Thursday, 6 April 2017

Corporation Tax Review

For the past two days we have been working with a team to review the Corporation Tax. The problem statement we considered was “The responsibility for identifying corporation tax treatment of activities currently rests with the tax team, this is a complex, high volume process which is entirely manual. The process relies on interpreting vague data and relies on a key member of staff which is a risk to business continuity.”

We mapped the process in a small group prior to the event, which helped us move things forward very quickly. The other members of the project team (not as closely involved in the process) were able to use the current state map to identify problems within the process. The main problem themes we identified were:
·       Lots of spreadsheets
·       Lots of systems
·       Granularity of data (sometimes too much, sometimes too little and provided by many stakeholders)
·       Timing – the process took about nine months and was driven by other processes e.g the publication of the university accounts/ HESA etc
·       Who knows what/ Training and Information – the tax team were using best judgement about primary purpose/non-primary purpose tax activities because the information was not available at source.
The improvements included:
·       Creating a report from the University’s primary financial management system to ensure that 90% of the data could be filtered and identified via one system report.
·       A new field in the finnacial management system to identify non-primary purpose activities at the point of set up (we will use our current data set to back fill the information in the system to avoid people having to manually fill in historical data)
·       Changes in working practices within the tax team to ensure segregation of duties (this removes the need for an external organisation to review)
·       A managed risk approach
A much quicker process (down to three months), with more contingency time built into the process
The tax team are able to add value to the process by ensuring that the system (report) does the identification and data manipulation work

The team have a set of actions that they need to carry out over the next few months, this is going to be hard because the new process cannot be implemented until the next financial year, so they will also have very busy day jobs. I am heartened by their focus and enthusiasm and look forward to supporting them over the coming months.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Student Mental Health Support

In January we were approached by staff in Student Services to help them with their review of student mental health support. The problem statement that we agreed was “Students have difficulty in accessing appropriate support and the support provided is fragmented and not tailored to the individual. There is a lack of appropriate information sharing between the various service providers. The support provision is often reactive because it does not balance prevention and support and lacks definition of capacity both in terms of service “internally” and also in links to other agencies.”

Last week we ran a five-day event to unpick the problems and identify an action plan for moving forward. Key deliverables for the project are:
  • Meaningful and ethical data/evidence base of need and demand to shape decision making for service provision (to include student well-being data). At the moment it is in a variety of systems
  • A simple, consistent and straightforward process that enables access to the right support
  • A process that delivers tailored and appropriate support for students
  • A process informed by clear boundaries for support
  • A set of diagrams/words that enables the information to be understood by staff and students
  • A process that supports Out of Hours processes (a separate university project) to input/output
We used service blueprinting to unpick the problems and then ran a number of scenarios through the blueprints to ensure that we all understood the services provision form the student perspective as well as unpicking the back office processes.

Moving on from this we had a successful session where we created a vision for the future. Moving to the practical process proved trickier, people had difficulty determining what could practically be done over the next few months and there was also some cynicism as to whether the future vision would ever be implemented. After considering a number of options, the team agreed that they would do the following things (to be achieved over the summer period, and in place by for start of term):
  • Produce and use a shared toolkit for all MH student support practitioners
  • Request resource for supporting students with lower level needs (wellbeing advisers)
  • Share information across services - use Titanium System initially
  • Shared triage across services predicated on use of the shared toolkit and shared computer systems
  • Sharing of risk assessments (if it changes, inform the relevant person)
  • Sharing the management plan developed post risk assessment
  • Provide MH Support Services to students who are on Leave of Absence
  • Create a task and finish group to collectively use the existing data to identify demand across services, and peaks in the academic cycle for individual services
  • Establish a reflective practice group for CWaG, Mental Health Advisers, Disability advisers, Counselling Staff, Student Advice Centre and UHS
  • Better communication to Personal Tutors about access to services
  • Leaflet and webpage cull
  • New publications/webpages to have a more joined up approach and branding
  • Include staff from other MH services on team building activities (reflective practice group initially)
The group also made the following recommendations:
·       Review regulation 26
·       A building/place for MH Support service, sensitive location and environment to reflect easy access for students with anxiety
·       Services organised according to need rather than staff group
·       Students at the centre of care (easy access)
·       Multidisciplinary team approach to mental health support. Mental Health Adviser role having a clearer position within psychological/wellbeing services
·       Clear strategy about what the university is trying to achieve in order to define our services
·       Good governance
·       Initial assessment by experienced/expert staff who signpost/refer accordingly
·       Targets for outcome rather than output or throughput
·       Authority to ask for incorrect support information across the university to be cleared
·       Clear communication channels between academic departments and MH provision to address concerns about a student
·       More hours of access, not just 9-5
·       Reduction in no. of computer systems in use
·       Text reminders for all appointments
·       Pre-arrival process for new students (with a diagnosis) to ensure that support is in place on arrival. Then check/improve support plan once student arrives
·       Joined up and proactive work during Intro Week to support new students and ensure access timely access to the right services
My personal learning from the event continues. I knew that this was going to be challenging and emotive, that people’s past experiences were going to impede their ability to move forward. Mitigations that were in place included a strong and supportive sponsor, who gave a clear and encouraging welcome speech, regular updates to the sponsor who supported the direction of travel, comprehensive ground rules for the workshop. Instinct tells me that the facilitator role could have done more, we collect feedback from the team and sponsor, this will be useful for ongoing evaluation and reflection.

