Friday, 29 July 2016

Change by listening?


Want to change something?  Need a sure fire method?


Take your pick from:



    Change image1.jpg
  • LEAN
  • Kaizen
  • Six sigma
  • BPR
  • OD
  • VSM
  • PDCA
  • Agile
  • MSP
  • ………….
Change, change, change

The list is endless, most have a place some of the time in some circumstances and sometimes they even make a positive difference.  


Over the years I have observed numerous organisations and consultants (both internal and external) who align with a particular method and approach.  They become well versed in its use and quite expert at its application.  Most of the time this is a good thing but I wanted to raise the thorny question of whether we sometimes start with: ‘the answer is lean/BPR/VSM…. <delete as appropriate>  now, what is the problem?”


I attended a talk recently on Listening Skills as used by police hostage negotiators and was reminded of the quote by Nancy Kline who said “the quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking”.  This got me thinking about my interactions with the customers and teams that I work with.  Often the starting point for a change effort is by understanding the what and why of how things are currently operating and how the individuals concerned perceive things.  Coming from an engineering background I always like to come up with a solution and solve a problem.  Whilst this can work well I have discovered that there are occasions when I have formulated ‘my solution’ before really understanding the other person’s perspective or the bigger picture. Even if it is a good solution, the problem remains that it is still my solution and not necessarily the right solution for my client.


So, my takeaway from thinking about listening skills has been to spend a little more time initially to listen carefully and ask clean and open questions to help the other person explore their problem in their way.  This also gives me time to reflect carefully on what might be the most appropriate way of supporting them in improving their current situation.  And, yes this often requires that I introduce a specific methodology or approach or set of tools but I can do so with a clearer understanding of how it should help.  When all is said and done, the role of any change agent is to help people solve their problems, deliver their work better and perhaps live their lives a bit better as a consequence.

The Process Improvement Unit at The University of Sheffield have a rich array of approaches from training courses to workshops to facilitated events and a depth of knowledge about what has worked well and learning from what hasn't.  If you are looking for some help in exploring how to do what you and your teams do better please come and talk to us.  We promise to start by listening carefully!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Oh Là Lean



I’ve just returned from the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation Conference in Montreal.  I was fortunate enough to receive a UCISA travel bursary and I’ve been blogging from the UCISA site on each day of the conference http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/blog/?p=1553


How to start a revolution to enact change in HE
I was really pleased how many of the sessions included information about using lean as a method for improvements in universities. Many of the North American (continent) universities have been using lean for much longer than we have, so there were plenty of people who I could talk to and get lots of information and support.

It was also a real pleasure to meet up with many of the people who attended the Lean HE Hub Conference in Waterloo last September and hear about all of the continuous improvements they have been supporting.

Very special thanks to the McGill group who ensured that a group of us met up for dinner and hosted the event impeccably.

Rachel, Gill and Julie
I was lucky enough to spend some time with two HR colleagues who also attended the event. It was really good to be able to chat about the links between Organisational Development and Lean; I can’t believe it took a trip to Canada for us to this opportunity.

It was also nice to spend a bit of time with the team from Carleton University. They are incredibly knowledgeable and already to share some helpful insights, we do try and Skype occasionally, but it was really useful to chat face-to-face.

I always measure a conference by three things:
  1.  Relevance and quality of the sessions
  2. Networking: friendliness and knowledge of the conference delegates
  3. No of good ideas that come to me during the session.
I am delighted to say that the conference scored highly in all three areas.

My final highlight (apart from managing to do a little bit of sight seeing in the amazing city of Montreal) was winning a Carleton t-shirt in the prize draw. I will wear it with pride!



