Friday, 19 December 2014

Another year of process improvements

Last year at this time we wrote ‘A year of process improvements’.
What were our worries at that time?
·      Whether our project teams were able to move away from the ‘job function’ mindset and towards the idea of  ‘customer value’.
·      Not getting people to understand that improvement needs to be continuous
·      Not considering the impact of our work on other areas
·      And whether we fall prey to these ways of thinking as well
So what has changed in the current year that moves us forward?
The nature of our work means that we are constantly meeting new teams with new and different problems, so it’s natural enough that some of the issues noted above will recur, and indeed they have, and not necessarily where you would expect. We’ve worked with our estates department to improve the reactive maintenance, and were incredibly impressed with their focus on getting things done for their customers, and their frustration with processes that got in the way. We’ve worked with our research teams and have struggled with the different priorities and strategies which tend to pull the process of procuring capital equipment for research in different directions, but again we’ve been impressed with how different offices have worked together to align strategies. In other areas, that might be supposed to have a customer focus, we’ve been surprised to find that lip service comes well before customer service.
We clearly need to keep plugging away with this one.
As to continuous improvement, we think we’re making some headway. Anecdotally we’ve heard from former team members that they’ve thought of new improvements to processes after project closure, and we’ve tried hard to ensure that we keep scanning for problems that arise as a result of improvements so that we can help with further improvements. For instance, we’re currently working with our outreach team to iron out some of the problems caused or not improved by the casual workers project. And we’ve persuaded some teams that a 15 minute improvement session every day or week is a practical and sensible idea. But it’s still a hard message to give – new pressures and demands on staff mean that processes which sort of work are ignored or go to the bottom of the pile for thinking about ‘later’.
‘Systems Thinking’ – understanding the impact of our work is still a major concern. As a unit which is tasked with helping where help is called for, we’re still very much focusing on improvements to individual processes, large or small. There is not yet a culture of ‘lean thinking’ in the University as a whole (it would be foolish to think that there would be!) and we have not yet started our lean leadership training programme which might help.
Are we downhearted? We think that this year has been a reality check for us – projects have been difficult for many reasons – politics, lack of strategy alignment, departmental cultures and so on. But perhaps this is a sign that we’re dealing with the more difficult and more important processes; that we are starting at least to understand the difficulty and length of the journey that we have started on the road to ‘process excellence’.

A very happy Christmas and peaceful new year to our reader.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Continuous Improvement at the British Library

Yesterday, I went to a meeting of the Yorkshire Lean Community of Practice. It was hosted at the British Library in Boston Spa. The meeting comprises two presentations, a tour and time to meet other continuous improvement practitioners.

The first presentation was "Creating a Customer Focused Culture - Customer Service Excellence a Case Study" by Jackie Knowles Head of Customer Services in the Information Directorate at The University of York.

Jackie outlined their on-going journey to promote and celebrate customer service excellence (CSE) from the initial idea through to getting the accreditation in March 2014 and the subsequent work. Jackie outlined the importance of having a core team, supported by champions within the department, the value of having a pre- assessment health check prior to going for accreditation.

Since gaining accreditation in March, the work has become business as usual with staff submitting case studies to demonstrate service excellence, and staff recognising that much of the process involved identifying existing good practice and sharing this with staff. An interesting conversation followed with staff from the British Library (who also have accreditation) comparing their experiences of going for the CSE award.

The second presentation was by Tim Franklin, Strategic Systems Programme Manager at The University of York on Stakeholder Management. This presentation contained really practical advice on managing stakeholders during a change management project. Highlights for me included remembering to distinguish between drivers for change and the why (the common purpose). I also appreciated his reminder about not sharing too many problems in the wider project communications. Tim said " don't tell people about your troubles, 80% don't care and 20% are glad", which made me smile.

IMG_1837.JPGWe had a tour of the British Library, which really is fantastic: of particular interest were the different ways a document may be digitised; and how the British Library manages their two hour turnaround for people ordering fast track books and articles. Viewing the crane in the 21 metre high room, which is programmed to identify and pick up the correct box which is stored in a room with no daylight and low oxygen, then send it along a conveyor belt to staff to in another room to pick the correct book/ journal from the box, digitise the information and send the pdf to the customer, was fascinating.




