How do we learn?
Big question, we can learn by:
- Trial and error
- Feedback loops
- Structured training
There is a long list of approaches to which the above barely scratches the surface. The question however is important to the work which the PIU carry out at a number of levels:
We train, run workshops, hold seminars, provide one off and bespoke courses. We facilitate quick improvement sessions and week long events. We have an array of material from ‘taught theory’ to simulation in games plus supported mini projects for people to test out what they have experienced back in their day jobs. All of these are designed with the aim of supporting people to do two things:
- Gain new skills, and
- See things from a new perspective and think differently.
I believe that the latter is particularly important and addresses the age old questions around why so many traditional change efforts have failed to deliver to expectations in the past. Our approach to improvement is based on lean thinking, as often quoted, but less understood as the Toyota approach. Two words in this are critical: Lean + Thinking. It is the thinking element that we seek to challenge in many of our activities. Every service we work with is different yet many of the problem themes which occur are familiar time and time again. Typically we see duplication, rework, waste and delays all coupled together to conspire against effective and efficient service delivery. As humans we seem to favour batching things, functionalizing work into silos and running faster rather than smarter. Not because we don’t want things to work well but because we come to accept that change is too difficult or needs ‘someone else’ to sort it out and anyway, we are just too busy keeping the plates spinning.
At its simplest level, our improvement work involves examining to understand the how and why of things as they are now, then building a better operating process and planning to implement it. So why is thinking important? Consider:
Our thinking determines the way our work systems are designed and these work systems determine the performance which we, and our customers, experience. It is often the poor performance experienced (delays, frustration, complaints etc etc) which act as the trigger for us to examine the work system (enter stage left the PIU team).
And we can achieve wonders! Getting a group of knowledgeable people together in a room has allowed us to help them create much better, easier, more efficient process designs time and time again. However, the challenge is how do we help them sustain these improvements? The answer, I believe, is by challenging our collective thinking. The tools, techniques, training sessions which we run are designed to share skills, effectively providing the ‘how to’ go about improving processes. They are also designed to make people think differently about the work and leverage their considerable skills to continuously question why they do things the way that they do them. Given that the pace of change; technologically, legislatively, financially coupled with customer expectation that is constantly increasing it is essential that we become flexible and capable at evolving our work designs.
So back to the question of learning - come along with an open mind and try to re-think what it means to ‘do good work’. I suggest that it now includes constantly examining the way we do our work and taking the time out to regularly sanity check that we are doing things optimally - for our customers, for ourselves and our colleagues and for our University. Only by being open to thinking differently about what we come to work to do will we become true lean thinkers.
Thanks for reading.