Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Festive frivolities

We have a standard framework for our projects and workshop which really helps us to provide a consistent service to the university staff that we serve and helps us in planning, preparation and delivery. One of the things I love about standard frameworks is that they should provide sufficient flexibility to ensure that we deliver the right service to the correct groups of staff. After all, our projects and workshop are about problem solving and different problems need different approaches to solving them. This seems simple, but I often hear surprise from staff that the workshop is different to last time. Also, the problems need to be solved by people and the solutions need to be owned by the people, again identifying activities that are meaningful and appropriate is vital.

We are working with a team who have been working incredibly hard to implement the new processes over the past three months on top of an incredibly busy day job. We agreed to hold a workshop for them to reinforce and congratulate staff on the progress made to date and give them some space to reflect and identify ongoing issues that are systemic rather than teething problems.

We decided to try something quite different for the workshop and themed it around Christmas and New Year. In some ways this was a risky strategy: we knew that people were tired and they might find the theme a bit too light-hearted or patronising. To manage this risk, we gave a clear introduction and allowed people to acknowledge this at the beginning of the workshop.

The format of the workshop allowed time for individual reflection on achievements to date, alongside an individual Christmas wish-list. This was followed by the use of Christmas finger puppets and stretchy snowmen to do a bit of role-storming. I love using role-storming as a way of achieving an element of empathy with other people in the process, but again it needs to be introduced sensitively, otherwise it will only ever generate stereo-typed outputs.

The final third of the workshop was focused on small group work where people agreed the three or four improvements they would like to make and then each group added the parcel in one of three stockings: staff, students or joy to the world (a win for everyone). I was delighted to see the majority of the sixteen imp

rovements did indeed end up in the Joy to the world stocking. This enabled us to create a short implementation action plan.

 All of this was accompanied by snacks and a homemade ginger cake. This group of staff have worked so incredibly hard; rewards were well deserved.

I was impressed how we used our standard workshop framework: individual reflection time, brainstorming problems and improvements from every perspective, prioritising improvements and creating a robust action plan for implementation could be embellished with seasonal wrapping. Was it effective? Well my two measurements of impact are feedback, which was very positive and secondly, whether actions get implemented we wont know this until end of January, and wont be able to measure the effect of the actions for another few months.

My learning/reminders:
·      ensure your standard processes allow sufficient flexibility to try something different (if your colleagues agree it is appropriate to experiment);
·      process improvement only works when people are motivated and encouraged to implement the changes treasure them and acknowledge their hard work;
·      experiment appropriately with gamification and fun activities, we know that research shows it helps innovation, as facilitators we shouldnt take ourselves too seriously (albeit we need to demonstrate respectfulness with our colleagues).

While I do not wish it could be Christmas every day, I will challenge myself to pilot new things with our teams in order to support daily improvement.

Happy Christmas readers, may you have a restful and innovative holiday.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Lean in HE UK (North and Midlands) Group Seminar

Last week I was delighted to attend the latest Lean in HE North and Midlands group seminar hosted this time by Sheffield Hallam (which was very convenient for me!). The day was split into two halves, with the steering group meeting in the morning and a seminar led by Hallam in the afternoon.   

During the steering group meeting we discussed the groups Jisc email and agreed that as a group we could do more to ensure it is useful by using it more proactively ourselves and by encouraging those who haven’t joined to give it a go! It is open to anyone in HE who has an interest in continuous improvement and is a good way to hear about any upcoming events or to communicate with or reach out to fellow members e.g. if you have a question that you feel the wider community may be able to help you with.
Amongst other points the group also elected the new Chair (Paula Dunn - University of Leeds) and Deputy Chair (Katie Wall - Sheffield Hallam University) and those who were lucky enough to attend the Lean in HE conference this year in Sydney fed back their learning to the group.

