Monday, 19 December 2016

Enjoy a Lean Christmas with all the trimmings

A contradiction in terms?  Not necessarily.  The principles of lean are concerned with adding value, doing what matters and achieving
results that are better for everyone concerned.  Surely this is what Christmas is all about.  If one of the core pillars of lean is the Deming cycle of PDCA Plan – Do – Check – Act (or PDSA with Study in place of Check) lets look at how this might help us have the best Christmas possible. 
For our Lean Christmas how about the following as a model for success:

 Plan for a successful Christmas by:

  • What presents do people really want?
  • What food do we all like?
  • Who is coming?
  • What needs doing when?
  • How do we share the tasks?
  • What does a great Christmas mean for everyone?

 Do have a fantastic Christmas:

  • Delegate things
  • Share the load
  • Have fun together
  • Listen to understand

Check/Study what works, what doesn't, and:

              • Be flexible
              • What went well?
              • What could be better?
              • What next time?
              • ABC *

Act to improve:

  • Avoid waste (presents people don't want, food uneaten)
  • Avoid argument (ABC again)
  • Adjust to help everyone
  • Play games (charades anyone?)
  • Enjoy?

Oh, my 'ABC' ?
Well it’s my mnemonic to keep me from blowing a fuse when old Uncle Vernon drinks all my best whisky or my sister in law’s kid’s dog eats all the turkey leftovers.  It goes like this:

So, if I ask myself what I believe about the events and people as my hackles rise (are they really malicious, unhelpful, against me..... or, perhaps, just very appreciative of my whisky and having lots of fun with the dog).  This lets me consider how I want to respond - is my best action really to hit the roof and upset everyone, or take a deep breath and remind myself that it really is Christmas.

Best wishes for a fantastic, fun and values driven Christmas.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Sweet and Tender Process

In the words of The Smiths* 
He was a sweet and tender hooligan, hooligan
And he said that he'd never, never do it again  
And of course he won't (oh, not until the next time)”
- a song about good intentions [lenient sentencing] but with a knowledge that the perpetrator will reoffend. Apart from an obscure reference to the word tender, I though about this song because people often have good intentions to stick to a standard process but it is almost inevitable the they will deviate from the process.

Last week we have worked with a project team to look at the tender process. The problem with the process that we identified was that there was not a standard process for the team to follow and this led to an inconsistent customer experience. There was also a steer for better category management (category management involves managing a category of good/products/services and ensuring that spending and contracting is efficient and effective.  Working with the suppliers and market to build an awareness of innovation and best practice that may deliver value for money for the institution).

Key deliverables for the project are:
1.     A standard procurement process which enables effective category and supplier management
2.     Removal of unnecessary data and work duplication in the procurement process
3.     Clear communication points for customers of the tender process
4.     A standard suite of templates for use in the tender process

The team uncovered a huge amount of variation of practice and at a times it was difficult to disaggregate whether the variations were caused by type of tender (e.g. good/services/ EU) or personal working arrangements. There was consensus that more activity could be done up front in the process to ensure that customers provide the team with better information and to enable the category manager to produce a procurement timeline. There were opportunities for removal of data duplication and onerous reporting. The team also identified that more and involvement at evaluation stage could mitigate risk to the university and better support our customers. The final improvement was building in a feedback loop to ensure that continuous improvement is inbuilt into the process.

Key benefits of the changes include:
·      Formalised category management to emphasise the best buying practices for the university
·      Clear definition of roles for people in the process
·      Clearly articulated timescales to help/meet customer expectations and help procurement workload planning
·      Consistent customer experience throughout the process
·      Reduction of data duplication which will reduce the risk of error

The benefits are likely to take a while to measure and identify due to legislation which informs the timeline for tendering, so we will be keen to work witht he team to ensure that the benefits are evidenced.
The team have set themselves a deadline for implementation, which is the 31 January 2017, and have a number of actions that will support this. It is likely that the university will start to see the improvements from the tender process within the next few months. The team have also agreed to meet on a monthly basis to continue to review and refine the process, and endeavour to continue to work in a standard way.

*”Sweet and Tender Hooligan” The Smiths, 1985

Friday, 2 December 2016


Last week I was in Brighton for #CISGPCMG16 “From vision to embed – going all the way with institutional change”. The conference was a first for the two UCISA groups (Corporate Information Systems and Project and Change Management Group) to co-host a conference.

There were a host of keynotes and showcases focused on change in Higher Education. Particular learning points/ areas of note for me were:
Interesting case studies on how the University of Brighton and the University of Salford are focusing and pursuing change in their institutions – a reminder that we must always reflect on institutional culture and requirements before embarking on a change.

My Director of IT @cloggingchris gave an entertaining look back over twenty years of being an IT Director and managed to remind us all just how much change we have all been managing over the years.

I found all of the keynotes and business showcases really helpful in generating ideas on things we could try back here in Sheffield. I really love working in a sector that shares good practice so freely and honestly. My top takeaways from the conference are:
1.     Think about a more strategic approach to getting student engagement in improvement activities
2.     Consider how we can prepare our project sponsors more effectively for sponsoring our improvement projects (and better support them throughout the project)
3.     Improve implementation stages and consider what information people running service desks etc. may benefit from at implementation stage
4.     Identify ways to help project teams have greater autonomy; they will be more responsive and reactive to change.
5.     Remember to use the toolkits and resources on the UCISA webpages
On a personal note, I was really pleased to see the published version of the Establishing Process Improvement Capability guide #EPIC that I co-authored with Steve Yorkstone.
We had some really positive feedback from people at the conference, we’d really appreciate further feedback, so please do take a look.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Operational Excellence Network

On Thursday, I accompanied Christina Edgar (Deputy Director of Student Services) and Lynsey Hopkins (Head of Admissions) to an Operational Excellence Network meeting at Kings College London. The event was run by Processfix who had trained Christina and Lynsey (amongst many others) in process improvement tools and facilitation when they were at Warwick University. I was keen to learn more.

The day was a good mix of speakers: Jules Cross from Processfix gave an enthusiastic welcome, Tessa Harrison from Kings College talked about their 18month journey (to date) in putting students and service excellence at the heart of their activities. Some interesting ideas were shared including having continuous improvement on job descriptions – so that we can ensure that we recruit staff that are keen and equipped to contribute to improvement activities. I also liked the idea of having students on interview panels – not only does this give students some experience of being on a panel but it will offer an interesting and important view when recruiting new staff.

Keith Harrison from Birbeck College gave a lively and engaging presentation about why an IT solution is not the answer. I think that most of us who work in HE have been guilty of looking at computer systems rather than processes and I found myself smiling and nodding when Keith gave an overview of his journey to service excellence.

Sir Ian Diamond is always an enchanting speaker and he did not let me down. He gave a good overview of the content and the journey to producing the two Diamond reports in 2011 and 2015 and helped set the big picture scene for effectiveness and value for money in higher education.

The afternoon had a panel discussion and poster showcases, which also demonstrated how different institutions, are approaching process improvement activities and operational excellence.

My thoughts as I left Kings:
Pipeline of Process Improvement projects – perhaps it is time for us to have a more formal pipeline at Sheffield
Involvement of students – this is always dear to my heart and I thank the attendees that I spoke to for sharing some ideas about how they approach this
The importance of having an institutional approach that is fit for purpose for one’s home institution. We are going through a period of change at Sheffield and we will need to review how the culture changes as a result of this, to ensure that our approach is culturally appropriate
Sustaining improvement – this is an area where many institutions are struggling to evidence activities that sustain improvement. In part this is because this approach inn HE is relatively immature. For me, the importance of training, evidencing benefits, having reasonable measures in place to monitor improvement are some of the approaches we have applied. Possibly time to think about a few more…

Friday, 11 November 2016

Customer Experience Journey Mapping

Do we understand our customers?

The importance of understanding what matters to our customers is recognised by most people. Isn’t it?  Well, I thought I was pretty clear about this until I attended a workshop on Customer Experience Journey Mapping this week.  The session was run by Oracle, the software computer people. In fairness to them, they didn’t try to sell anything to me.  

I think their pitch was just to provide insight to me and the other HE sector professionals so we would think well of them, and I have to say that it worked.  And if background reading is your thing – the materials to support this are available as free downloads from this website:

With lots of information on using high tech stuff like post-its and sharpies!

Customer Experience Journey Mapping, or CXJM for short, is about using a structured model approach to create a depth of understanding about the people we provide services to. This is the key to then designing how our interactions can be made better. And better interactions mean better for the student, better for the staff and better for the organisation.  The key learning points for me included:

  •  Really understand the customer in detail so that I felt like I was helping a person I knew, not just one of any number of faceless customers
  • Breaking down the experience they had into bite sized junks that gave real insight
  • Understanding not just the functional needs but also the emotional impact of the experience
  • Seeing the cross team/department/silo players and their impact
  • Building this understanding with a diverse group that supported innovation and ownership
  • Creating a powerful case to take action, not just a list of good ideas’ that gather dust somewhere.

I would like to explore using this with colleagues since I believe it has the potential to help us improve what we do by understanding, learning and working together, which is what improvement is really about.  Hopefully a future blog will be describing what we have done and achieved using this approach.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Sterling Stirling

I’ve just spent a few days at The University of Stirling who hosted the Lean HE conference “People, Culture and Lean in Higher Education”. The conference programme was filled with a variety of expert speakers who were incredibly engaging.

