Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Wonderful Winchester

Tammi Sinha - exploring the challenges in Higher Ed
Today (Tuesday), I had the pleasure of visiting The University of Winchester. In the morning I attended the Lean HE Steering Group meeting. The main item on the agenda was hearing about the preparations for our annual conference http://www.stir.ac.uk/lean2016/ This year the conference is hosted by The University Stirling. I confess that I like to plan and keep lists, so I was incredibly impressed by the level of organisation the representatives from Stirling displayed – Gantt charts and checklists aplenty!

In the afternoon, Tammi Sinha ran a workshop exploring the topic of “Embedding a Lean Culture in Higher Education”. There was an interesting mix of staff from local universities (and further afield) and we spent the afternoon taking part in a succession of creative and stimulating activities that helped us to unpick challenges within the sector, our own lean journeys, a lean maturity model, approaches to changes management and ultimately how we would group all of these key issues and ideas into creating a dashboard for our institutions. People were actively engaged in the activities and there were was a sufficient range of tasks to meet delegates    different needs and interests.

As well as catching up with colleagues and meeting new people which ensures that sector good practice is shared, I particularly welcome the fact that I’ve come away from the event inspired about new possibilities. My next step will be to prioritise the ideas and share them with my PIU colleagues.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Problem Solving....

I shadowed one of my colleagues running a ‘Creative Problem Solving’ workshop last week.  I thought the content and delivery was great, with lots of tools, techniques and real world examples to bring the concepts to life.  Feedback from the delegates was also very good - all positive stuff.

I genuinely believe that the delegates took a lot away and are better prepared to find solutions to problems that will address the root causes rather than act as sticking plasters or cause other problems elsewhere. Rather than repeat solutions and tools in this blog I thought the following might highlight the pressing need for careful, considered and creative problem solving. Sticking plaster solutions can be dangerous when we don’t look deeply enough into what causes problems.  It was H L Mencken who said:  “For every complex problem there is a solution that is neat, plausible and wrong”.  The instances of this are scarily frequent.  Often called the cobra effect or law of unintended consequences, examples include:

In British Colonial India, Cobras were a dangerous problem so the government offered a reward for every dead cobra. This was successful until enterprising Indians began to breed cobras for the reward which, when the government realised what was happening caused them to cancel the reward programme. Which in turn caused the Indians to release all their now worthless cobras from captivity, which increased the scale of the problem dramatically.  Similarly in Hanoi, a cobra solution was addressed by rewarding locals who captured their main food source, rats.  Locals presented a rat tail to receive their bounty.  However, officials observed lots of tailless rats running around - the locals didn’t want the rats to disappear along with their chance of claiming a bounty so the rat population increased and so did the food source for cobras….

By way of a more homely example, look at the problem of family arguments in the morning as the kids are getting ready for school.  This is courtesy of an HBR article by Peter Bregman (https://hbr.org/2015/12/are-you-solving-the-wrong-problem)

In Peter’s own words:

We talked to them about how important it is to have a good relationship with their siblings, we made clear what we expected, and we developed rules for living together. We trained them in respectful communication and taught them how to breathe and manage their anger. We meditated with them and mediated between them. We rewarded them, punished them, reasoned with them, and begged them.  And still they fought and argued every morning.  It was only when I stopped to ask: ‘What do I do when I have a sticky problem that I have attempted to solve in every way possible and none of my solutions have worked?’ that I found a way forward."

The discovery for Peter was not about finding a better solution. It was about finding a better problem to solve.  He wondered, if the kids didn’t have a sibling fighting problem, what else might it be? He pondered a number of different possibilities and landed on what turned out to be a different problem with a very different solution.
In his own words: “My kids didn’t have a sibling problem, they had a morning problem. They woke up tired and with low blood sugar.  Which means the solution wasn’t to teach them how to speak nicely to each other. In fact, that just exacerbated the problem because after we lectured them, they felt worse and now they weren’t just mad at each other, they were mad at their parents too. The solution was to ensure a slightly earlier bedtime and deliver them a glass of orange juice when we woke them up for school.  This solved the problem 90% of the time!”

So I hope that our course delegates are able to come up with better problem resolution and, maybe more importantly, better define problems in the first instance before jumping to solutions that are simple, neat and wrong!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 16 September 2016


The setting for our al fresco conference meal
We've just spent the past couple of days at the 3rd European Lean Educator Conference hosted by the University of Buckingham. The conference had a good mix of academics, external consultants and lean trainers and lean practitioners.

The first day of the conference focused more on academic research into lean. There was a strong and challenging line up of keynote speakers who seemed to actively enjoy the lively debate their keynotes generated. A personal highlight for me was a brief yet inspiring talk from Lord Anthony Seldon (Vice-Chancellor at the University of Buckingham) who shared his idea about how we could improve education and leadership within universities "everyone is intelligent - we just need to work out in what way and encourage them".

On the second day we presented a paper outlining our concerns about lean implementation in HE, identifying a number of causes and a series of countermeasures. Our main objective was to explore with colleagues whether our experiences are unique to Higher Education (no - they are not). PIU's aim is to ensure that our improvement work supports and enhances the university's  key teaching and research activities and delivers sustainable value for our staff, students and partners, our challenge is ensuring we meet this. The audience  was very kind, however we identified a number of things we'd change if delivering the presentation again.

There was also series of other sessions from the BBC, Lego group and other universities - I really enjoyed hearing about the innovative work that other people are doing under a lean or process improvement umbrella. I've got ideas about things we could try in the short to medium term.

Of course the informal conversations with other delegates are the most enlightening- what is really happening beyond the PowerPoint presentation? I thank people for sharing so generously and am delighted that we have broadened our network of contacts and generated some ideas for improving our own practice.

A big thank you to the conference hosts!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Clear Ideas

I really enjoy working in a university, although like many people I have good days and bad days. Today was fantastic. I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with Dr Kamal Birdi who is a Senior Lecturer in Occupational Psychology in our Management School, he gave me an overview of the Clear Ideas model http://clearideas.sheffield.ac.uk/. This model was created in 2005 and has been used extensively over the past 11 years to support organisations with continuous innovation.

I feel inspired by the model which provides a framework for creative idea generation and also an approach to ensuring that innovation is implemented and sustained. The model is hugely complimentary to the approach we use for Process Improvement activities here at the University. I hope that I will have the opportunity to learn more from Dr Birdi in the near future and I feel confident that the approach will be something that we can use in our day to day activities.