We were then joined by other members of the Lean in HE North and Midlands group for a fabulous lunch and a thoroughly informative and enjoyable afternoon seminar. Firstly we were split into groups and encouraged to sit with people we didn’t already know which I found was a good way of meeting other people, particularly when it came to the later exercises. Sheffield Hallam then gave a presentation about their journey for ‘Developing a CI Service - from inception to reality in 18 months’. They then talked through a couple of CI tools they find particularly useful, SIPOC and customer personae, before letting the groups have a go at using the tools themselves. I always find it useful to have a practical go so really welcomed this element of the seminar. I found their take on a SIPOC particularly interesting as it drew down to identify the inputs/ outputs/ suppliers and responsibilities associated with each step rather than looking more generally at the process overall, a variation I will definitely try myself!

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who organised the day and particularly to Sheffield Hallam for hosting and for facilitating such an enjoyable and engaging afternoon session.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

MA Librarianship Training

Yesterday myself and Rachel had the pleasure of delivering a bespoke training session to students on the MA Librarian course. It is the third year that we have delivered the session covering an overview of Lean (fundamentals and principles) and an introduction to process mapping. Something I am reminded of every time I deliver training is the importance of building time into the session for everyone to have a go and put the theory into practice, it is all well and good talking about types of process maps, practicalities (paper vs software) and the use of swimlanes but I don’t believe that it is until you have a go you really get a feel and see that process mapping (as easy as it may sound) isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

We tasked the students with brainstorming common Library processes that at least six of them had an awareness of. They selected; internal complaints, overdue and returns and split into three groups to map them. Immediately they all experienced the difficulty of mapping any process when you have not clearly agreed the scope (start and end points) as this led to confusion around what needed to be covered and who was involved. After some discussion these points were agreed and they began to map and experienced the difficulty that can arise when deciding where the activity lies in some cases and the complexity any feedback loop for example can build into a process map, this led a lot of repositioning of post-it notes, highlighting the value of doing it on paper first before putting it into software. By the end however through practice, guidance and teamwork we had some fabulous process maps that clearly showed the flow of activity throughout the process they had chosen (see below).

We have always enjoyed delivering the session and this year was no different, the students were enthusiastic and engaged and really threw themselves into the activity making the session a pleasure to deliver.

Monday, 13 November 2017


Last week I attended the UCISA CISG-PCMG conference in Manchester, a joint conference between the Corporate Information Systems Group (CISG) and the Project and Change Management Group (PCMG) with our very own Rachel as joint conference chair. The theme over the three days was ‘Everything changes’ and offered a valuable opportunity to share and discuss the changes the sector is currently facing, particularly with regards to funding, competition, technology and ‘customer’ expectations. 

There was a mixture of presentations from higher education and industry which allowed different experiences and viewpoints to be shared. Topics included sector challenges, project management in reality as opposed to in theory, organisational change and social engineering.

The main point I have taken away from the conference is that although change is inevitable and at the moment can feel unprecedented and unpredictable there is so much we can do to help ensure that our institutions are prepared and able to respond with agility. By being open to change and by embedding a culture of continuous improvement where we are all encouraged to constantly look at how we can do things better we will be able to respond more proactively to change and start to see it as less of a threat and more as an opportunity.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, I found it interesting and informative and wanted to say a huge thank you to all the speakers and the conference organisers.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Marvellous Macquarie #LeanHE

This blog post is my attempt to reflect on this year's Lean HE conference, hosted by Macquarie  University.

The theme of the conference was measuring and sustaining change. There was a good blend of keynotes from higher education and also from industry interspersed with presentations from lean HE practitioners. It was the perfect balance and did not disappoint.

Rather than give you an overview of each session I recommend that you take a look at the storify link, which uses the tweets from the conference to give you a flavour of the programme https://storify.com/clarke_susanne/lean-in-higher-education-conference-2018.

