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.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Post-it notes and process maps

I am acutely aware that one of the main takeaways people get from participating in our projects and workshops is a clear memory of lots of post-it notes and a process map. There continues to be demand from within the university for process mapping training and support, which I welcome.

The process map is a visual way of helping people unpick and agree what is happening from end to end. It is a fantastic way of seeing how complicated a process currently is and helps identify the number of rework/ failure points. However, I think that it is important for people who want to use process maps to remember that they are just a tool to help us understand process. Albeit an approach we use regularly. 

There is a multitude of other ways of identifying problems within a process: root cause analysis, identifying where batching happens, identifying bottlenecks etc.

Sometimes, all that is needed is a very high-level process map (five to ten steps) so that we can be clear about the value stream (how the service or product is delivered to the customer). A couple of other favourites are:

·      A drop down flow chart  - this can be so helpful in a service environment to make sure that a standard operating procedure is followed (and often much easier to follow than a lengthy process map).

·      A spaghetti diagram to map the routes customers and workers follow, this often helps us to see the process from different people’s perspectives and quickly identify improvements.

I am really pleased that more and more people that I work with are interested in process and are starting to think about the end-to-end process, but before we go to the brown paper and post-it notes think about whether there is a more efficient and effective way to achieve our requirements.

I’d be interested in hearing from others about inventive ways they have used to identify process problems and create improved ways of working.