IMG_1826.JPGI was also impressed with the kaizen work that is happening in the operations area: lots of good visual management; use of kanban; lots of case studies of previous kaizen and evidence of a group of staff who are very proud to be involved in Continuous Improvement. I was inspired to see evidence of lean used in a practical way, every day; I'm looking forward to sharing the detail of the event with staff back at The University of Sheffield.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Reacting to change


Burst pipeA week or so ago we facilitated a week-long event for our Estates and Facilities Management department. We were helping them to look at their reactive maintenance process, because they’re about to upgrade the current version of their maintenance system to the latest version. The project manager for this major project took the unusual (but essential) step of thinking about the fitness for use of the current process. All too often we find that the introduction of a new computer system is seen as a panacea which will fix all the problems with the current process, and provide accurate, timely and just more management information. It was very heartening therefore to work on a project where the importance of getting the process right was recognised.


The process improvement project was planned and organised quickly in order to fit in with the overall project timescales. We pride ourselves on our ability to respond to meet people's needs - but this rapidity caused problems. We didn’t have time for a planning meeting, so some members of the project team were not briefed as well as they should have been. Some seemed to have been told they were going to be in a workshop with the software suppliers, others had only a sketchy idea of who PIU were and what we were doing. This didn’t become apparent to us until later on in the week. It’s amazing that in spite of this people were still positive and keen to make changes to resolve some of the many problems associated with the maintenance process. In particular participants were telling us that Risk Assessment and Method Statements (RAMs) were unworkable since they required too much time to devise, especially when working with contractors, and that SLAs imposed bore no relationship to reality and were therefore worthless. We spoke to the director of EFM who told us that there was no question of not having RAMs, but that they could be generic, and likewise that SLAs were a regulatory requirement, but that they needed to be sensible.

By the end of the week a new process which stands a chance of being adhered to had been drawn up, we had considered health and safety and SLA times,  and participants were enthusiastic about the possibility for change, although fearful that it would not get past senior management in EFM.
Mending a pipe
What are the main lessons from this flawed project?
  • Never assume that project members know what you’re talking about - always check assumptions and follow your own process properly.
  • Always check the facts - don’t rely on people’s hazy memory of the rationale behind decisions.
  • Admire people for their ability to circumvent regulation where it stops them getting the job done rather than blaming them - and use that creativity to build a process that they don't need to circumvent!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Lean HE Conference 2014


Just back from The University of Cardiff where the Lean University Team hosted a fantastic conference for Lean HE practitioners. The theme of the conference was student experience; the conference agenda was filled with people who have been working to improve processes that directly affect the student experience.

The conference was well attended by many UK institutions, and also practitioners from the USA, Canada, Norway and Australia. The international element of the conference was really beneficial and helped us to think about Lean HE with a broad remit. Interestingly, the challenges and problems we identified appear to cross borders.

There was a pre-conference meeting on the Wednesday evening, this really helped to set the tone of the conference; to encourage colleagues to share and explore the work they have been doing in a constructively critical way.

The main conference was held in the stunning Glamorgan Building, it’s featured in the recent television series Sherlock and Dr Who. The keynote address was given by our Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Keith Burnett; the speech was both encouraging and knowledgeable about the challenges of working on improvement projects in the current climate. He was also very clear that we needed to continue to do this, my favourite quote was "Lean is a refined form of love", reflecting that process improvement is as much about respect for people as continuous improvement.

All of the sessions were excellent; a recurring theme was the discussion about whether we see students as customers. Many of the attendees did see students as customers, this is possibly a reflection that In Lean terms customers define value and all processes should be in place to deliver value to the customer. The debate was lively, and some of the student representatives argued quite forcefully about being partners rather than customers. Perhaps, unsurprisingly the consensus was that we should not get too involved in debating semantics, and focus on improving things.

As with many conferences, the real value was being able to talk to people in similar roles at different institutions, learn some things, share some things about the work we are doing at The University of Sheffield and perhaps most beneficial was having some time to reflect, re-energise and identify ways of improving our way of doing things. This conference did not disappoint it delivered all of these things.

Next year's conference will be hosted at The University of Waterloo, Canada 10-11 September 2015, further details to be released in the new year on the Lean HE Hub website www.leanhehub.ac.uk

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Project and Change Management Group

Blogging on the train back from Lancaster University reflecting on today's meeting...