The main takeaways for me are:
  • Regular faces. This is my 5th Lean HE conference and there are definitely some familiar faces. This year I was particularly impressed with the step change in learning and continuous improvement the 'old faithfuls' demonstrated.
  • New faces. This was the first time the Australasian Continental Division had hosted the conference. This made it easier for colleagues from universities in the region to attend. The new faces brought freshness, enthusiasm and a great deal of good practice to the conference. I really enjoyed making new friends and learning from them.
  • Industry - we have a lot that we can learn from other sectors, true lean thinkers share values and practice that goes beyond the environment they work in.
  • Grassroots and leadership. For lean to sustain in our universities we need to have grass roots buy-in and also senior leadership support. People are finding creative ways of delivering the training to staff, senior leadership support seems to remain patchy and at times inconsistent.
  • As practitioners we encouraged each other to be bold, listen to people's stories, use data intelligently and collaborate as effectively as possible.
  • Robotics and automation are areas of interest. Understanding that if we focus on process first, automation can speed up the process and help sustain the changes. The use of robots to assist with service is on the increase, and as Lean practitioners we need to consider the value adding opportunities that robots can offer when we analyse process.
  • The importance of fun. Thee were reflections from many people that a happy, empowered team is more likely to be effective and that by using humour and play it can encourage people to thin differently.

I certainly had a great deal of fun, which I'm sure assisted my learning and helped me to continuously improve my practice and leadership.

A big thank you to the team at Macquarie University that organised and hosted the event, the Australasian Lean HE committee who also supported the conference, all of the presenters and all of the delegates that made time to chat to me and share their stories. I am inspired!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Critical friendship

I am sure we have all experienced the frustration of agonising over a document, taking the time to clearly articulate what we mean by carefully selecting our words to effectively get our point across before someone comes back to you with an entirely different interpretation from what you meant, suggesting our attempt at clarity just wasn’t quite good enough. I for one have been at the receiving end of this even in process design where what I thought was articulated by a process step meant something else entirely to the people doing the process.

Just like typos in our own work this is not because we haven’t tried but because our brains are slightly ahead of us, so rather than scrutinising our own work for meaning we expect it to be there and our brain makes this assumption and what we see in our heads starts to differ from what is articulated on the screen. This is why a ‘critical friend’ can come in handy, particularly when writing service/process design documents where clarity is key. They can also help you to notice information that you may have missed as you concentrated on the detail.

Put bluntly the role of a critical friend is to support and challenge. It is an informal relationship where mutual regard for one another’s expertise allows work to be helpfully scrutinised by asking the right questions and providing insight or a fresh perspective that can help bring about improvement.

I have recently been a critical friend to some colleagues who have the huge task of creating foundation documents that they will use to plan, scope and design the implementation of a new service here at the University. In my role as Process Improvement Facilitator I am well placed to act as a critical, as I spend a lot of my professional time asking the ‘stupid’ questions such as; ‘why?, what does that mean?, why them?, who do you mean?, why does it say that and is that really what happens?’ (among others) when undertaking any process or service review. And asking questions like this as a critical friend can really help the person to scrutinise what they mean, whether it is the right thing and how it will be interpreted by the stakeholders, customers, developers etc.  
I was also particularly well placed to act as a critical friend in this case as I myself have created similar scoping documentation and service summaries. I know how easy it can be to leave too much room for interpretation, include assumptions and concentrate too much on the detail, making it difficult when you later have to evidence what the service/process delivers and whether the review has achieved what it said it would. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed being a critical friend to colleagues over the last couple of weeks, particularly because they were so open to questions and a different perspective.

I have learnt that being a ‘critical friend’ is to not about being critical, instead it is about offering a fresh pari of eyes that questions, challenges and most of all supports. None of us are infallible but by working together we can not only learn from each other and save headaches later on but also share the load.

Monday, 16 October 2017

What do I look for in a Project Sponsor?

I’ve been preparing to co-present with the amazing @Jenni_saville at the forthcoming Lean HE conference on “A sponsor’s experience of implementing change”. This has got me thinking about what qualities I look for in a Project Sponsor.

