Monday, 16 October 2017

What do I look for in a Project Sponsor?

I’ve been preparing to co-present with the amazing @Jenni_saville at the forthcoming Lean HE conference on “A sponsor’s experience of implementing change”. This has got me thinking about what qualities I look for in a Project Sponsor.

First of all, why does the Process Improvement Unit (PIU) insist on a sponsor when we start a new project?
The Sponsor is a senior person who authorizes the project and ensures staff are available for project activities. Usually based in the department that owns the process and must support the requirement for improvement and provide guidance and backing as and when problems arise. The role included ensuring that scope is strategically aligned and appropriate as well as giving the project team authority to make the changes.
Qualities and attributes of a strong sponsor:
·      Holds a senior role in the Institution with authority to set scope and project team membership
·      Has an interest in the process improvement project
·      Clarity about scope of the project (and willing to challenge scope creep)
·      Has sufficient strategic knowledge to champion and/or close a project as appropriate.
·      Take an active interest in project progress
·      Make time to hear about project progress updates and understand the improvements and benefits
·      Reward staff involved in the project and champion the outcomes
·      Prepared to challenge PIU decisions and actions
·      Knowledge of Process Improvement tools and techniques
·      Actively champion the improvements
·      Comfortable with quantitative and qualitative data to ensure that data driven decision making is adhered to
·      Ensure that continuous improvement (post project) is maintained

We’ve been lucky to have a few sponsor who have “ticked all of the boxes”. One of our challenges for the future is to find ways of supporting and coaching our sponsors of today and tomorrow so that they can perform to the very best of their ability.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Interinstitutional support

Last week we were delighted to welcome Natasha, Kelly and Mila from Middlesex University’s Business Enhancement Team and Julie, Head of Planning and Project Management, from Bedfordshire University to a visit at Sheffield. The visit was arranged as an opportunity to share experiences of and approaches to continuous improvement across the three institutions.

I am always delighted to see the openness by which practitioners within the sector share and discuss ideas and issues. This openness I believe has been, in part, fostered by the Lean in HE network which has, since its inception, encouraged the open discussion between practitioners of the challenges faced within the sector and and open debate of possible approaches to overcome them. Throughout our discussions last week many similarities could be drawn between the experiences of all three institutions and I for one took away a number of ideas, particularly around improving our project implementation. I also found the visit was a great way to encourage us to critique our own approaches when we were pushed to explain why we do something in a particular way.

It was also clear from our discussions that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to continuous improvement in HE is not appropriate, ideas should not be implemented simply because somewhere else does it, a message we always reinforce with project teams. It is instead important to tailor an approach according to the culture and strategic drive of an individual institution.

A fear of mine is that changes in the HE landscape and increasing competition between institutions might start to erode this openness and collaboration. If this is an outcome of the changes currently underway I believe it will be a loss to the sector and why networks like Lean in HE and fostering strong working relationships with colleagues in the sector can be so beneficial in continuing to encourage interinstitutional support.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

PCMG Planning

In April this year I became chair of the UCISA Project and Change Management Group

On Wednesday, a colleague at Wolverhampton University hosted our annual planning meeting. This was the major item of business for our meeting. We considered the draft UCISA strategy 2018-22 to ensure that our plan was strategically aligned, we had gathered feedback from our community via our community mailing list and spoken to colleagues at our home institutions to ensure that the activities we plan for our useful (not just pet projects).

We are in the process of finalising the plan: the community is likely to benefit from a new toolkit, collaborations with other UCISA groups, a series of webinars and pilot mentoring scheme.

Every time we meet up as a committee I am struck by people’s energy and enthusiasm, however we all have busy day jobs and are experiencing the pressures of sector changes. Everything that we do is on top of the day job, so we really hope that all of our outputs for the coming year will be useful and have impact. Time will tell…

The next opportunity for people to engage with the group will be at our conference 8-10 November 2017
I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Change with a large dose of humility

At the core of our approach in the Process Improvement Unit is to recognise that staff working in process are experts, the beneficiary of the process is an expert and the stakeholders also have a huge amount of expertise and knowledge.

One of the barriers to change is when there is one (sometimes) self appointed expert who will not truly listen to the other people’s views and requirements and maintain an almost dogged intransigence to change.

