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

Friday, 19 May 2017

Is problem solving a problem?

I have recently been reflecting on the differences between the approach we generally use in the Process Improvement Unit (PIU) and the benefits of Appreciative Inquiry (AI).

AI has been used as an approach for change for many years, Cooperrider and Srivastva developed this approach in 1987.  To summarise this in a few words it is based on the theory that:
·      In every system, something works
·      Our focus becomes our reality
AI uses questions and opportunities for people to create positive visions of the future to build on the present potential of a process or organisation.

The problem solving approach that we have in PIU takes a different tack. From the moment we start scoping a project we begin to agree a problem statement and use a number of approaches to identify what are the problems, which of the problems are critical, what is the root cause etc.? Although problem solving can be a very powerful approach and lead ultimately to positive results and support resilience as further problems surface, there is a risk that the teams we work with may find this quite negative and that we miss out on opportunities to reward people for the things that are going well.

Cooperrider and Whitney (2001) identified the distinguishing features of the two approaches:
Problem Solving
Appreciative inquiry
1. "Felt Need," identification of Problem
1. Appreciating & Valuing the Best of "What Is"
2. Analysis of Causes
2. Envisioning "What Might Be"
3. Analysis & Possible Solutions
3. Dialoguing "What Should Be"
4. Action Planning (Treatment)

Basic Assumption: An Organization is a Problem to be Solved
Basic Assumption: An Organization is a Mystery to be Embraced

My main concern about just using AI is that sometimes there are process steps that need to be removed because they create the problem e.g. excessive approval steps, duplicating data, unnecessary handovers. How would an AI approach deal with over processing, is there a risk that it would encourage this?

As a lean practitioner ‘Respect for People’ is at the heart of my professional practice and to me this includes the concept of sincere conversation (being very clear about what is going well and what could be improved). However, the more I read about AI this also offers the opportunity for a direct conversation, but perhaps with a more positive angle.

Deming said, “A bad system will be beat a good person every time”. In PIU we are responsible for ensuring that the improvement process is robust and helpful I’m going to experiment with AI and explore how this can be used alongside problem solving; I have a feeling that the two concepts are not necessarily unconnected. I suspect there will be a follow up to this blog (possibly a Venn diagram showing the commonalities) if my instinct is correct about the two approached not necessarily being mutually exclusive.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Teaching the history of lean

As part of our process improvement training we give our participants a brief history of Lean thinking. We’ve done this since the early days of the unit as it seemed to us to be essential to describe, almost before what ‘it’ is, where ‘it’ has come from. So we talk about Scientific Management and Henry Ford, as well as lean gurus like Deming and Taiichi Ohno. We tell attendees about the Toyota Production System and Jones and Womack. And we accompany our words with pictures of the Highland Park factory.
But what’s the point of this historical background? And does Lean in public service, where our expertise lies, really have anything to do with manufacturing and the history of manufacturing?

I’d like to explore the link in this blog post, because it bothers me that we may be wasting time and causing confusion rather than improving understanding. We have some evidence for this concern, because feedback from our training often highlights the benefit of examples from the university, and criticises examples from manufacturing - or even other service sectors. And yet - as George Santayana reminds us - ‘Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it’.
So there are two questions to answer:
  1. Do the basic principles of LEAN apply to public service environments?
  2. And does knowing where LEAN has come from tell us anything useful about how to apply it in public service environments anyway?
Let’s look at the first question. Taiichi Ohno, one of Lean’s principal proponents, said All we are doing is looking at the time line, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the time line by reducing the non-value adding wastes.” All Lean thinking in manufacturing, it seems to me, flows from that understanding. Every effort is bent towards the end of removing wastes from the moment a customer orders something to the moment it is delivered and paid for. In other words, the profit motive is supreme. Now, how Toyota and others saw progress towards that goal being made possible was certainly radical and different to what had gone before - in particular the notion of paying attention to the workforce’s knowledge and expertise - but the underlying rationale was the same - be more competitive, make more money.