I really enjoy being on the UCISA Project and  Change Management Group Committee  http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/groups/pcmg.aspx. The group was established in 2013 to look at all things programme and project management and change management within HE. Take a look at the web page for a more precise overview.

The meeting started with a welcome  from our host, Andrew Meikle, Head of Corporate Information Systems who gave an overview of the work at Lancaster University and introduced their very impressive digital vision.

The meeting itself will be formally minuted in due course. In the meantime, I'll share my main highlights. There was a lot of discussion about the use of Agile. Many of us are doing it, but still keen to learn from others. There was some general consensus  that we needed to work with our own institutions to ensure that there is more widespread understanding about Agile and that we work with our developers to continue to support their understanding. One of my thoughts was that ten years ago some of my favourite developers were the people who would meet with me regularly and help me prioritise the system development requests and take the time to understand what my requirements were, so perhaps Agile is also a return to  the "good old days" for some of us... just a thought!

As a group we are keen to continue to publish outputs; the Major Projects Governance Toolkit has been well received both here on the UK and at Educause in the US. We have a couple of other documents that are almost ready for publication. Risk Management will hopefully be the next.

The other main business for the day was preparing for our first event which will be held on 10 June 2015, with the theme of the event being about managing change. We definitely plan to have at least one workshop about Agile.

I really enjoy working in a sector that so readily shares its best practice and is open to discussing the problems and challenges. Similarly I remain impressed that there is recognition that the solutions are complex and rarely does ‘one size fit all’ for different institutions.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

How much intervention?

In the Process Improvement Unit our role is to facilitate process improvement projects and deliver training. It is important that our project teams, and the wider departments have ownership of the changes and future improvement work in their area. Our remit is to question and support the teams to focus on improvements using a lean approach.

Recently, one of our projects has caused us to take a more active role in helping to deliver the improvements. The project coordinator was unexpectedly unavailable and the rest of the team were so busy balancing the day job and the improvement work that they didn't have resource to help with coordination activities.

We talked to the project sponsor and the team and agreed that PIU would assist with project coordination. This has allowed the improvement work to move forward and ensured that the project team receive regular updates. We're still involved with coordinating the work (which will not be fully implemented until mid 2015), so we don't know what the impact of our intervention will be. We are closely working with people to ensure that we continue to support rather than shape the improvements.

We were willing to take on this additional responsibility because there are a number of positive factors in place: a highly committed project team who are keen to make the changes; a project sponsor who is also very supportive of the changes and has been keen to be involved at a number of levels; also, we do not have the relevant skills to make the changes ourselves, so we can truly coordinate rather than make the changes. Our fear is that we'll help in the short term but stymie future improvements; people's ideas about how to avoid this would be appreciated.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Nottingham LeanHE Hub Meeting

What’s the best way to overhaul your computer systems? That was the question posed at the latest meeting of the LeanHEHub in Nottingham University. Mick Gash, the Lean Programme Manager introduced the group to the work being undertaken by ‘Project Transform’, Nottingham’s major initiative “to deliver joined up support systems and processes throughout the student lifecycle, across the whole University.” Key to the project is the understanding that the transformation is “far more than merely an IT system implementation.  It is about delivering a solution that the people in the University value and feel ownership for, ensuring that the most efficient processes are implemented, supported by the right technology solution.” Nottingham summarise this as ‘People, Process, Technology’.
This approach fits well with what we, currently on a much smaller scale, are trying to achieve with the Process Improvement Unit. From our early days we have tried to ensure that in our projects, we think about people first, process second and technology last. Why is this so important? Because it is people who are served by processes, people who operate processes and people who are frustrated by processes. Without understanding the problems that people face it’s impossible to design better processes. Once a better process is designed, one that fits the needs of ‘customers’ (however defined) and one that operates without waste, batching and holdups, then technology can be used to provide further improvements. Doing technology first will only produce a process that does the wrong thing faster.
We’re really encouraged by the tight integration between ‘lean’ methods and systems procurement and development that Nottingham are pioneering, and hope that we can achieve similar synergies here at Sheffield with our own student systems review.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Yorkshire Lean Learning

Earlier this year a community of practice was established for Yorkshire lean professionals. Last night I was able to attend my first meeting, it was the third meeting of the group.

