Lean Thinkers Showcase Research, Demonstrate Organizational Excellence

Staff and faculty shared the results of their efforts to document and evaluate select campus processes

OE Event Aug 31 2015

Laura Bishin, principal auditor, explains travel reimbursement at the Organizational Excellence event on Aug. 31.

Stirred to action by the ideas and techniques learned through the Organization Excellence (OE) series, a group of campus-wide Lean thinkers presented their research and findings at an event hosted by Ron T. Coley, vice chancellor of business and administrative services, on Monday, Aug. 31, at the HUB.

The Lean thinkers, a group of approximately 50 staff and faculty, had previously come together to study and discuss the book, LeanThinking:  Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, by James Womack and Daniel Jones following the Organizational Excellence Speaker Series earlier this year.

Desiring to put what they had learned from the book into practice, the group selected five complex campus processes to examine:

  • Undergraduate Petitions: Changing Majors Across Colleges
  • ePay Reimbursement
  • Travel Reimbursement
  • Faculty/Staff Onboarding
  • Capital Projects Management System (CPMS)

Splitting into smaller groups to tackle each process, the Lean thinkers conducted research, created models and compiled metrics about each process. In accordance with Lean principles, the groups outlined who their customers were, mapped the end-to-end business processes of all service providers in a given “value stream” and proposed solutions that created “flow” by removing “waste.”

At the event, Lean thinkers presented their findings and discussed possible solutions. Following their presentations, a Q&A session was held for each group.

Attendees had the opportunity to talk with Lean thinkers about their findings, ask questions and offer observations and insights on strategies that could contribute to more effective business practices at UCR.

All groups noted that many of the delays and setbacks in the business processes examined were largely a result of departmental differences in policy interpretation. For solutions, the groups proposed a standardization of processes, some form of centralization in web-based processes, greater documentation of “best practices,” development of automated processes and stricter adherence to protocols.

After presentations concluded, Coley said that one of the factors of the Lean process was to determine who the customer is and emphasized that this event was about examining processes and not immediately about determining value or finding definite solutions.

When concerns were raised that the Lean process might negatively affect staff or result in firings and layoffs, Coley reiterated the fact that the Lean process aims for efficiency and that nothing in the Lean process effort at UCR is aimed at cutting jobs or eliminating people.

“We’re not trying to cut back,” Coley said. “We’re trying to do more with the people and resources that we currently have.”

Coley stressed the need for attendees to strive for a deeper understanding of Lean techniques and a more prolonged exposure to the process.

“There are two paths you can take with something like this,” Coley said.

On one hand, Coley observed, many organizations and companies that utilize the Lean process typically get groups of people together, do some of the exercises and use the results of the exercises to fix the problems that they find. And while this will provide some small immediate benefit to the organization, many of the finer points and nuances of the Lean process are lost in this way.

The way outlined by Coley encourages a deeper and more rigorous understanding of the Lean process. By having weekly book clubs that meet at lunch, preliminary events aimed at making observations and building a solid foundation before tackling the bigger issues involved, UCR will be able to achieve a deeper understanding of the Lean process and better implement those lessons in the future.

During the Q&A, Lean thinkers briefly discussed where at UCR they worked and why they chose to join their respective group before answering questions from the audience.

Some of the findings from the presentations and Q&A panels included:

Undergraduate Petitions: Changing Majors

The initial perception of the group was that changing majors was a different process across colleges. A survey conducted by the group confirmed their suspicions and found that it took seven weeks or longer to successfully apply for a major change.

“I’m a UCR Alumnus and I changed my major when I was here,” said Alex Ruiz, associate director of undergraduate admissions.  “It shouldn’t take up to seven weeks for a student to change majors.”

As a solution, the group suggested modeling UCR Summer School and other outside programs that maintain an online enrollment system that would allow for innovative features such as 24/7 online accessibility and “push” notifications to students with status updates.

ePay Reimbursement

The group, citing the “eight forms of waste” outlined in the Lean process, noted defects, overprocessing, and underutilized talents as problems with the ePay system, observing also that there were several repeated steps and waiting involved.

The group proposed better documentation of “best practices,” implementation of training for system users, reduction in the number of “touches” for each request and an overall enhancement of the system.

Travel Reimbursement

In terms of travel reimbursement, the group noted that people would ideally like to receive their reimbursement within two weeks, but that two weeks is not currently reasonable or feasible with the current system.

Through their research, the group found that delays were not in accounting but rather that the delays occurred at the departmental level as a result of different departments having different rules regarding travel requirements and restrictions. Citing many complaints from staff and faculty, the group proposed strict adherence to G-28 travel regulations to minimize confusion.

Staff/Faculty Onboarding

Observing that on-boarding domestic hires takes more than a month and international hires takes almost a year, the group proposed a campus-wide reevaluation of all services and departments related to the onboarding process with emphasis on examining the demand on resources for different aspects of the process.

Tomika Davis, HR Shared Services manager, also noted that people have different impressions of what different departments do and thus have different impressions of where the different “bottlenecks” are, when, in actuality, the bottlenecks usually aren’t created by any one specific person and are usually the result of obscure policies or a lack of necessary resources and equipment.

Capital Projects Management System

The group noted unrealistic expectations of the system by UCR departments and found that “back-and-forth” communication was the main cause of delays within the system. The group proposed the development of a strategic plan for project requests, revising or replacing the current software system and implementing “scope development” and “resource allocation” measures.

In closing, Coley referenced Stephen Covey’s book, “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” and encouraged the audience to “seek first to understand.”

The event, re-emphasized by Coley, was not meant to come up with definite solutions. The event was aimed at getting a better overall understanding and helping to build a strong foundation and greater understanding of the Lean process.

Coley expressed hope that a better understanding of the campus processes will help make UCR staff more empathetic.

“Everyone here is already committed to doing the right thing,” he said.

Coley warned of the “paradox of excellence” and cautioned the audience that despite any improvements made, it could always be better and customers will always ask for more.

As for next steps, Coley highlighted the creation of bigger groups and committees to start implementing solutions for improving campus processes by using the research and groundwork laid by the Lean thinkers. He also promised that there would be more Lean professional development opportunities and that the campus would pursue further implementation of the lean process.

Coley concluded his remarks by asking the audience, “What’s the difference between a swamp and river?”

“A swamp is stagnate!” an attendee cheerfully exclaimed.

“Rivers are always moving,” another chimed.

“There it is,” Coley said. “We’ve got to keep moving.”

All Organizational Excellence presentations are archived online and can be found at http://www.ucr.edu/about/admin/pb_events.html.

For more information, or to become more actively involved in the organizational excellence process, please contact the Organizational Excellence Committee at organizationalexcellence@ucr.edu.

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