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.