This blog is a suggestion that we need to be humble when it comes to reviewing the current situation and demonstrate true respect for people when identifying possibilities for change. Humility is often associated with being too passive, submissive or insecure, this misunderstanding needs to be challenged (appropriately).

A few attributes that humble change agents may display:
·      Effective listening skills.
·      Maintain strong personal and professional relationships.
·      Situationally aware:  aware of oneself, the group, the actions of each and the social dynamics.
·      Curiosity, realising that one person does not have all the answers and that there are things they can learn from others.
·      Courage to ask, speak one’s mind in a respect and positive manner.
·      Accept and encourage constructive feedback.
·      Base decision-making on a shared sense of purpose, respecting the moral and ethical boundaries that govern the decision.

This post is not meant to detract from the necessity for people to have pride in their work; it is a suggestion that we can get better outcomes by working in a truly collaborative and open way.
Additional reading:

Friday, 25 August 2017

Someone has got to do it

It is a common stumbling block of many projects - no one in the project team has enough time to coordinate and/or undertake the project actions, so improvements are only partially implemented or even not implemented at all. This can understandably lead to a feeling of disappointment within the project team and frustration that the time they spent understanding, analysing, identifying and discussing the issues before collectively designing and agreeing great improvements to the service didn’t amount to very much.

For this reason the role of a Project Coordinator is vital! They support and drive the project team by resolving or raising issues that are preventing them from completing the project actions and implementing the new process. In PIU’s case they are also a critical bridge between us and the project team throughout implementation.  

I find myself constantly questioning what should I, as a project facilitator, be doing as opposed to what the project coordinator should be doing and it is a difficult balancing act. A key cornerstone of our methodology is to ensure we help to empower staff who have the knowledge of the process to make the changes, ensuring both improved buy-in but also so that a cycle of continuous improvement can be embedded after the project is closed.

For this reason PIU’s project process has traditionally placed a heavy reliance on the project coordinator to drive the implementation by; chasing actions, updating the action log, communicating with the project team and reporting to PIU on a monthly basis to raise any issues identified during implementation. The scope of their role is clearly agreed with the project sponsor at initiation and it is sponsor who identifies the coordinator, usually someone closely associated with the area under review.

We have however experience of where this has fallen down due to:
  • The project coordinator not being in a neutral or senior enough role to challenge team members when actions are not completed
  • The project coordinator not being allowed enough time away from their day to day role to undertake the project work required
  • The project coordinator not having the skills in project management and process analysis to drive the project through implementation

PIU are therefore reviewing our standard projet process, particularly at the implementation stage to ensure we mitigate some of these problems.
Improvements we are considering include:
  • Challenging the sponsor more firmly during the selection of the project coordinator to ensure they have the appropriate support, buy-in and time to take on the role
  • PIU having a wider liaison role with the project team as a whole during implementation to help monitor and drive actions and mitigate any issues that arise.

It is this last point we are most concerned about, as we do not want to detract from the empowerment of the project team nor do we want to increase the reliance of the project team throughout implementation prior to project closure. This will therefore be a case of practice what we preach where we implement, measure and evaluate incremental changes to our process to ensure a more effective, not just a different service.      

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Adding value to the customer

Adding value to the customer

During my role as Clerical Officer within the Process Improvement Unit I have been able to gain knowledge around Lean methodology and understand that Lean is focused on adding value to the customer and that any activities that do not add value are considered to be waste.

The order of activities that add value comprise of what is called the value stream (the important parts of the process that creates the services for the customer).  To ensure you are continually providing value to your customers it is important to try to improve your value streams by reviewing them.

A helpful way to achieve this is by splitting the activities into three categories:
  1. Value-added (any activity the customer is willing to pay for).
  2. Non-value added (any activity the customer would not want to pay for).
  3. Business-value added (any activity the customer would not want to pay for but is necessary and cannot be removed).

Part of the Process Improvement Unit’s remit is to run training in the use of improvement tools and techniques for our customers (members of staff) and the challenge is to ensure that our customers spend as much time as possible in these sessions being trained. 

Therefore, our value-added activities include presentations and practical exercises in order for our customers to gain an understanding of Lean principles, process improvement concepts, different problem solving techniques as well as learning how to map process flow (depending upon the training session chosen).

