Monday, 13 January 2014

Time constraints

Our first event for the new year involved a small group of staff looking at the process for collecting and reporting data for students who go on placements abroad. At the scoping stage it was agreed that we would focus on students who have compulsory exchanges as part of their degree programme and scope this down further to look at the School of Languages and Culture students.
The nature of the academic year often means that there are only small windows of opportunity to attend process improvement workshops. A key step in this process happens in late January/ early February, so we were keen to run the event prior to the step happening. Unfortunately, staff availability from the supporting areas meant that we had to reduce the number of days of the event.
Before the event we provided the team with an overview of lean principles and an introduction to process mapping. We explained that we would need to be much more directive in our facilitation of the workshop and that keeping to time was imperative.
The main problems we identified were: lack of clarity about the data that is needed; the process consisted of a number of sub-processes that were not very well linked together; multiple systems and spreadsheets; multiple communications about part of the process; and lack of clarity about the process.
The improvements identified included merging two memos to departments into one, the creation of a shared google spreadsheet for collecting data, the creation of a set of staff and student facing web pages explaining the process (with clear flow charts), the inclusion of key professional services staff at student briefing events and a clear process for dealing with changes to placement arrangements.
Further improvements included some system changes to allow automatic uploads of data to the student system, and automatic changes to data. The improved process can be for other students going abroad on placements or periods of study, which will lead to further efficiencies and help to support the university’s Internationalisation and Employability strategies. From the student perspective, the improved process will ensure that the data that triggers student maintenance loan payments, requests for tuition fee payments and erasmus grant payments will be accurate and timely.
The reduced time available for the workshop was problematic, as we knew it would be, and at times we felt that sufficient consideration could not be given to all points of view. We are always conscious that our role is primarily to facilitate the team in coming to their own conclusions about the best way forward, and it can be uncomfortable to be as directive as we felt we needed to be if we were to achieve the deliverables envisaged at the scoping stage. The danger is, of course, that the adoption of solutions is paid lip service only, as they may not be seen as ‘team solutions’. Time will tell.