Thursday, 23 February 2017


Today I attended a full day training session on ‘Scrum’ - part of the Agile development methodology. The training was organised by our development team, and we in PIU were keen to attend to understand where similarities in approach between Lean and Agile could be useful, and where differences that could trip us up might lie.

The training was engaging and interesting, and our trainer Tom Sedge had extensive knowledge of the subject. He explained that there were considerable similarities between Lean and Agile, and he was not wrong.
I want to focus here, not on what Lean and Scrum are, but on the similarities between the approaches.


IMG_4289.jpgFirst up - the common nature of the problems Lean and Agile are designed to solve. Training attendees (most of them working in development in one way or another) produced a list remarkably similar to the one we see in our process improvement projects.


The ‘Agile mindset’ maps more or less directly on to concepts in lean to do with the ‘servant-leader’, respect for people’s skills knowledge and experience, and making decisions about the work as near as possible to the place and people where the work happens, and seeking continuous improvement in small increments,


In terms of structure and process, similarities exist between the ‘Daily Scrum’ where progress is checked and problems highlighted, and the daily improvement meeting in lean - designed for the same purpose and running (usually) for no more than 15 minutes. The ‘Scrum Master’ for the scrum meeting, and for the general running of the ‘sprints’ which is where the productive work happens, is seen not as a manager, but as a ‘servant’ to the development team. Lean specifically recognises that managers are ‘unproductive’ and their role is to support those who are ‘doing the real work’.
For our projects, the Project co-ordinator fulfills a similar role, and is chosen not for their management position, but for their facilitative and organisational skills.
Each ‘sprint’, running for two to four weeks, corresponds to the lean notion of implementing change in small, achievable, chunks.
The visual nature of the control mechanisms in place in the scrum method - The Kanban board - has a direct parallel in the lean world, and indeed the name comes from a lean term. We’re really keen on visual management in PIU, and I was delighted to see a representative from a software training consultancy arguing strongly for a simple solution based on a whiteboard rather than complicated software! Importantly the concept of ‘pulling the work’ is being used, rather than the traditional management push on to potentially overloaded workers.
I also noted that only two ‘sprints’ (or work packages) are ideally ready to be worked on at one time. This means that the work necessary in specifying the real work is kept to a minimum, done only when necessary, and replenished when necessary, again using the pull principle. This has two benefits:
  • It saves effort on development of work which may not be done in the near future (or ever if circumstances change)
  • It allows for greater understanding of the necessary work before it is attempted

Again, this is the Lean ‘Just in Time’ principle at work.

There was a lot more to the training - the concept of sprint burndown seemed to me to be similar to the concept of takt time for example, and the notion of quick decision-making in an uncertain and imperfect environment.


We  were asked at the end of the day what we  will implement as a result of the training - a really useful training technique to encourage people to think actively - and I came away thinking that we should consider whether to tighten up our implementation plans so that they resemble more the ‘sprints’ of scrum. It seems to me that this would have benefits in concentrating teams’ minds, and in producing work packages that provided real benefits in a short time.
I also really like the ‘planning poker’ cards - not really planning or poker but used to quickly estimate the time to do a piece of work. I’m sure we could make use of these and there’s evidently a ready supply in the department already.

More Work

I have some research to do as well. The ‘Stacey Matrix’ is a useful prioritisation tool, and I need to find out more about the Agile Manifesto.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Power of Observation

One of the value adding activities that PIU offers is facilitation of process improvement events and workshops. How do we evidence that this is value adding?

