Monday, 19 February 2018

Supporting Change Initiatives

Fifteen months ago at the UCISA CISG-PCMG Conference in Brighton November 2016, one of the final keynotes: Jonathan Macdonald (@jmacdonald ) talked about how to build an effective environment for change. He challenged the audience by saying that when we look back in twenty years’ time, the period of change we’ve had in the past five years will feel like steady times. Jonathan’s premise was that politically, economically, socially and technically the future will dramatically increase the change momentum. I’m inclined to agree.

Change can be energising! Change can be exciting! I suspect that most change practitioners believe this to a certain point. However, change requires dedication, challenge, ongoing snagging issues that need to be addressed, problem solving, motivating others and lots of action. Implementing change carries the very real risk of staff burn out.

I think it’s time to consider change fatigue. Good old wiki defines organizational change fatigue as “a general sense of apathy or passive resignation towards organizational changes by individuals or teams.” Personally, I think the definition should also encompass tiredness; staff involved in making change happen along with business as usual sometimes just get tired out.
So, what might we do to address change fatigue? Here are a few ideas to get us started:
·      Start talking about change fatigue, bring the issue to the forefront.
·      Ensure that our leaders are skilled and competent in leading change.
·      Actively prioritise large change projects, so that only the critical few proceed.
·      Create a culture of continuous improvement: smaller, simpler changes are usually more palatable and easier to implement.
·      Use/create a change map to ensure that there is understanding and clarity about how many change projects are currently happening and a clear pipeline of change activity.
·      Stop managing change as a collection of projects. Instead view change as an interconnected journey the organization is taking and lead and manage accordingly.
·      Every change you initiate, regardless of its size, needs to begin with an intended outcome and benefit. The vision and intended benefits need to be understood and meaningful to the people affected.
·      Involve the right people in identifying and implementing change.
·      Use data to drive identification, prioritisation and implementation of change.
·      Create time for people to engage in the changes – this requires clear senior prioritisation of non-essential activities.
·      Try to make the change predictable (and positive), it is often unexpected change that people find most difficult.
·      Ensure that effective change resistance surveys are carried out.
·      Effective management of people who actively or passively block changes.
·      Encourage a problem solving culture.
·      Reward people who support and implement changes.

I appreciate that some of these suggestions are time-consuming and possibly challenging, but it is really important to ensure robust foundations for our change platforms.
I’d be really interested in hearing about some of the activities other people are supporting in order to address this

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The unwritten qualitities of a lean practitioner

Over the past few months we’ve been reviewing the skill set within the Process Improvement Unit: looking at opportunities for future roles and ways to continuously improve our own skill sets. As part
of this review process we identified a number of key characteristics and qualities that may not always appear on the Job Description. I thought I’d share a few of my ideas with you:

·      A deep appreciation for Post-it© notes and a willingness to use them often. An allergy or dislike of these key tools of the trade would be highly problematic.
·      An ability to deal with challenges to personal credibility. To demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the fundamental facet of the continuous improvement profession.
·      Ability to challenge people who demonstrate a lack of understanding/ appreciation of the Process Improvement skillset; showing use of a breadth of process improvement tools and techniques (it’s more than just process mapping).
·      Deal with rejection with professionalism and resilience – it is likely to happen on a regular basis!
·      Not take credit for other people’s improvements, when team’s make changes they should be given the recognition for the improvements
·      Be prepared to be amazed and overwhelmed at people’s capacity to implement changes, some team’s quickly grasp the concepts and are prepared to swiftly implement improvements. This can be emotional.
·      Manage one’s frustration with people who block and/or fear change and reflect on your own practice. Change blockers are a well-researched concept; it is inevitable that we will come across these individuals. As a change practitioner getting frustrated with the blockers is generally unhelpful, instead we should be prepared to reflect on our own practice – what could we do differently next time?
·      Know when to walk away from/ close a project– even if you can see further improvements, the team needs to own the changes and be willing to implement further improvements. If they are not willing, recognise that you are a valuable resource who could be helping others.
·      Embody respect for people: demonstrate inter-team working; sincere communication and inclusivity; alongside a high regard for people’s expertise.

It is a privilege to work in process improvement, helping people find the space and the concepts that address their problems and add value to our stakeholders is truly rewarding. My ideal practitioner would demonstrate all of the above and when times get hard I know that we can call on our #leanhe colleagues who always have wise words and find time to help a fellow practitioner continuously improve.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Standardising our institutional process maps

Over the past twelve months or so I’ve been delighted to see the results of a great deal of independent process mapping activity that’s been happening across the university. In my opinion, this is an artefact that demonstrates people are starting to think about how work happens as a process.

During a discussion in the Process Improvement Unit (PIU) where we celebrated this step change in mapping activity, we also identified number of concerns, these included:
·      variable quality of maps;
·      use of a number of different tools for mapping;
·      variance in the use of mapping symbols;
·      process mapping in isolation;
·      people unclear why/ for what purpose they were process mapping;
·      Lack of understanding of levels of process mapping. Leading to people taking time to unnecessarily produce detailed maps.

The following discussion was two-fold:
 1)    whether or not our concerns required any intervention. Does it really matter about the lack of clarity and variation? Certainly, from strategic point of view it is not a priority, however if the outputs of a mapping event can’t easily be shared or people are taking too much time on mapping it is something we could help with and it’s certainly within PIU’s remit to help;
2)    What is the Cause and Countermeasure for this problem? Cause – lack of guidance, with the countermeasure being the obverse –    produce some guidance.

It was agreed that PIU would proceed with producing the guidance. Over the past few months in consultation with other experts I’ve been creating the guide. The process for creating the guide was:
1.     Identify the Users and their requirements. We identified to key groups
a.     Subject Matter Experts who need a little bit of support on the basics of process mapping - symbols, purpose and levels of mapping.
b.     Process Experts E.g. Business Analyst, Process Improvement Experts who are undertaking mapping for large projects or cross-functional activities who need guidance on standard and “The University of Sheffield Approach to Process Mapping” – symbols, formatting and adherence to standardisation.
2.     Lots of research and consultation
3.     Sign-off

Using the 80:20 rule, the guidance is approximately 80% complete, initially it will be circulated as a simple slide set. Future steps will include working with Print and Design Experts to make the guide look a little more “polished” and creation of a short film to help with socialisation of the guide.

I suspect that there will still be a place for the training and coaching we offer in this area, but it is anticipated that the time we spend with staff can focus on value adding activities and the standard information set will be either preliminary reading/viewing and subsequently a reference tool.

How will I measure success of the guide?
·      Number of times it is downloaded.
·      Feedback/ satisfaction.
·      Most importantly I want to measure usefulness and how often it is used.

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.