Laura Hallett from The University of York welcomed us to the event and introduced the speakers. She also mentioned the Leanhe Hub conference which will be held in Cardiff next month http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/leanheconference/

The main presentation was by Stewart Halliday Assistant Director of Transformation and Change at City of York Council. At the council there is a drive for capital programmes, efficiency, business consolidation and transformation. They use lean objectives to empower all employees to make a difference, create conditions for widespread improvement, provide understanding and skills of lean thinking and give control to those who see the opportunities.

Their lean principles are: Don't waste people's time, provide the quality that is required, changes must be identified and made as close to the Ing of delivery as possible, it's an ongoing task.

The next steps are looking at not just improving their existing processes, but creating a vision of the service they want to provide. They are thinking about leadership, clarity of purpose, involving as many people as possible (including our customers). They are also finding sometime for leaders to tolerate the failures, and encourage staff to try new things, rather than fearing failure.

IMG_1743.JPG
The next slot was Hannah Smith one of the Business Analysts from The University of York, she shared an example of a visual agenda, based on Penny Pullan's work in “Making Projects Work”. The aim of the agenda is to provide a shared visual aid to support a meeting. It needs to have a purpose, plan, outcomes, roles, ground rules, actions and a car park for questions. The use of the visual agenda has been really effective and is gaining momentum at The University of York.

Hannah also talked about Piktochart which is a free app which is good for helping people to represent things visually. They are using a blog to informally share information with the wider university community about their projects and have also created a wiki site for the formal actions. Other work they have been doing includes been using Pinterest shared board and Hannah also shared a nice example of how they help teams create a vision statement using a big whiteboard in an interactive session.

We then had 15 minutes for networking, it was great to catch up with people using lean in their day job, I look forward to attending the next event in December.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Modern Language Module Madness

Some time ago the University decided it would be a good idea to offer every student the chance of studying a language, in order to improve their employability and general life chances. Great idea - but as with so many ideas, implementation was not thought about in any detail, with the result that those providing the service - the Modern Languages Teaching Centre and others - have had to do the best they could with limited resources and a tangled skein of spreadsheets to manage the tracking and processing of students and classes. To these problems are added the complexity of module code structure and the differences in fees for different types of students.

Last year the MLTC came to us to ask for help with fixing some of these problems. Unfortunately, owing to pressure of work on the MLTC team we were unable to hold an improvement event until July this year - meaning that changes for the new year would have an extremely small window.
As part of the scoping and planning meetings, we identified that a successful outcome would likely mean simplification of the module codes and fee structures , and the ability to track students’ progress more easily.

At our improvement event we examined the reasons for the fee structure and decided that the stated objective, which was to give incentives not to take the exam when not necessary for the student’s main course of study, and to accrue extra income from external students, did not really work as planned, and caused a great deal of extra work in processing payments, refunds and so on (around 100 hours staff time each year). The decision was made to unify the fee, and after consulting experts from our Strategy and Planning Office we found that there were no hurdles - encouraging as the existing fees had just been re-confirmed for the new year.

Next for consideration was the question of the module codes. This was complicated. Each language course, say, Italian has not one but for module codes - as follows:
IT101C, IT101I, IT101H, and IT101M. Students are assigned to one of these module codes depending on their year of study on their degree course. IT101C is year 1, IT101I is year 2, IT101H is third year, and IT101M is masters level. Externals (staff and others) are put on IT101C. The logic of this is that students must study modules at the same level as their degree course. But in fact students on all four different codes are studying at the same time, with the same teacher in the same classroom, and taking the same exam at the end of the module. The ramifications of this setup are: four times the amount of exams to set and timetable, four times the amount of class lists, four times the amount of setup work to create each module and so on; and perhaps more importantly, confusion and chaos for the student, and a great deal of work fixing problems when students are assigned to the wrong code - as often happens. The team calculated that 184 hours staff time each year are devoted to this activity.

Again consultation with experts was undertaken to see if removal of the ‘level’ suffixes would cause a problem anywhere within the University’s processes. Nobody could see that they would, everyone was supportive - but equally, nobody felt they could actually authorise the change.

Given the short window for change, the result was that the new year will use the same course codes as previous years. Already this has meant that some 60 students, allocated to the wrong module code, will have to be moved to the correct code, and this will continue through the start of the new academic year.

What is our learning from this project?