We always ask for feedback from our project teams about our facilitation, and have consistently score well – although I sometimes worry that the outcomes of the event bias the facilitation score (and I recognise these factors are not mutually exclusive.

We always try to co-facilitate our events and this helps our reflective practice. My concern is that sometimes there is a risk that we reinforce the wrong behaviour (with the best of intentions – we all like to be supportive colleagues, constructive feedback isn’t always easy).

Recently we have had two external people who kindly gave up their time to observe and feedback on PIU’s facilitation skills and practice.

One of the concepts we often talk to our project teams and training practitioners about is Gemba (going to where the work happens) and how powerful observing a process can be to get some data about performance. We also warn people that it is likely if this happens as a one off (or rare) activity this can effect how the process performs. Regular, informed and supportive gemba walks or observations need to be in place to truly gain insight into process performance.

The first observation happened last week when the Engineering Timetabling Team agreed to have an external in the room. We put in place a confidentiality agreement and the team were very clear that the focus was on PIU facilitation not their comments or behaviour. I found this quite daunting, even though it is an activity that I am confident in delivering.

For me it was essential that the person recognised that their role was peer-support, and they were keen to learn as well as give constructive feedback.

At first I was conscious that being observed did change my behaviour, I found myself making eye contact with them rather than the project team. However, it was a four day event and I soon forgot that they were in the room and focused on the task in hand. 

Did it change my practice? Probably. It had a positive effect on my facilitation of the event. I was more focused than usual on how I was running the event and probably a little more thorough with my preparation.

What did I learn?  The feedback was incredibly constructive (and positive) which was really helpful. I had time to discuss points that I had been concerned about how I had introduced a couple of activities and a couple of times when I may have misjudged the mood of the room E.g There was one point when they were very tired and I probably should have used the time differently.  Knowing that I was going to receive feedback absolutely made me reflect more on how I had performed.

Why agree to be observed a second time? Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, I had another external person observe a customer journey mapping workshop this week. This time the observer was from outside of Higher Education, I welcomed getting feedback from someone outside of the sector, lean principle no. 5 (pursue perfection) for me means constantly striving to be the very best. It is my view that learning from other sectors can help us look beyond our comfort zones and inform our vision with regard to perfection.

Would I agree to be observed again? Absolutely, I also highly recommend it to others!

I am grateful to the participants of the workshops for allowing an external person into the room. I also offer a big thank you to Paula and Simon for their time and constructive feedback.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Timetable for Change

We have just spent four days working with staff to review and improve the timetabling process. We focused the scope of the project on our Faculty of Engineering. The project team included staff that are tasked with supporting the administration of the process, Departmental Administration Managers from the Faculty and academic staff (including a Director of Learning and Teaching).

The deliverables for the project are:
  • Clearly defined requirements, constraints and workflow that support increased confidence in the timetable production process (this will remove reactivity)
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities
  • Greater understanding of each other and the competing constraints and priorities
  • Minimise cross-campus travel for timetabled sessions
  • SOPs for the timetabling process to include continuous improvement
  • Using CMIS to its full potential
  • Reduce amount of reactive changes
The project team were an incredible group of people, every single person actively contributed, was very focused on resolving the problem, was student and staff focused and very professional. Teams like that make it easier for me as a facilitator and are such a pleasure to work with.

We identified that the key problems were:
·      At least nine different ways of timetabling
·      Too many constraints were being put into the process that led to a sub-optimal timetable being produced (at times).
·      Expectations that timetables would not change year on year
·      Too many data sources (in many formats)
·      Lack of trust and under utilisation of the timetabling software

The outcomes were:
A standardised approach for the faculty
A process that supports collaboration to produce the most optimal timetables
Reduction in handovers of work and reporting
A defined process for dealing with reasonable changes and clarity about how unreasonable changes will be denied.

A successful timetable is a complex equation, including space utilisation, student satisfaction, staff satisfaction, staff constraints, teaching and learning requirements etc
A managed risk approach was applied to the outcome with a great deal of process changes being made this year including ensuring that data can be derived from the process to review and improve performance for the future.