Saturday night fireworks at the port
Notre-Dame, its towers of temperance and perseverance are very similar to the lean principles of respect for people and continuous improvement

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Pre-conference workshops at the Network for Change and Innovation Conference


On Thursday a number of pre-conference workshop sessions were held. I attended to one of the pre-session workshops on “Games and Activities for Teaching Lean Concepts”. The aim of the session was to provide some tools for engaging teams, explaining some of the concepts of process improving and personal and shared communications activities.
Three people led the workshop: Marc Carlton and Amy Glenn from the University of Illinois and Ruth Archer from Michigan Technological University.
We had four main activities shared with us. Perhaps, my favourite was a paper boat building exercise that explained lean principles and other lean concepts such as visual controls, waste reduction, flow and level loading. We could have completed many iterations of this exercise (although only did it twice) and I could immediately see how this could be used at the outset of a project to guide a team into focusing on what sort of improvements they might make and to reflect on the change management process.
They also shared a standard work game, reminding us that standard work brings a baseline for improvement and whilst expertise is vital, being able to scale-up activities can only be effectively achieved via the introduction of standard work.
We had a 5S game that I was already familiar with – Google 5S numbers game if you are interested. Many people in the room had already used this with varying levels of success.
The final activity was a producing Kanban boards for personal and team use. I am an advocate of making work visible and feel that this is most appropriate it a team environment. Kanban boards can be useful ways of ensuring that a team shares knowledge and responsibility for key actions to progress projects. My takeaway from this was to ensure that work that has been actioned is also evaluated (e.g. did it go well, did I complete it to the best of my ability, what could have gone better) rather than it being an action that is just closed.
A bonus takeaway was a problem solving exercise to help identify root cause, problem solving throughout a project (and beyond) is absolutely critical, so I’m delighted to have another tool that I can use to support my project team.
Later on I attended the Newcomers Welcome session that gave us a bit more information about NCCI. Its value being:
Serving the vision: Excellence in Education
Networking: Community of Change Leaders
Sharing Stories: Best practice and challenges
Collaboration across institutions
Professional Development

It was really interesting meeting other new people and finding out what they were hoping to get out the conference.

Next up, I went to the welcome meeting that was very informal and got to meet lots of attendees, mostly from North America.

In the evening, some colleagues from McGill University took us to a restaurant in the old town of Montreal, which is utterly beautiful and we were able to continue our discussions about the pleasures and challenges of implementing process improvement and change.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Breaking up is hard to do....


This week the PIU team have had the privilege of working with colleagues from HR, Payroll, Pensions and Departments who deal with people leaving our organization.  The focus of our week together was to examine the Leavers process in detail to understand how it works and why it is the way it is so that we could address some specific problems.  These problems included:

  •          Duplication of work
  •          Delays and hand-offs
  •          Incorrect payments
  •          Late payments
  •          Inconsistency in the rules
  •         A painful process for everyone concerned


The main focus for the work was on the three categories of Resignations, Retirements and Fixed Term Contract Redundancy.  Together these counted for almost 90% of the 1300 or so people that leave the organization every year.

The team spent four days working to identify, clarify and analyse the sources of the problems then redesigning the work methods to deliver an improved way of handling leavers.  We used the lean methodologies, which the team members had been exposed to as part of our training courses, to take a structured approach to making real improvements to the services.

The team came up with new work designs in the form of process maps, which typically took half as many steps as the old approach and did so in a clear and consistent way.  They then developed a comprehensive action plan and communications plan to ensure these new process designs can be delivered in a timely and effective way.  Some of the key features are:

  •          Clarity of actions at all stages, especially the initial leaver/manager initiation          actions
  •          Combined processes (resignation & redundancy)
  •          Removal of unnecessary duplication across teams
  •          Simplifying process steps


Specific benefits will include:

  •          Right action at the right time to reduce chasing and re-work
  •          Correct and accurate information from the start of the process
  •          Streamlined approval processes
  •          Reduction in feed-back  loops
  •          Reduction in time between resignation and leavers letter (from HR)
  •          Clear communication between the Leaver and our teams
  •          Clarity in how leavers and their managers navigate the process
  •          A reduction in processing time in all areas
  •          Better information for our business intelligence and our HESA returns


Practically, these will translate into a reduction in staff effort needed to produce a better and more consistent service.  Whilst the Leavers in general were not complaining about a poor service the old system achieved what it did by much running around and chasing rather than as a result of an effective process.