First of all, why does the Process Improvement Unit (PIU) insist on a sponsor when we start a new project?
The Sponsor is a senior person who authorizes the project and ensures staff are available for project activities. Usually based in the department that owns the process and must support the requirement for improvement and provide guidance and backing as and when problems arise. The role included ensuring that scope is strategically aligned and appropriate as well as giving the project team authority to make the changes.
Qualities and attributes of a strong sponsor:
·      Holds a senior role in the Institution with authority to set scope and project team membership
·      Has an interest in the process improvement project
·      Clarity about scope of the project (and willing to challenge scope creep)
·      Has sufficient strategic knowledge to champion and/or close a project as appropriate.
·      Take an active interest in project progress
·      Make time to hear about project progress updates and understand the improvements and benefits
·      Reward staff involved in the project and champion the outcomes
·      Prepared to challenge PIU decisions and actions
·      Knowledge of Process Improvement tools and techniques
·      Actively champion the improvements
·      Comfortable with quantitative and qualitative data to ensure that data driven decision making is adhered to
·      Ensure that continuous improvement (post project) is maintained

We’ve been lucky to have a few sponsor who have “ticked all of the boxes”. One of our challenges for the future is to find ways of supporting and coaching our sponsors of today and tomorrow so that they can perform to the very best of their ability.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Interinstitutional support

Last week we were delighted to welcome Natasha, Kelly and Mila from Middlesex University’s Business Enhancement Team and Julie, Head of Planning and Project Management, from Bedfordshire University to a visit at Sheffield. The visit was arranged as an opportunity to share experiences of and approaches to continuous improvement across the three institutions.

I am always delighted to see the openness by which practitioners within the sector share and discuss ideas and issues. This openness I believe has been, in part, fostered by the Lean in HE network which has, since its inception, encouraged the open discussion between practitioners of the challenges faced within the sector and and open debate of possible approaches to overcome them. Throughout our discussions last week many similarities could be drawn between the experiences of all three institutions and I for one took away a number of ideas, particularly around improving our project implementation. I also found the visit was a great way to encourage us to critique our own approaches when we were pushed to explain why we do something in a particular way.

It was also clear from our discussions that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to continuous improvement in HE is not appropriate, ideas should not be implemented simply because somewhere else does it, a message we always reinforce with project teams. It is instead important to tailor an approach according to the culture and strategic drive of an individual institution.

A fear of mine is that changes in the HE landscape and increasing competition between institutions might start to erode this openness and collaboration. If this is an outcome of the changes currently underway I believe it will be a loss to the sector and why networks like Lean in HE and fostering strong working relationships with colleagues in the sector can be so beneficial in continuing to encourage interinstitutional support.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

PCMG Planning

In April this year I became chair of the UCISA Project and Change Management Group https://www.ucisa.ac.uk/groups/pcmg

On Wednesday, a colleague at Wolverhampton University hosted our annual planning meeting. This was the major item of business for our meeting. We considered the draft UCISA strategy 2018-22 to ensure that our plan was strategically aligned, we had gathered feedback from our community via our community mailing list and spoken to colleagues at our home institutions to ensure that the activities we plan for our useful (not just pet projects).

We are in the process of finalising the plan: the community is likely to benefit from a new toolkit, collaborations with other UCISA groups, a series of webinars and pilot mentoring scheme.

Every time we meet up as a committee I am struck by people’s energy and enthusiasm, however we all have busy day jobs and are experiencing the pressures of sector changes. Everything that we do is on top of the day job, so we really hope that all of our outputs for the coming year will be useful and have impact. Time will tell…

The next opportunity for people to engage with the group will be at our conference 8-10 November 2017 https://www.ucisa.ac.uk/groups/cisg/Events/2017/cisg17
I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Change with a large dose of humility

At the core of our approach in the Process Improvement Unit is to recognise that staff working in process are experts, the beneficiary of the process is an expert and the stakeholders also have a huge amount of expertise and knowledge.

One of the barriers to change is when there is one (sometimes) self appointed expert who will not truly listen to the other people’s views and requirements and maintain an almost dogged intransigence to change.