This has been a fast moving project, going from scoping in mid-December to implementing the changes from 30 January to positive affect the 17/18 timetables. Even more changes will come in 18/19. The team have a lot of work to support the implementation, but if they can use a tenth of the determination and positivity I observed during the event they will make amazing things happen. I consider it a pleasure and privilege to continue to work alongside this team to help support the implementation.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Evidencing the benefits

In July 2015 The University of Strathclyde’s Business Improvement Team launched ‘A Guide to Evidencing the Benefits of Business Process Improvement in Higher Education’ following the allocation of funding from the Leadership Foundation’s Innovation and Transformation Fund. The guide has been well received within the higher education sector and elsewhere and has been cited in academic articles.

On Wednesday 18th the authors of the guide Heather Lawrence and Nicola Cairns delivered some evidencing benefits training to a group of staff from The University of Sheffield (including PIU) and Sheffield Hallam University.

The training was enthusiastically, intelligently and professionally delivered and I personally found the day thought provoking and incredibly useful. There was a really good mix of knowledge sharing and then reinforcing this with interactive activities that were completed in small groups.

Some of the things that I found particularly helpful included:
Discussion and debate about what a benefit is
Using the benefits map to unpick and consider what can be measured and how
Useful guidance about how some of the tools can be used with stakeholders to get buy-in and clarity of approach.

Nicola and Heather did an excellent job of presenting the material, allowing discussion and debate amongst the group and managing the group to ensure that all activities were completed (and there was an element of disruption from a small proportion of attendees).  Of course, it’s not my place to look at the evaluation of the training, but I suggest the immediate benefits of the training were reflected in the smiling faces of the attendees and the positive chatter. Longer-term benefits for me will ensure that we continuous improve our approach to measurement and evidencing the results of our process improvement activities.

I’m looking forward to seeing the refresh of the guide and the new case studies, which will be available from Monday 23 January.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Community of Practice Event

One of the facets of the remit of the Process Improvement Unit that keeps me awake at night is the requirement to help with the creation of a culture of continuous improvement in the University. We have lots of anecdotal information about this happening, but effectively evidencing this can be more challenging.

One of the ways that does evidence this strand of work is our Community of Practice. We invite all staff who have taken either our eight module practitioner training or the four module Embedding Continuous Improvement Training to attend the community of practice.

The community of practice event that we held yesterday (11 January 2017) was well attended. I am indebted to colleagues from the Continuous Improvement Unit (CIU) at Leeds Beckett University for delivering the majority of this session. They gave an overview of their approach and in a very open and honest manner shared their challenges as well as their successes. I am always impressed by the activity at CIU, one of the things I am particularly interested in is the support the get from an academic colleague, Ollie Jones who is part of the team but also actively undertaking research into lean practice. The team get an awful lot of benefits from Ollie’s presence e.g academic credibility, involvement in action research, training and development, a critical friend to name a just a few.

The stress toys and sweeties provided by Leeds Beckett were well received!
Claire and Michael also led an interactive session for attendees to explore their continuous improvement journey and shared some accessible and helpful tools to support effective evaluation and embedding continuous improvement in everyday practice.

We also spend some time going back to first principles, providing the group with a refresher of lean fundamentals and principles.

Feedback from the event was very positive and I look forward to scheduling the next event (hopefully in June or July). For me it also provided a fantastic forum for people to share their projects and ideas and feedback about how they are making continuous improvements in their areas of work. I came away feeling enthused and energised, and use this blog as just one way of saying thank you to everyone who took time out of the day job to attend the event.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Coventry UCISA PCMG Meeting

I’ve just been down to Coventry for the first UCISA Project and Change Management Group Meeting of 2017,

Back in September we put out a call for new members of the group and were inundated with applicants and expressions of interest. We successfully appointed six new members to the committee, five of whom were able to attend the meeting. After hearing about their current roles, remits, professional history and interests I have no doubt that they will all make a valuable addition not only to the group itself but also within the sector more widely.

Agenda Items for the meeting included an interesting presentation from Ian Anderson from Coventry University about how they developed their business analysis functionality, the development of Enterprise Architecture (and also some ideas about how the UCISA EA Community of Practice can link in with PCMG) and also an overview of how Coventry have approached working with Kuali (an open source Student Management system).

The main business for the group was to explore and agree the project and change management challenges that we will try to address/support over the next year and then to draft a plan of activities that will directly be of support for the sector. As a group we plan to deliver as set of webinars (following a very successful webinar organised by Sarah Cockrill, committee member, back in November) and to ensure that activities are relevant to change managers in the sector and perhaps more specifically Business Analysts.

I certainly came away from the meeting feeling energised and enthusiastic about the work this group can offer, and I’m really looking forward to working with people to take this forward.