  1. Make sure that approval for changes has really been given, so that team members are not disappointed.
  2. Make sure that consultation with stakeholders is genuine and that they understand the purpose of the improvement event.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Doctoral Training Centres

In April 2013 we facilitated a problem definition workshop, for staff involved in the administrative processes of the Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs). This was an area where many people had tried to fix problems, but there had been limited success, there was a great deal of frustration in the room. Outputs from the workshop defined seven main themes which needed to be addressed. Following on from the workshop we were asked to look at running a process improvement project focusing on some of the process problems identified at the workshop.



IDC_Main_Banner.jpg

What was the problem? The DTCs provide a cohort approach to postgraduate research education, often industry focused and offering training options not available to traditional PhD students: each DTC was structured differently and the steer from the university was to grow this area of business.

The main process problem was around data, the courses were structured very differently on the student management system, and there was confusion where DTCs should sit in the hierarchy of both the university and within the data tables. Although our focus was on data, our project sponsor was very clear that the outcomes of the project should focus on student experience as well as process efficiency and effectiveness.

We were asked to run the project as a series of workshops, to ensure that staff were able to attend. We ran three full day workshops in November which focused on looking at the high level process, where the current data problems occur and where are the gaps and then agreeing how the data should be coded in the system. All very important, but how did this help the student experience? We found that every time the process required a manual intervention it delayed students from registering, receiving stipends, getting the correct comms from their department, progressing to the next year of study as well as physical access to rooms and resources. The doctoral training centre managers did not always know who was able to help, so they were spending a lot of time locating the right person to fix things for students on an individual basis.

The two main outputs of the project were a revised coding structure and we also found time to draft a manual for all doctoral training centre managers to use, which gives them a clear guide to a student’s administrative journey. The benefits of the project were:
  • Student Experience - a smoother process, which is right first time, with less reliance on manual intervention. This will ensure that students are linked to the correct academic department, they will receive departmental communications, and have access to the correct labs, library and computing facilities. The improved process will ensure that stipends and bursaries are attributed quickly. Of equal importance it will free up the time of the doctoral training manager, so that they spend less time dealing with problems and have more time to focus on value added activities.
  • Administrative efficiencies and effectiveness - It is estimated that the changes will save the university approximately 630 hours per annum in staff time, and perhaps more create an environment where increased student numbers can be accommodated.

Following the workshops there was still further work required: minor systems development work to amend the online application form and some of fields in the database. Each new DTC needed to be given a programme code, but also each of the existing DTC needed to be re-coded and it all needed to be tested to make sure that the assumptions of the team worked in practice. A task and finish group was set up to ensure that the work was completed by 31 July 2014, in time for HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) reporting to happen. 

To date it’s our first project where one of the outputs enables students to receive the correct communications, and more importantly for them, they will now be invited to the departmental postgraduate ball.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Sharing Good Practice

On 29 July 2014.The University of Bedfordshire hosted the UCISA sub group Project and Change Management (PCMG) committee meeting  http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/groups/pcmg.aspx. The group is comprised of HIgher Education IT project managers, programme managers, business analysts and other people who are involved with change management activities.

The group was interested to hear about how some of the process improvement projects here at Sheffield  have then resulted in IT project work and also how we work with our Programme and Projects Unit to deliver problem definition workshops and process mapping activities to support larger projects.

For my part I was interested in learning from other universities about the projects they are working on; sharing of good practice and experiences good and bad is invaluable. One of the pieces of work which the group is working on is about how to brief and support project sponsors, this should be really beneficial.

The group also started planning for its first event, which will be next year, further details to follow. We hope to run it in June 2015 , and ensure that the agenda offers something for project managers and change agents alike.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Presenting at AMoSSHE

We agreed to co-present a workshop with the Head of the Counselling Service at the AMoSSHE (Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education) Conference on
Friday 18th July. The workshop outlined the project we facilitated “Improving Access to the Counselling Service”. A case study is available on our website: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/piu/casestudies

As well as giving an overview of the Counselling Service improvement project, the workshop enabled participants to identify and share common problems that face senior staff in Higher Education Student Service departments and start to share some of the ways they are starting to improve things.