Clearly service environments, and in particular public service environments, have a different raison d’être. Profit, at least until recent times, is not a motivator. Instead it is the provision of service within budgetary constraints. However, the application of lean principles to reduce the time and resource required to deliver service is as relevant here as in manufacturing.  Delivering better service, using the same or less resource is the aim of many public organisations, particularly in these cash-strapped times.
So that brings us to the second question. What’s the point in knowing where Lean has come from? If Lean is useful in service environments, isn’t it enough to know the principles and the methods? And broadly speaking, my answer to this is yes, that is enough. One can be ‘lean’ without a knowledge of history. And I think the inventors of ‘lean’, the people at Toyota, would agree. For them, Lean is a way of working rather than a set of documents and other such codifications of practice. The enquiring mind, the search for continuous improvement, the focus on service users rather than internal operations and so on, can all be fostered as part of organisational culture without the history lesson.

In our training though, we’ll keep on doing a bit on the history, because it is quite interesting.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Influencing change

I am attending the taught module part of Sheffield Leader we were discussing Personal Influence and introduced to a model to help us consider the various ways we may positively influence people. The model identifies three key elements authority, presence and impact. It led me to consider whether this model may be useful to support our project teams during workshops and process improvement events.

Using the model may help attendees to think about how they can make the most of the workshop and ensure that they lead positive change as a consequence of their influence within the workshop.

Their expertise and knowledge of the process: what works well, what can be improved, compliance issues
Not only being physically present in the room, also being emotionally and mentally present. Actively listening to others, asking questions and respecting others opinions.
Prepared to ask the bold or challenging questions
Transforms the thinking in the room
Delivers on actions

Their expertise and knowledge of process improvements, expertise as a facilitator, case studies from previous projects
Not only being physically present in the room, also being emotionally and mentally present. Actively listening to others, asking questions and respecting others opinions.
Progressing the agenda
Prepared to ask the bold or challenging questions
Transforms the thinking in the room
Delivers on actions

As well as evaluating a project or workshop on it’s outputs perhaps the cultural factors considered above would provide a way of evaluating the cultural outputs that also need to be delivered to ensure that we support a culture of continuous improvement?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Corporation Tax Review

For the past two days we have been working with a team to review the Corporation Tax. The problem statement we considered was “The responsibility for identifying corporation tax treatment of activities currently rests with the tax team, this is a complex, high volume process which is entirely manual. The process relies on interpreting vague data and relies on a key member of staff which is a risk to business continuity.”

We mapped the process in a small group prior to the event, which helped us move things forward very quickly. The other members of the project team (not as closely involved in the process) were able to use the current state map to identify problems within the process. The main problem themes we identified were:
·       Lots of spreadsheets
·       Lots of systems
·       Granularity of data (sometimes too much, sometimes too little and provided by many stakeholders)
·       Timing – the process took about nine months and was driven by other processes e.g the publication of the university accounts/ HESA etc
·       Who knows what/ Training and Information – the tax team were using best judgement about primary purpose/non-primary purpose tax activities because the information was not available at source.
The improvements included:
·       Creating a report from the University’s primary financial management system to ensure that 90% of the data could be filtered and identified via one system report.
·       A new field in the finnacial management system to identify non-primary purpose activities at the point of set up (we will use our current data set to back fill the information in the system to avoid people having to manually fill in historical data)
·       Changes in working practices within the tax team to ensure segregation of duties (this removes the need for an external organisation to review)
·       A managed risk approach
A much quicker process (down to three months), with more contingency time built into the process
The tax team are able to add value to the process by ensuring that the system (report) does the identification and data manipulation work

The team have a set of actions that they need to carry out over the next few months, this is going to be hard because the new process cannot be implemented until the next financial year, so they will also have very busy day jobs. I am heartened by their focus and enthusiasm and look forward to supporting them over the coming months.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Student Mental Health Support

In January we were approached by staff in Student Services to help them with their review of student mental health support. The problem statement that we agreed was “Students have difficulty in accessing appropriate support and the support provided is fragmented and not tailored to the individual. There is a lack of appropriate information sharing between the various service providers. The support provision is often reactive because it does not balance prevention and support and lacks definition of capacity both in terms of service “internally” and also in links to other agencies.”