Dr. Vincent Wiegel is writing an article for the Efficiency Exchange which will be the formal write up of the conference. In the meantime, I thought I’d use this an opportunity to share some of my takeaways from the conference.

In no particular order: 
     Lean in Higher Education seems to be a growing area of interest and practice.
There were over 170 registered attendees for the conference. The UK was well represented and there was evidence that lean teams continue to be emerging within the sector. There were also attendees from America, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, Lithuania, Poland and Finland, which is representative of the growing maturity within the international sector. 

  Involvement of Academics
There has previously been concern about the disconnect between practitioners in HE and academic staff. At the conference I both witnessed  and heard anecdotes about increasing collaboration between academic staff and practitioners and signs of a growing desire to learn and support one another
  • Data Driven decisions. 
  • Just over a year ago The University of Strathclyde produced their Evidencing Benefits Guide. At the conference attendees were increasingly talking about the importance of demonstrating the outcomes of process improvement. There were also conversations about the best way to gather data, ensure sample sizes and representative and unbiased. 
 Desire for regional collaboration
Regional hubs are being established in the Midlands/Yorkshire and London to ensure that practitioners can continue to support one another outside of the conference. There is increasing recognition that the existing networks/communities of practice in Scotland and on the South Coast make a huge difference in enabling sharing of good practice, experiences and case studies
  •  Increasing connection between people and process
    There seemed to be more conversations about how to ensure that lean not only helps how to improve a process but also supports the staff through the change process. Key artefacts included a greater recognition of the work a university OD team can provide to complement process improvement, a joined up approach to leadership development and lots of discussions about how we can ensure that the Lean fundamental ‘Respect for People’ is adhered to as and when we work with our colleagues. 

    Be bold and creative
    Key themes from the keynotes, workshops and informal conversations was the link between being brave (trying things/ experimentation, being prepared to fail) alongside truly creative problem solving. I am able to bring back lots of examples and approaches to my institution to endorse this concept.

It was a great conference: engaging programme; time to informally chat to people; a supportive environment for sharing information and experiences; a dedicated conference team were committed to making sure that the participants had a good experience and of course an amazing conference dinner. ..

Friday, 21 October 2016

Strategy and Change

Strategy and Change

I attended the SUMS (Southern Universities Management Services) Consulting conference today where the subjects presented and discussed across a selection of the HE sector revolved around strategy, development and transformational change.  What did I learn?  Read on:

Chorley Borough Council described the pressures they were under with a 30% budget cut and on-going cost reductions at a level that doing nothing would mean they would be unable to deliver basic services.  The approach they have taken and the challenges from a different sector seemed to resonate with everyone present.  They have pretty much reinvented what their organisation looks like, and they way it operates.

SUMS presented their survey findings on the breadth of plans and strategic intent across the HE sector which the group then considered before debating the key drivers and associated responses to change in our institutions.

The University of Bristol engaged the delegates (and kept them awake after lunch) with analysis of the role of change management and the distinctions or similarities between change management and project management.

So, three topics, lots of networking, coffee and lunch.  What did I learn?  In a nutshell:

Change is difficult and, for it to be successful, it needs to meet core organisational objectives, be aligned with strategy, have top level ownership and a process in place to engage people and ensure adoption.
It then struck me that these pre-requisites, which we agreed on, align quite well with Deming’s core competencies. In plain English these are:

·      Start with a key purpose – vision, mission and strategy. This needs to be clear, practical, relevant and understood by everyone at all levels.
·      Look at and understand the whole system - the interconnectedness between things and how they impact on us and our customers – at individual, team, department, organisation and societal levels. From the micro to the macro! This might prevent that great project causing untold harm somewhere else in our organisation.
·      Use data wisely – understand variation and measure the important stuff. Don’t get stuck on hunches, guesses or intuition.
·      Psychology – understand what makes people tick and how we work together. What motivates and what does damage, how do we build trust and respect? This is more than a good comms plan and requires integration vertically, building skills in our managers and impacting on our culture
·      Knowledge - build a culture of learning and growth. Lifelong learning for individuals, teams and the whole organisation is essential unless we are going to fossilize. Everyone learns differently so how we pull our differences together into cohesive wholes that work effectively requires careful attention. This is something our academics and researchers understand and is equally relevant to all aspects of professional services too.
·      Interconnectedness – all of the above are just words that describe the rich complexity of our people and our organisations and they each interact with and impact on one another so, seeing the links, opportunities, problems and risks needs a broad perspective to ensure we are heading in the right direction.

In summary, I think the key learning for me was: look at the big picture AND the detail, up-skill everyone, ensure we have purpose in all we do and engage with people – I can’t make anyone change but I can share, show and provide opportunity with direction to improving all our futures.  It might sound ambitious but I believe it is better than being resigned to treating change as just too difficult.

Thanks for reading.