberdeen staff were engaged in fun activities! Again some suggestions for improvements were made which we’ve taken on board. John Hogg's empties
Our final game - which we explained rather than played -  was the Gemba Gem Company simulation. This attempts to show how important it is to go and find out on the ground what the problems are, rather than jump to conclusions from garbled accounts and management meetings, where opinions rather than facts win arguments.

All in all, a useful couple of days, with ideas from all parties on improvements, and ideas for new collaborations taking shape. We came away with thoughts about a game for showing how standard work can help with quality control which we’ve already started to develop.
So although time away from the office can sometimes seem like a distraction, it’s often, as it was on this occasion, a chance to recharge batteries and get a fresh burst of enthusiasm for the never ending job of continuous improvement.