Attendees were really interested in hearing about the improvements at the Counselling Service and there was a feeling that many of the challenges were also affecting most of the HE sector. We hope that we also helped people to think about addressing the challenges using a lean approach and thinking about scoping projects into small, manageable parts.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Advising the Advisers

Some while ago we helped the Student Counselling Service to review and improve their student registration and other administrative processes, with some success. As a result  the Student Advice Centre approached us to help them with their processes. On the face of it, the SAC has the same problems as the Counselling Service: multiple entry points; difficulties in scheduling appointments and balancing the demand from students with other work and priorities, a lack of clarity about the service offering and the extent and remit of the work.
It would be tempting, therefore, to assume that the solution for one could be applied to the other in a biscuit cutter fashion, but this would be a mistake.
Working with the Student Advice Centre last week, we soon realised that their history, position in the University (they are part of the Students’ Union), service offering and indeed processes are very different from the Counselling Service, and therefore approaches to change needed to be based on their unique situation.
So, while the Counselling Service team decided that the appropriate way to improve admissions process for students was to unify the various routes into counselling by introducing a short online registration and a half-hour triage session, SAC were very keen to keep a variety of contact mechanisms - email, telephone, ‘drop-in’ enquiries - to deal with the different student preferences and geographical realities. What SAC realised is that the method of contact should not be used as a way of prioritising work. As one team member said “an email is just a person really”. As a result of this ‘aperçu’, the team decided to unify the process ‘behind the scenes’, so that prioritisation could be done based on need rather than contact type.
As well as providing advantages for the student, this approach made it obvious that time needed to be allocated for advisers to deal with emails in just the same way as it was for drop-ins and other appointments.
It’s also interesting that, while Counselling Service were aware that their drop-in service was a sticking plaster designed to address the problem of lack of time for appointments, none of the SAC team saw their drop-in sessions as part of  the problem before the improvement event. As a result of unpicking the current process, however, they came to realise that drop-ins did not guarantee timely service for the student, and that an appointment system might serve both advisers, who would have more control over their diaries, and students who would have greater flexibility about when they saw an adviser without having to wait for an indeterminate amount of time in a queue.
What does this tell us? For us it’s about making sure we understand what’s happening in the particular place of work, and not assuming that solutions for one place will work in another.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Buying Shinyometers

In process improvement we often talk about “runners, repeaters and strangers”. Runners are the work that happens all the time, that is already well understood and highly standardised. Repeaters are the work that happens on a regular basis, but is perhaps more specialised or requires special expertise to process. Strangers are those pieces of work which are seen as unique and therefore require unique ways of working every time.

Last week we facilitated an improvement event to look at the process for procuring, installing and commissioning expensive research equipment. Because such equipment is only bought relatively rarely (about 5 items per month), and because the kit purchased is different every time, and because the timescale for purchase varies enormously, it has been difficult to create and follow a ‘standard’ process. Every purchase has been treated as a “stranger”.
So why is this a problem? Surely the uniqueness of the kit, funder requirements and timescales necessitates a unique approach every time?
That might be true if the outcome of each purchase was successful installation and use of the equipment, but on too many occasions it is something of a disaster. For instance:
  • the kit needs more power than can be supplied by a 13amp plug, but nobody knew this would be a problem;
  • The kit needs space that we don’t have allocated, because it’s too big to go in Professor B’s office like the last one he bought
  • We can’t buy the kit for 50 days because it needs to go through EU tender, and the funder wants us to spend the money in 30 days
  • The kit needs to operate in a controlled environment (heat, dust, vibration) which we don’t have;
  • The kit needs computing support because it produces 10 TB of data every week which needs to be stored somewhere;
  • and so on
Some of these problems could be foreseen by the academic leading the bid for funding, but many not. The end result is inevitably a great deal of running around by everyone now involved to make the best of a bad job - and the academic, whose interest is starting research using the kit, often finds herself in the position of a project manager, chasing progress through the procurement office, through estates, the computing service and all of the support services who are needed to get the research equipment installed and working.

So one of the aims of the process improvement activity was to move towards treating purchases as repeaters, rather than as strangers. This in turn would make it easier to make sure that all the key people get involved at the right time every time. But could the team do it?

It turned out to be easier than everyone thought. The academics on the team accepted the need for proper planning, research services understood the need for dissemination of information to all parties, estates and procurement saw the advantage in getting involved early on to provide broad-brush figures and ideas on how to proceed. All that remains now is to implement the new process!