20 August 2019 - Leaning on others

The International Lean HE conference 2018


In November 2018, I was the grateful beneficiary of a bursary from ucisa enabling me to attend the annual International Lean HE conference in Tromsø, Norway. Working at Middlesex University in my first Continuous Improvement (CI) role, it proved a great opportunity to meet and learn from other more experienced peers in the sector.

Prior to attending, I was excited to get the opportunity to hear from one of the keynote speakers, Niklas Modig. I was not disappointed. Niklas delivered a thought provoking and challenging presentation on the importance of achieving flow rather than resource efficiency in any organisation.

One of the challenges that I, and indeed all CI practitioners face is getting people engaged with the ideas and ways of working. Stony faced silence can often be the norm during initial project meetings, as staff remain to be convinced of the CI approach and the method/tools. For this reason I also looked forward to the session entitled ‘The Games People Play’ by Christine Stewart.

The final outcome I was hoping to achieve was to obtain best practice on creating a Community of Practice (CoP) for our internal practitioners. Since the conference I have worked with a number of my Middlesex colleagues to deliver a session to our CoP beginning with the penny game (thank you Christine!) which then fed in to a presentation and discussion on flow vs resource efficiency (thank you Niklas!). The session was well received and uncovered a number of areas of opportunity for us to pursue in our desire for improvement.

Contacts made from as far afield as Australia and Canada have contributed suggestions and ideas for increasing engagement for our CoP and most recently we had a visit from Gretel Stonebridge of Leicester University. Gretel delivered a Pecha Kucha outlining her own CI journey, very similar to the fantastic one she delivered to inspire those of us at the conference.

The wonderful Debbie Brooke, of Essex University, kindly hosted me for a day, allowing me to observe the facilitation of a ‘Kaizen’ style event where staff mapped the student journey during Welcome week. This was a fantastic learning experience for me and I have already implemented several of her ideas in to the delivery of my own events.

Without the support and encouragement of our Lean HE peers, not least in acknowledging the many and significant challenges we all face, we would not be where we are now. I was very pleasantly surprised to find so many supportive and collaborative peers willing to immediately share the benefits of their own hard work and creativity. I would encourage anyone starting out in a new role to make efforts to attend their own specialist conference and be confident enough to reach out to their peers for support, ideas or even a good moan about a shared challenge!

Being able to not only attend, but also present at the conference, was a hugely beneficial experience for me. Meeting Lean HE professionals from around the globe gave me the confidence that the tools can be successful in any HE environment and to try new things, knowing that even the most experienced struggle with the same challenges. Presenting on our own journey also helped me to gain perspective on the significant distance Middlesex had already travelled and how much of the hard work in influencing a change in culture had already been achieved.

The knowledge, confidence and enthusiasm I gained greatly helped me to contribute effectively to the creation and delivery of our internal CI Practitioner Programme. Developing the training with my colleagues John and Mila, has helped to really embed a strong understanding of Lean and provide greater clarity on the most important aspects of managing Lean projects to successful completion. We were delighted when we received our LCS accreditation earlier this year.

In January this year, ucisa also provided me with a fantastic opportunity to present learnings from our (Middlesex’s) own CI journey at an ucisa London Group meeting. Again the same key challenges and pain points to successful implementation were evidenced in the feedback from those in attendance.

The presentation from John Faulkner, Domain 7, at the same meeting was very thought provoking for me and the User Experience Mapping/ Service Design approach they take towards process redesign is something that Middlesex is now beginning to actively engaging with. Exciting times!

My professional development has continued since my return. I have now obtained my Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and have my eyes on obtaining the Black Belt in the near future.

Recently I have been asked to support a large strategic project, encompassing our IT systems and governance, working closely with a blue-chip consultancy firm. This is a fantastic opportunity for me and I strongly believe that the experiences outlined above have been significant contributors to bringing this about.

Once again, a huge thank you to ucisa for making this all possible.