This blog is a suggestion that we need to be humble when it comes to reviewing the current situation and demonstrate true respect for people when identifying possibilities for change. Humility is often associated with being too passive, submissive or insecure, this misunderstanding needs to be challenged (appropriately).

A few attributes that humble change agents may display:
·      Effective listening skills.
·      Maintain strong personal and professional relationships.
·      Situationally aware:  aware of oneself, the group, the actions of each and the social dynamics.
·      Curiosity, realising that one person does not have all the answers and that there are things they can learn from others.
·      Courage to ask, speak one’s mind in a respect and positive manner.
·      Accept and encourage constructive feedback.
·      Base decision-making on a shared sense of purpose, respecting the moral and ethical boundaries that govern the decision.

This post is not meant to detract from the necessity for people to have pride in their work; it is a suggestion that we can get better outcomes by working in a truly collaborative and open way.
Additional reading:

Friday, 25 August 2017

Someone has got to do it

It is a common stumbling block of many projects - no one in the project team has enough time to coordinate and/or undertake the project actions, so improvements are only partially implemented or even not implemented at all. This can understandably lead to a feeling of disappointment within the project team and frustration that the time they spent understanding, analysing, identifying and discussing the issues before collectively designing and agreeing great improvements to the service didn’t amount to very much.

For this reason the role of a Project Coordinator is vital! They support and drive the project team by resolving or raising issues that are preventing them from completing the project actions and implementing the new process. In PIU’s case they are also a critical bridge between us and the project team throughout implementation.  

I find myself constantly questioning what should I, as a project facilitator, be doing as opposed to what the project coordinator should be doing and it is a difficult balancing act. A key cornerstone of our methodology is to ensure we help to empower staff who have the knowledge of the process to make the changes, ensuring both improved buy-in but also so that a cycle of continuous improvement can be embedded after the project is closed.

For this reason PIU’s project process has traditionally placed a heavy reliance on the project coordinator to drive the implementation by; chasing actions, updating the action log, communicating with the project team and reporting to PIU on a monthly basis to raise any issues identified during implementation. The scope of their role is clearly agreed with the project sponsor at initiation and it is sponsor who identifies the coordinator, usually someone closely associated with the area under review.

We have however experience of where this has fallen down due to:
  • The project coordinator not being in a neutral or senior enough role to challenge team members when actions are not completed
  • The project coordinator not being allowed enough time away from their day to day role to undertake the project work required
  • The project coordinator not having the skills in project management and process analysis to drive the project through implementation

PIU are therefore reviewing our standard projet process, particularly at the implementation stage to ensure we mitigate some of these problems.
Improvements we are considering include:
  • Challenging the sponsor more firmly during the selection of the project coordinator to ensure they have the appropriate support, buy-in and time to take on the role
  • PIU having a wider liaison role with the project team as a whole during implementation to help monitor and drive actions and mitigate any issues that arise.

It is this last point we are most concerned about, as we do not want to detract from the empowerment of the project team nor do we want to increase the reliance of the project team throughout implementation prior to project closure. This will therefore be a case of practice what we preach where we implement, measure and evaluate incremental changes to our process to ensure a more effective, not just a different service.      

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Adding value to the customer

Adding value to the customer

During my role as Clerical Officer within the Process Improvement Unit I have been able to gain knowledge around Lean methodology and understand that Lean is focused on adding value to the customer and that any activities that do not add value are considered to be waste.

The order of activities that add value comprise of what is called the value stream (the important parts of the process that creates the services for the customer).  To ensure you are continually providing value to your customers it is important to try to improve your value streams by reviewing them.

A helpful way to achieve this is by splitting the activities into three categories:
  1. Value-added (any activity the customer is willing to pay for).
  2. Non-value added (any activity the customer would not want to pay for).
  3. Business-value added (any activity the customer would not want to pay for but is necessary and cannot be removed).

