Thursday, 28 April 2016

Project and Change Management Group - Liverpool


Today I attended the UCISA Project and Change Management Group Committee Meeting. Nick Dods from The University of Liverpool hosted the meeting.

We were welcomed to the university by John Cartwright, IT Director at the university. John gave us an overview of the work of the department and their endeavours to ensure that work is designed to meet the needs of research and teaching. I was particularly heartened to hear about how they ensure that IT projects have a clear strategic vision, that processes are fit for purpose before identifying an IT solution and a simple yet rigorous approach to identifying and realising benefits. John has also been Chair of UCISA and he outlined some of his key achievements as chair. We all agreed that he had accomplished some impressive improvements.

We always have a very full agenda to cover the multifaceted work of the group:
Key areas that we covered were:
·      Maintaining and establishing inks with other UCISA groups and relevant external groups.
·      An update on the current publications and toolkits the group produce.
·      Identifying how we can support UCISA with its key themes.
·      A review of our social media activity and agreeing how we can continue to build this.
·      Conference planning.

On a personal note I was delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with Leah who left PIU to go to Liverpool last month. It came as no surprise to me that she has already established credibility and is adding value to the team. I also love having the opportunity to informally catch up with colleagues from the sector, it’s often the information that doesn’t make it into the official minutes that I find supremely helpful and at times amusing.

I have volunteered to write a guide on establishing Process Improvement Capability in Higher Education. I’ll be send in out an initial survey  in mid-May. In the meantime, please do let me know if there are any specific items of interest you would like included in the guide.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

University Change Management Special Interest Group

On Friday, I attended a special interest group (SIG) for university change management teams. The event is coordinated by sums consulting www.sums.org.uk and was hosted at Kings College London. The agenda for the day was varied and perhaps highlights the nebulous nature of change management in higher education. Representatives from projects offices, strategy and planning departments, with an Organisational Development interest, business process improvement expertise and business analysts were in attendance.

The amazing Kings College Chapel
The agenda consisted of: a context piece looking at the global change picture for universities; a case study from Kings College about academic performance management (not as sinister as it sounds); the initial findings from the sums research about the size, shape and role of change teams; three presentations about key challenges of change management in HE.

My main takeaways from the day are:

1. Before I reached the event I observed on the tube some signs proudly displayed "improvement work underway". One should remember that most of the improvement activity is highly inconvenient to most users of the tube (even if it delivers long term benefits).

2. How disruptive should improvement/ change management be? Disruptive change management has its place, but needs to be used appropriately, with strong leadership and clear links to strategic ambitions.

3. We know that change management often requires us to work within matrix structures. However, resources (particularly finance, but not exclusively) are often still in silos which makes delivering the change difficult in practice.

4. Some change management projects focus on monetary saving, these are important but the message should more clearly articulate the benefits not features of change. Where have we added value?

5. Creating a culture of continuous improvement is essential, yet incredibly difficult. How would we measure this, what would the artefacts would evidence this?

These questions/ thoughts are not necessarily new to me (or anyone else) but it was useful to find out that lots of other universities are also working through these challenges. It is also a pleasure to work in a sector where we have a culture of sharing problems, case studies and good practice.

I look forward to attending the next SIG to hear how things have progressed,


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Community of Practice - Empathy Mapping

Yesterday, I was at the Change Management Community of Practice (CoP) at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). I was really pleased to be invited, although a little nervous because Claire and Katie from SHU had run a training session at our CoP in March and they had been a resounding success (they are a tough act to follow).

Attendees seemed to be genuinely interested in the process improvement work we have been involved with. Equally we identified some shared themes that present challenges for getting staff involved in process improvement activities (e.g. we don't have the time, we don't have a continuous improvement culture, it's hard to share improvements across different departments/faculties in the institution).
The main part of my visit involved me talking about how to Empathy Map. David Gray, author of The Connected Company and Gamestorming, is the man behind the empathy map. The use of empathy mapping started with web design user experience activities. Its purpose is to give us a fuller picture of a customer's experience rather than just relying on verbatim feedback. It can also be a useful tool to help us identify what we don't know about customers' experiences so that we can design surveys and focus group questions. I find it a really useful way of challenging my understanding of a process beneficiaries experience.

On the way out I was very interested in the way the lifts in the building have been changed (possibly not as an improvement activity...). There are four lifts serving eleven floors in a high volume area, rather than getting into the lift and selecting a floor, there is a touch pad where you select the floor you wish to go to (I suspect an algorithm works out the most efficient way for the lift to get people to the floor) and the screen tells you which lift to get in. My one piece of feedback is that the visual management for this process could be improved. Yes, I was that customer who on arrival just got in the lift and then wondered how I could get to my meeting when the lift "decided" which floors it was going to stop at and there were no buttons inside the lift...

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Strangers on a Plane


When we get to process re-design stage, sometimes we find that the suggested new process is almost as long, and convoluted as the current state. When this happens I realise that the training we have delivered to the team has had one key defect: we have focused on standard work rather than helping the group identify their runners, repeaters and strangers (RRS).

RRS is a Lean technique and is in my opinion one of the most powerful approaches we can use in process design.  As a “pure” Lean tool, it’s used for identifying where to concentrate your attention and you can also use it to categorise processes and services.

This concept helps identify common, high volume and regular activities. The premise being that the regular work needs to be identified and it must flow through a process. We need to identify the work that deserves unique attention (and deal with is appropriately).

·      Runners: Activities and processes that occur on a regular basis and are high volume and are highly repeatable.
·      Repeaters: Activities that occur regularly and the demand might be difficult to predict and are partially repeatable.
·      Strangers: Activities that occur infrequently and nature and demand is hard to predict. It is much more advisable to deal with these on an ‘ad hoc’ basis rather than having an agreed process.
Our training for RRS usually involves paper plane making (a variety of models) and testing. In my experience hands on training examples for RRS is key because it is a concept that can be hard to understand without seeing the problem (and the solution) in practice.

The training demonstrates that if you try to put a repeater through a runner’s process it creates inevitable delays and bottlenecks. The exercise also helps us to thinks about how to redesign our processes to enable us to identify our RRS early on and ensure that we deal with them accordingly.


Getting our project teams to identify their runner’s repeaters and strangers in a process helps ensure that work is dealt with effectively and efficiently. It can avoid overprocessing our runners and improve the time it takes for a process to deliver its output to the customers.

If you find yourself in a situation where you find that you are adding steps into a   process (because sometime we need x to happen) take a bit of time to reflect on whether your standard process needs to accommodate the strangers or could there be a simpler way?

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Limiting work in progress


For those of you that read Leah's final blog, you will know that she has moved to pastures new. We wish her every success and we are very confident that she will be absolutely amazing in her new role.

To ensure that we are responsive to current (and future) business needs we are taking sometime to create a different role and will not be replacing like for like. In the meantime, realistically we are going to be short staffed for about three months.  Now that our resources are stretched we find ourselves in a situation where managing our current workload is even more critical than usual.

As lean practitioners we already actively monitor and manage our Work in Progress (WIP). Our WIP consists of project work, workshops, training, admin and continuous improvement activities. Our challenge over the next few months will be to ruthlessly prioritise our activities to ensure that they actively contribute to strategy and that they are truly value adding.

Our visual management board and having clear and consistent priorities will support this activity.

I am optimistic that this exercise will support our learning and provide us with examples we can use when working with our project teams and delivering training. It's also going to be potentially painful- it can be hard telling people that their request has not been prioritised.

We'd be really interested in hearing from others about approaches you use to prioritise workload and how you manage WIP.