Non value added activities would be if the trainer spent time during the training session setting up equipment and practical exercises and obtaining relevant handouts etc. delaying the training. To eliminate these non-value added processes I ensure everything is in place before the training session. Our practical exercises can take a while to set up, for example in one of our exercises we have six workstations requiring various pieces of equipment.  Staff undertaking the training and the trainer can move directly to these set-up practical exercises and they can take place immediately.

We cannot remove business value-added processes such as having refreshments as they are necessary in a three-hour training session. However, I can make sure they are easily accessible, I can help with the drinks machine and of course ensure it is well stocked so there is no delay.

All of us within the Process Improvement Unit have a part to play in ensuring our value stream is doing what our customers need and less of what they don’t need.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Pushing the boundaries of collaborative change

Respect for people is a fundamental principle for lean practitioners. In part my understanding of this principle is that change should be inclusive, ensuring that all of the role of the process are represented and ensuring that sincere communication is enabled both about current problems and to agree a way forward.

When we are working with teams we help them create a bold vision for the future, this may take a little time but usually consensus is easily obtained. In my experience supporting the group to come up with a practical new process can sometimes be a little more challenging. When it comes to immediate change people can be risk averse and want to stay within their comfort zones. When teams are involved in an improvement project one of the things teams need team to agree (in conjunction with the sponsor) is whether making some modifications is acceptable or whether a step change in service/process provision is required. When we do identify that immediate step change is required the challenge to individual comforts can be even more pertinent.

Why is it hard?
·      Each individual will have a different comfort zone. To get change by agreement or consensus there is a risk that we come up with partial solutions.
·      Louder/more dominant team members can guide inclusive change; if this group of people feel that the changes are outside of their comfort zone they may try to dissuade other from making large-scale immediate improvements.
     Some projects have unrealistic goals, to achieve them risks not only taking people out of their comfort zone potentially into panic zone.*
   Change beyond one’s comfort zone is scary, people have concerns about time, influence, politics, resources, is the change really an improvement etc. Each one of these doubts can be enough to deter people.
·      What can seem like a bold improvement in the meeting room can lose momentum when back at one’s desk.
·      Change can be hard work to implement; often people are fatigued by their current situation, finding the energy to implement improvement.
·      New priorities and requirements will start to emerge which get in the way of implementing the original changes, changes that take people out of their comfort zone are more likely to be side-lined.

How can we support and lead?
·      Ensure that the team has a good rationale change, using valid data to ensure that changes are truly an improvement.
·      Make sure that projects have achievable and realistic goals.
    Ensure that the team uses/has access to appropriate tools and models that support teams to innovate and identify creative solutions.
·      Endorse and promote the changes that bring wins/positives for all parties involved.
·      Identify a strong, engaged and supportive sponsor for the project.
·      Celebrate key milestones and achievements.
·      Implement the improvements as soon as possible.
·      Promote and support positive and regular stakeholder management.
·      Provide support, championship and endorsement of the project team and their ambitions.
·      Ensure that the actions are specific, time bound and shared between the team members. Hold people to account for their actions.
·      Be empathetic and make time to listen to people, coaching them to realise their goals.
·      Provide relevant case studies about collaborative teams who have made innovative and brave changes. Where at all possible seek out mentors who can support team members.
·      Don’t assume that people are resistant to new ideas because it takes them outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes, people are apprehensive about making changes for absolute valid reasons.

Change projects are rarely easy, in my opinion this makes it even more necessary to ensure that the outcomes justify the time and effort that people put into the project and that the changes are truly for the better.

A few useful links:

*This point was added into the blog - thank you @Paolo_MTL

Friday, 19 May 2017

Is problem solving a problem?

I have recently been reflecting on the differences between the approach we generally use in the Process Improvement Unit (PIU) and the benefits of Appreciative Inquiry (AI).

AI has been used as an approach for change for many years, Cooperrider and Srivastva developed this approach in 1987.  To summarise this in a few words it is based on the theory that:
·      In every system, something works
·      Our focus becomes our reality
AI uses questions and opportunities for people to create positive visions of the future to build on the present potential of a process or organisation.

