Thursday, 25 February 2016

Waiting for Godot

Last night I went to see Waiting for Godot. It is an absurdist play about two men waiting for the arrival of Godot. What has this got to do with process improvement? It made me think about people’s attitudes to change. All too often we meet with people and they have been waiting for change: waiting for a new computer system; new staff; new strategy etc. The consequences of waiting are that people are stymied and get used to undertaking non-value added activities. In the play Vladimir and Estragon use all sorts of strategies to while away the waiting time, which albeit highly amusing as a theatrical tool when people use these strategies in real life it distracts them from the current condition problems and hinders the possibility of change. Equally profound was that the main characters were waiting for someone else to arrive, to enforce change. We also see this at the university - staff recognise poor processes and when we question them they say - I’ve told my manager about this, it’s in the minutes of the meeting, I’m waiting for approval to make the changes. At the same time staff are living with the problems day in and day out.

So the purpose of this blog is a call to arms, don’t wait for Godot, start making small improvements, get some problem solving skills so that you can start focusing on fixing things at root cause it really will make a difference to your working life. By doing this, we can start to create a culture of continuous improvement in the workplace.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Our Visual Management Board

For the last couple of years PIU have been using a visual management board to communicate project/workshop progression to one another and any visitors to our office. It has been changed, revised and updated many times, particularly recently.

What does our visual management board include?
A visual management (VM)  board is a useful way to represent work that is being done by a team. The standard process for our projects, workshops and training is on the board on the left hand side. Each project/workshop or training session is then represented by a pin that we move along the process when each stage is completed. This allows the whole team to know at what stage each project is e.g. scoping, planning, event or review and what actions the team needs to take, in order to progress the work. We have found this extremely helpful, particularly recently as the dynamic of the unit has changed. We do not all work full-time and a proportion of the team is often out running workshops or events so the board allows everyone to know the status of any of our work when team catch-ups are difficult. We use the whiteboard on the right hand side to record any actions that team members are required to do, supplies that the team needs and record any achievements throughout the year. There is also a section on this whiteboard that encourages the team to discuss any concerns they may have e.g. around a specific project.

What are the key benefits?
  • Improved communication between team members
  • Shared understanding of work progression
  • Consistent communication of work progression outside of PIU
  • Helps ensure we follow our standard process
  • Ability to recognise and raise problems and concerns

15min ‘board meeting’
We try every day to have a 15min meeting around the board. During this meeting we go through all the current and potential projects/workshops, updating one another on any changes. We then go through each stage of the whiteboard to discuss and update one another on new and existing actions/concerns. We have found that the VM board gives greater structure to this meeting and useful prompt for discussion points.

What have we learnt?
Use Colour - Each team member has their own colour, in which the projects/workshops and actions they are responsible for are written in. I find this particularly helpful as it allows me to scan the board when I come into the office to see if there are any new tasks I need to do. We also use colours to represent the status of a project e.g green - no concerns, amber - some concerns or risks to the project, red - very concerned, project is at risk.
Dividing the board - Clearly dividing the board into useful topics for the team makes the information easier to identify and allows greater structure to team meetings.
Display only what is useful - There is no point including something on the VM board that is not useful or of interest to the team as it will only take up time and space. We have therefore found it important to continuously revise what our VW board includes in order to make sure that we are not missing any important topics or including information that is of no use.
Involve everyone- It is extremely important that the whole team feels empowered to use and update the board. At each 15min meeting we take it in turns to either lead or scribe for the meeting this helps to ensure it does not become just one person's territory.  

If you would like to come and have a look at the PIU VM board or discuss how you might use one in your own work areas just get in touch!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Inspiring Spires of Oxford

Yesterday, I went down to Oxford for a UCISA PCMG meeting. The day before we had very high winds in the UK and this affected the travel plans of a couple of committee members. Fortunately, they were able to join us via Skype. This was perhaps our first learning point, ensure we follow Skype meeting good practice e.g. if it doesn’t work just start the call again and once the meeting is up and running agree how members of the meeting will communicate that they want to speak – this can be challenging if you can’t get eye contact!

I’ve blogged about our standard meeting format before (what are the committee members currently working on, links with other groups, planning for an event/conference, resources we are developing etc. and it still works really well, helping to stimulate discussion, share good practice and offer peer to peer support.

Consider this blog post as a bit of teaser, we’ve got plans for a conference later this year which will be jointly held with another UCISA group, plans to publish more resources and also to start sharing some case studies. Give it a few weeks then take a look at our web page ( or take a peak now and familiarise yourself with the resources we have already published.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Inchoate processes with a side order of overprocessing

As part of the Service Improvement Programme we are running for our HR department ( last week we ran a Process Improvement Event to look at the Candidate Engagement Process. This process is part of the recruitment process that starts from identifying the need for a role right through to approval, advertising and someone applying for the post.

The key deliverables for the project are:
  • Streamlined ATJ process (the template we use for recruiting ie job/person spec)
  • Streamlined post approval process
  • Clarity and consistency of roles
  • Clear and consistent process
  • Improved guidance and training materials for staff involved in the process
  • Prioritised list of minor system changes (to improve candidate experience) - configurable by HR

Over the five days we mapped the current state, confirmed that the problems identified at scoping phase were the root cause. Interestingly, the qualitative feedback had identified long periods of waiting as a frustration in the process. The long lead-time for the process was symptomatic of the defects in the authorisation stages and the errors in using the correct templates and lack of clarity about role in the process.

We also conducted a value and waste analysis on the current state process map and unsurprisingly for a service process it was approximately 90% waste.

In scope for the project were system configuration changes, we spent sometime reviewing the system, and identified a long wish list of changes. We had a conversation with the team responsible for making the changes and have started to map the enhancement requests on a prioritisation matrix to ensure that the changes we are approached in a systematic, productive way rather than making changes that might be quick but will have little impact on the improvement (we like to call that fools gold).

At the mid-point of the event we were able to create a vision for the perfect process and this really gave the team a boost and steered their thinking when creating the practical process.

Outputs for the event included a new process with 33.3% fewer process steps, an estimated improved lead time of 50%, this was achieved by removing unnecessary approval steps, a simple google spreadsheet sharing agreement that will allow HR to start work on the job template without waiting for financial approval, and using the lean concept of runners repeaters and strangers to ensure that standard work can be dealt with effectively and efficiently and more complex work is routed to the appropriate expert in a timely way. The new process is estimated to save four hours of staff time per post.

We will be piloting the new process with three academic departments over the next few months and will firm up the plan for roll out at the one month review meeting. It was a great event with motivated and expert staff who really embraced the concepts of improvement.