Part of the Process Improvement Unit’s remit is to run training in the use of improvement tools and techniques for our customers (members of staff) and the challenge is to ensure that our customers spend as much time as possible in these sessions being trained. 

Therefore, our value-added activities include presentations and practical exercises in order for our customers to gain an understanding of Lean principles, process improvement concepts, different problem solving techniques as well as learning how to map process flow (depending upon the training session chosen).

Non value added activities would be if the trainer spent time during the training session setting up equipment and practical exercises and obtaining relevant handouts etc. delaying the training. To eliminate these non-value added processes I ensure everything is in place before the training session. Our practical exercises can take a while to set up, for example in one of our exercises we have six workstations requiring various pieces of equipment.  Staff undertaking the training and the trainer can move directly to these set-up practical exercises and they can take place immediately.

We cannot remove business value-added processes such as having refreshments as they are necessary in a three-hour training session. However, I can make sure they are easily accessible, I can help with the drinks machine and of course ensure it is well stocked so there is no delay.

All of us within the Process Improvement Unit have a part to play in ensuring our value stream is doing what our customers need and less of what they don’t need.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Pushing the boundaries of collaborative change

Respect for people is a fundamental principle for lean practitioners. In part my understanding of this principle is that change should be inclusive, ensuring that all of the role of the process are represented and ensuring that sincere communication is enabled both about current problems and to agree a way forward.

When we are working with teams we help them create a bold vision for the future, this may take a little time but usually consensus is easily obtained. In my experience supporting the group to come up with a practical new process can sometimes be a little more challenging. When it comes to immediate change people can be risk averse and want to stay within their comfort zones. When teams are involved in an improvement project one of the things teams need team to agree (in conjunction with the sponsor) is whether making some modifications is acceptable or whether a step change in service/process provision is required. When we do identify that immediate step change is required the challenge to individual comforts can be even more pertinent.

Why is it hard?
·      Each individual will have a different comfort zone. To get change by agreement or consensus there is a risk that we come up with partial solutions.
·      Louder/more dominant team members can guide inclusive change; if this group of people feel that the changes are outside of their comfort zone they may try to dissuade other from making large-scale immediate improvements.
     Some projects have unrealistic goals, to achieve them risks not only taking people out of their comfort zone potentially into panic zone.*
   Change beyond one’s comfort zone is scary, people have concerns about time, influence, politics, resources, is the change really an improvement etc. Each one of these doubts can be enough to deter people.
·      What can seem like a bold improvement in the meeting room can lose momentum when back at one’s desk.
·      Change can be hard work to implement; often people are fatigued by their current situation, finding the energy to implement improvement.
·      New priorities and requirements will start to emerge which get in the way of implementing the original changes, changes that take people out of their comfort zone are more likely to be side-lined.

How can we support and lead?
·      Ensure that the team has a good rationale change, using valid data to ensure that changes are truly an improvement.
·      Make sure that projects have achievable and realistic goals.
    Ensure that the team uses/has access to appropriate tools and models that support teams to innovate and identify creative solutions.
·      Endorse and promote the changes that bring wins/positives for all parties involved.
·      Identify a strong, engaged and supportive sponsor for the project.
·      Celebrate key milestones and achievements.
·      Implement the improvements as soon as possible.
·      Promote and support positive and regular stakeholder management.
·      Provide support, championship and endorsement of the project team and their ambitions.
·      Ensure that the actions are specific, time bound and shared between the team members. Hold people to account for their actions.
·      Be empathetic and make time to listen to people, coaching them to realise their goals.
·      Provide relevant case studies about collaborative teams who have made innovative and brave changes. Where at all possible seek out mentors who can support team members.
·      Don’t assume that people are resistant to new ideas because it takes them outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes, people are apprehensive about making changes for absolute valid reasons.

Change projects are rarely easy, in my opinion this makes it even more necessary to ensure that the outcomes justify the time and effort that people put into the project and that the changes are truly for the better.

A few useful links:

*This point was added into the blog - thank you @Paolo_MTL