The problem solving approach that we have in PIU takes a different tack. From the moment we start scoping a project we begin to agree a problem statement and use a number of approaches to identify what are the problems, which of the problems are critical, what is the root cause etc.? Although problem solving can be a very powerful approach and lead ultimately to positive results and support resilience as further problems surface, there is a risk that the teams we work with may find this quite negative and that we miss out on opportunities to reward people for the things that are going well.

Cooperrider and Whitney (2001) identified the distinguishing features of the two approaches:
Problem Solving
Appreciative inquiry
1. "Felt Need," identification of Problem
1. Appreciating & Valuing the Best of "What Is"
2. Analysis of Causes
2. Envisioning "What Might Be"
3. Analysis & Possible Solutions
3. Dialoguing "What Should Be"
4. Action Planning (Treatment)

Basic Assumption: An Organization is a Problem to be Solved
Basic Assumption: An Organization is a Mystery to be Embraced

My main concern about just using AI is that sometimes there are process steps that need to be removed because they create the problem e.g. excessive approval steps, duplicating data, unnecessary handovers. How would an AI approach deal with over processing, is there a risk that it would encourage this?

As a lean practitioner ‘Respect for People’ is at the heart of my professional practice and to me this includes the concept of sincere conversation (being very clear about what is going well and what could be improved). However, the more I read about AI this also offers the opportunity for a direct conversation, but perhaps with a more positive angle.

Deming said, “A bad system will be beat a good person every time”. In PIU we are responsible for ensuring that the improvement process is robust and helpful I’m going to experiment with AI and explore how this can be used alongside problem solving; I have a feeling that the two concepts are not necessarily unconnected. I suspect there will be a follow up to this blog (possibly a Venn diagram showing the commonalities) if my instinct is correct about the two approached not necessarily being mutually exclusive.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Teaching the history of lean

As part of our process improvement training we give our participants a brief history of Lean thinking. We’ve done this since the early days of the unit as it seemed to us to be essential to describe, almost before what ‘it’ is, where ‘it’ has come from. So we talk about Scientific Management and Henry Ford, as well as lean gurus like Deming and Taiichi Ohno. We tell attendees about the Toyota Production System and Jones and Womack. And we accompany our words with pictures of the Highland Park factory.
But what’s the point of this historical background? And does Lean in public service, where our expertise lies, really have anything to do with manufacturing and the history of manufacturing?

I’d like to explore the link in this blog post, because it bothers me that we may be wasting time and causing confusion rather than improving understanding. We have some evidence for this concern, because feedback from our training often highlights the benefit of examples from the university, and criticises examples from manufacturing - or even other service sectors. And yet - as George Santayana reminds us - ‘Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it’.
So there are two questions to answer:
  1. Do the basic principles of LEAN apply to public service environments?
  2. And does knowing where LEAN has come from tell us anything useful about how to apply it in public service environments anyway?
Let’s look at the first question. Taiichi Ohno, one of Lean’s principal proponents, said All we are doing is looking at the time line, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the time line by reducing the non-value adding wastes.” All Lean thinking in manufacturing, it seems to me, flows from that understanding. Every effort is bent towards the end of removing wastes from the moment a customer orders something to the moment it is delivered and paid for. In other words, the profit motive is supreme. Now, how Toyota and others saw progress towards that goal being made possible was certainly radical and different to what had gone before - in particular the notion of paying attention to the workforce’s knowledge and expertise - but the underlying rationale was the same - be more competitive, make more money.

Clearly service environments, and in particular public service environments, have a different raison d’être. Profit, at least until recent times, is not a motivator. Instead it is the provision of service within budgetary constraints. However, the application of lean principles to reduce the time and resource required to deliver service is as relevant here as in manufacturing.  Delivering better service, using the same or less resource is the aim of many public organisations, particularly in these cash-strapped times.
So that brings us to the second question. What’s the point in knowing where Lean has come from? If Lean is useful in service environments, isn’t it enough to know the principles and the methods? And broadly speaking, my answer to this is yes, that is enough. One can be ‘lean’ without a knowledge of history. And I think the inventors of ‘lean’, the people at Toyota, would agree. For them, Lean is a way of working rather than a set of documents and other such codifications of practice. The enquiring mind, the search for continuous improvement, the focus on service users rather than internal operations and so on, can all be fostered as part of organisational culture without the history lesson.

In our training though, we’ll keep on doing a bit on the history, because it is quite interesting.