Last week we ran a five-day event to unpick the problems and identify an action plan for moving forward. Key deliverables for the project are:
  • Meaningful and ethical data/evidence base of need and demand to shape decision making for service provision (to include student well-being data). At the moment it is in a variety of systems
  • A simple, consistent and straightforward process that enables access to the right support
  • A process that delivers tailored and appropriate support for students
  • A process informed by clear boundaries for support
  • A set of diagrams/words that enables the information to be understood by staff and students
  • A process that supports Out of Hours processes (a separate university project) to input/output
We used service blueprinting to unpick the problems and then ran a number of scenarios through the blueprints to ensure that we all understood the services provision form the student perspective as well as unpicking the back office processes.

Moving on from this we had a successful session where we created a vision for the future. Moving to the practical process proved trickier, people had difficulty determining what could practically be done over the next few months and there was also some cynicism as to whether the future vision would ever be implemented. After considering a number of options, the team agreed that they would do the following things (to be achieved over the summer period, and in place by for start of term):
  • Produce and use a shared toolkit for all MH student support practitioners
  • Request resource for supporting students with lower level needs (wellbeing advisers)
  • Share information across services - use Titanium System initially
    (Update: we subsequently learned that this will need to happen at a different point)
  • Shared triage across services predicated on use of the shared toolkit and shared computer systems
  • Sharing of risk assessments (if it changes, inform the relevant person)
  • Sharing the management plan developed post risk assessment
  • Provide MH Support Services to students who are on Leave of Absence
  • Create a task and finish group to collectively use the existing data to identify demand across services, and peaks in the academic cycle for individual services
  • Establish a reflective practice group for CWaG, Mental Health Advisers, Disability advisers, Counselling Staff, Student Advice Centre and UHS
  • Better communication to Personal Tutors about access to services
  • Leaflet and webpage cull
  • New publications/webpages to have a more joined up approach and branding
  • Include staff from other MH services on team building activities (reflective practice group initially)
The group also made the following recommendations:
·       Review regulation 26
·       A building/place for MH Support service, sensitive location and environment to reflect easy access for students with anxiety
·       Services organised according to need rather than staff group
·       Students at the centre of care (easy access)
·       Multidisciplinary team approach to mental health support. Mental Health Adviser role having a clearer position within psychological/wellbeing services
·       Clear strategy about what the university is trying to achieve in order to define our services
·       Good governance
·       Initial assessment by experienced/expert staff who signpost/refer accordingly
·       Targets for outcome rather than output or throughput
·       Authority to ask for incorrect support information (web, leaflets etc) across the university to be cleared
·       Clear communication channels between academic departments and MH provision to address concerns about a student
·       More hours of access, not just 9-5
·       Reduction in no. of computer systems in use
·       Text reminders for all appointments
·       Pre-arrival process for new students (with a diagnosis) to ensure that support is in place on arrival. Then check/improve support plan once student arrives
·       Joined up and proactive work during Intro Week to support new students and ensure access timely access to the right services

My personal learning from the event continues. I knew that this was going to be challenging and emotive, that people’s past experiences were going to impede their ability to move forward. Mitigations that were in place included a strong and supportive sponsor, who gave a clear and encouraging welcome speech, regular updates to the sponsor who supported the direction of travel, comprehensive ground rules for the workshop. Instinct tells me that the facilitator role could have done more, we collect feedback from the team and sponsor, this will be useful for ongoing evaluation and reflection.