Background and Approach
UEC decided to establish the Change Team to improve the way we work by utilising the skills and creative energies of staff throughout the University. It supports the 'working efficiently' ambitions set out in the University Strategy 2010-2020 and their work will provide many benefits including:
- More effective use of the skills and experience of staff
- More time for academic activity
- Increased staff engagement and autonomy
- Improved level of service and satisfaction
- Operational efficiencies and effective use of resources
- Embedding a culture of continuous improvement
This type of initiative is becoming increasingly important across the sector as a whole. The recent Universities UK report Efficiency and effectiveness in higher education highlighted the need for all universities to simplify, streamline and improve their internal processes in order to manage costs and provide best value for money.
We reviewed a number of process improvement methodologies and took elements from each to tailor our approach to suit the environment at Durham University. It is underpinned by three key principles.
Staff are our most valuable asset
When undertaking improvement projects, the Change Team facilitate but staff themselves come up with the issues and ideas for change as they know their area well and are in the best position to suggest improvements.
All our activity should be meaningful
We aim to maximise activities that are effective and add value to our work, the things that help us to work well. We seek to reduce those activities that are unnecessary, the things that cause stress and frustration. Examples could include duplication, unclear instructions, resources not being used to full capacity, poor quality or unnecessary delays. Doing this helps to ensure that all activity staff carry out is meaningful to the University.
There is always room for improvement
If something in our environment changes e.g. a new member of staff arrives or priorities change, our systems and processes may no longer work as well as they could. Keeping a regular eye on how we work helps us to recognise where improvements can be made so that we continue to effectively meet the needs of stakeholders.
Improving the way we work: our 5 step approach
We have identified five steps that will form the basis of our approach to each process review.
STEP 1: Who is involved?
We review a process from the perspective of its stakeholders; the people or organisations involved at its various stages e.g. students, administrative staff, academic staff, external organisations. It is important to find out what they need or want from the process.
We do this as part of a scoping and planning exercise where we will speak to people involved, including all levels of staff, and familiarise ourselves with the process and what it involves. At this stage we will choose staff to be part of the review team.
STEP 2: Where are we now?
How does the current process work? Before we can improve a process we need to know how it works at the moment (what actually happens rather than what is supposed to happen).
This is done in a Process Improvement Workshop which could last between two and five days. We map out the current process step by step, as it actually happens rather than how it is supposed to happen, highlighting any issues and suggesting improvements.
STEP 3: Where do we want to be?
Once we know what our stakeholders need and how the process currently works, we can start to create a new process that aims to meet those needs and incorporates suggested improvements.
This also happens during the Process Improvement Workshop and at the end of the session a new process is produced which flows well, is easy to follow and has clear ownership.
STEP 4: How do we get there?
It is important that the hard work of the review team is taken forward and implemented with all the positive changes being made.
This is done by producing an action plan that the entire review team are signed up to. Any further approval required is sought at this stage. The changes are then implemented and the Change Team will assist in any way they can.
STEP 5: Does the process still work?
Our environment is constantly changing and we must regularly review our processes.
After a few months the Change Team will revisit the process to check what progress has been made with the implementation. On a regular basis the owners of the process should monitor and review processes so that they can adapt to the changing environment.