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. ..