The event closed with the team presenting a very clear and compelling case to Helen Rodger as the sponsor of the work.  Helen was clearly impressed by both the solution and the effort which the team had put in and gave a commitment to support the implementation of what would make a significant difference to the Leaver, the staff working on the process and the University.




Fixing stuff in time

Some time ago our senior management team in Corporate Information and Computing Services (CiCS) asked us to help the department to look at the way that problems and service requests dealt with by both our central IT helpdesk and by other teams are handled. Our recent staff and student (2014) surveys revealed that overall, CiCS service users felt that the timeliness of responses to these queries was worse than the minimum they would expect.

Our remit for the project was to look at the whole of the support function of the department to try to come up with a process or processes that everyone would use regardless of their job function, way of working, or personal preference.

We wanted to be able to provide a consistent service for customers regardless of the route they take or the service request or problem they were bringing to CiCS, to be able effectively to record and monitor problems and their resolution, and to collect data which will enable CiCS to improve both individual help provision, and overall service provision.
The team discuss their good ideas

We and the project team were aware that the software used to record calls, although possibly not ideal for the purpose, is not going to be changed in the short term, and that any process which we developed would have to take this into account. There would be no point in assuming the purchase of a new (possibly mythical) product before we start making improvements.
In making preparation for the project event, we and our helpdesk software support staff tried to analyse the data we already had - and this was problematic, because the recording of information was patchy, inaccurate, and sometimes non-existent, particularly in areas where the software is not used. This is a problem for any process improvement activity. How are we to know that improvements have been made if we don’t know how things we working before?
In the event, analysis by the team showed where the problems lay. There are at least 30 forms and processes which may start a help request to CICS, spread over the whole of the CiCS website. In addition, a number of telephone contacts exist, as well as direct contact to individual members of staff through various mechanisms. Custom and practice in the various CICS teams varies wildly, and overall, ownership of requests is ill-defined.

The team concluded that, for a new process to work, everyone would need to be using it - this was a breakthrough given the different practices referred to above.

They agreed the following:

  • A standard and formalised process across the department;
  • Use of the same software tool by everyone;
  • A review of the email and web forms points of contact;
  • A sensible and more standardised way of contacting customers;
  • Categorisation of problems by service affected;
  • Recording the solution;
  • Recording the resolution profile, rather than the problem profile;
  • Creation of a referral contact list;
  • Clear definition of point of referral;
  • Ownership of calls at second point of contact;
  • Every job closed by Department gives opportunity for customer feedback;
  • Feedback loops for maintenance of referral list;
  • Feedback loop for updating solution knowledge base
The benefits of these changes are:
  • Provision of a consistent service to customers;
  • Clarity for customer about who is responsible for dealing with their request
  • The ability to measure resolution times realistically
  • The ability to monitor improvements
  • The ability to see ‘top problems’

But of course the real test will be whether the team, and the wider CICS department, embraces and moves forward with these changes.  Strong leadership and the sense that the new processes and policies are better for everyone will help to ensure that the improvements are realised. We will be working closely with the project co-ordinator and the team to ensure that progress is rapid and sustained, as we know that delay will substantially reduce the likelihood of success.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Pesky Processes


I’ve spent most of today travelling to the Montreal for the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation Conference. I’ve been fortunate enough to be awarded a UCISA www.ucisa.co.uk travel bursary.

Part of the immigration queue at Trudeau Airport
I’m not a very patient traveller and today tested my patience quite substantially. I had two flights, both were delayed and I seemed to spend most of my time queuing and waiting. The batch and queue process of a flight is always going to present challenges to airport staff, but there is always room for improvement...

On a happier note, I observed lots of excellent visual management methods – a fantastic way of communicating with people regardless of what language they speak, lots of very customer focused staff who made every attempt to help and support customers through the poor processes and finally I spotted lots of smiling, happy children who found the whole journey (queuing and all) a source of wonder and excitement. Perhaps, I should have taken a leaf out of their book and remembered how lucky I am to be taking this trip in the first place.

I’ll be blogging and tweeting about the conference, which I hope that some of you will find useful.