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

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

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
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: