Leadership optimize

Business Process Improvement - The project begins

In this second post about a process improvement initiative at Westminster College, Scott Lowe responds to some of the thought-provoking comments left by TechRepublic readers in the first post. The project is underway, so read on!

First of all, I very much appreciate the responses from all of you.  I will admit that I'm new to this whole business process improvement side of IT, so I look forward to the challenges.  I wanted to address a few of the questions and comments that were left for the original post.

While you might have the commitment from the VPs, do you face the wall when you try to get information from the level below that? While you might think that you are given the information you asked, they might be totally useless. How did/do you go about extracting the info?

Excellent question.  I had my first meeting with a campus group just the other day.  It consisted of me, the two executives in charge of the area I was meeting with and many people from that department.  As you indicate, the VPs definitely have ideas as to what they'd like to see.  The group came up with a number of very good suggestions.  By making the initial meeting an all-inclusive effort, it seemed that people got more comfortable as the meeting went on and started speaking up.  That said, there were a number of things that I was expecting to hear that I did not, but rather than, at least initially, being seen as the person forcing change down their throats, I'd rather have the brunt of the ideas come from their side.  As time goes on, if there appears to be something that is a candidate, I'll bring it up in later meetings.

A very important role in BPI projects is the COO (if there is one in your organization) or the CEO. If you do BPI for an organization you have to make sure you approach the subject bottom up. What i always do is create interview templates, they might vary depending on the size of the organization. If you then start interviewing the users first, then their managers and finally the department heads you will quickly find out that the pains are mostly not the technology they are using rather than internal communication gaps and historical processes that have never been modified. A business process is a living thing and subject to constant changes in many cases. The technology must be able to be flexible enough to implement these processes and maintain them.

Our organization does not have a COO.  Our CEO is the College president and he's delegated this process to me to coordinate for the campus.  I'm carefully using the word "coordinate" rather than "manage" as I think it denotes a more inclusive process.  And, I agree with you on what we may possibly find.  I do think that some of the pains we have are related to communication and the "we've always done it this way" syndrome.  Although I'm the CIO and am coordinating this effort, I don't think it's solely about technology.  Many things are related to technology, but there will be a major human element to this as well.  Already, we've identified a communication issue.  It's related to technology, but is definitely a communication issue.  We have distinct points at which data is handed off between departments.  For example, once a student enrolls at the college, the Admissions department passes their information off to Academic Affairs.  However, AA is not always aware of why Admissions does some things they do with the data, so they've done some of their own things to overcome the problem.  As a part of this process, we'll get the groups together and develop a college-wide data dictionary that defines who is responsible for what and why every piece of information is gathered.

On the technology side, I think we're pretty flexible.  The product we'll be using for a lot of this is SharePoint and its capabilities are pretty good.

I think that's great. Well done for some sensible thinking. For a number of years, IT sees themselves as needing to take control of systems, rather than collaborating with the business to getting most out of the business (and this 9/10 has a flow on to getting the most of the tool, unless you're using the wrong tool).

I try to run a kinder, gentler IT department, at least to a point!  I'm not a pushover, but if someone has sound reasoning for needing something, we're going to find a way to make it happen.  And we are most definitely partnering with individual departments to help them make best use of the systems we have in place.  Already, our efforts with our Admissions office are helping them make better decisions.  But, we're not the experts on their stuff, but we know how to apply what they need to the technology.  One of my data folks has spent a lot of time with Admissions working to make sure their processes are workable.  It's a two-way street, though.  Admissions isn't just throwing stuff at us and saying "Make this happen by tomorrow."  They're responsible for checking the accuracy of the data and for making sure that the information we're developing is what they really need.

I would very much like to know how you progress. I have always worked from the perspective of how to improve our processes. But I sometimes get stumped on which set of metrics to monitor, or worse yet, figuring out what the leadership team thinks is most important.

I'll write about this throughout this project.  Quite frankly, I don't think we've developed any metrics for this project yet.  We know that there are many areas that are ripe for improvement, but we're still really early on.  If I had to take a stab at a metric we can measure against, it would probably be our ability to react to changes in the prospect market.  Although I don't have a number I can point to and say "Aha!" we know that the improvements made in Admissions have increased their ability to adjust course as needed.  We do have metrics in Admissions-TDR (Tuition Discount Rate) and total net tuition revenue-that are showing positive signs after the changes.  I can't point to the work we did and say that it did the trick, but it was certainly helpful.

As for figuring out what the leadership team thinks is important, I have the great advantage of sitting on the cabinet and meeting with the full executive team on a regular basis, so I can keep abreast of changing priorities and adjust accordingly.

I would love to hear more on it. Most of what I have done is Business Process Improvement. I loved the book From Good to Great, though I did think it was a but dry, he concept was great. Another great book that I felt moved me in the right direction was You Inc, Crucial Conversations and the Influencer. When making changes especially you have to be strong, know how to interact with people and know how to move them in the direction of where you want them to go.

I need to get that book J  I'm not necessarily a huge fan of management books, but the good ones are really good!  And, although I'm trying to run the process in as ground-up a way as possible, we obviously want to make some changes or we wouldn't be doing this.  For example, I have a couple of pet peeves.  One of them is paper forms.  Although not many of these forms were mentioned at the initial meeting I had earlier this week, they'll end up included in the analysis at some point.

I truly appreciate the thoughtful insight into this project and am excited to be including the TechRepublic community in the process.  With your help, I'll learn a lot about how to do this in the best way possible to maximize the results for the College.s

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

3 comments
RB1955
RB1955

just a 2 cents comment from a non-IT person (actually I'm in Manufacturing Management/Engineering). For a very user-friendly project management system, look into the Critical Chain [Project Management] method developed by Eli Goldratt (Israeli Physicist, and author of The Goal, and many others). In my first use of the CCPM, I planned & developed the process to make a very complex manufacturing system for a Ford/Jaguar engine component. The project came in 3 months ahead of schedule, and on budget. While I cannot guarentee similar results on others' project management tasks, CCPM did make a significant impact on that project, and on other projects where I've been able to use it.

wasato
wasato

I haven't read You, Inc, sounds interesting. You might want to check out Leading Change by John Kotter. It gives a great framework for leading through change.

tinsami1
tinsami1

I'm currently in a big project implementing an ERP solution coupled with a lot of these BPI initiatives. We've recently implemented the first area of the project. What I see as key to such projects is the people involved in such a project and the people that will get affected. Don;t forget them. You are the primary change agent, being the one assigned by your president. GOOD LUCK!!! Oh, and prepare for getting tons of stress. You've gotten yourself into a very, very big project.