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Office of the Vice President of Finance and Administration
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Phone: (208) 885-6174
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Creating a Best Practice & New Process

This article is the first in a series designed to inform the university community on the numerous process improvements and change management initiatives occurring on campus. More specifically, our intent is to provide another platform in which best practices can be shared and connected across colleges, programs and services. To this end, each article will familiarize the reader with one of four types of process improvement practices. These practices include: creating a new process (or best practice), documenting a process, improving the efficiency of a process and increasing work-space efficiency.

The first article focuses on creating a new process (or best practice) which is the ability of a business unit, department or project team to create (document) a set of taken for granted tasks or procedures that enhances productivity, performance, efficiency and consistency within the system. Creating a new process where none existed or merging multiple procedures into an improved way of doing things, is an extremely empowering process and thus begins the journey of establishing a best practice. When employees create a new process where none existed, the new process establishes a structure or defining norm that build mutual consensus around how work should be accomplished.

This introductory article highlights the creation of three new processes designed by staff within Housing (Auxiliaries Services), ITS and Human Resources. These three project teams were facilitated by Krista Bateman, Catherine Weitz and Randy Wood. It is important to note that while this article will give brief overviews of the key milestones of each point event, the reader is encourage to review the website for the Office of Strategic Initiatives & Continuous Improvement (Sharing Best Practices) or contact anyone of the Continuous Improvement (CI) Team Leaders for additional information or assistance.

Project I/Point-Event New Hire Orientation Checklist

Under the direction of Ray Gasser, the University Housing team of Mike Neelon, Linda Hanson and Jennifer Skinner designed a new hire orientation checklist process. Krista Bateman, the Continuous Improvement Team leader, facilitated a 30-minute point event that provided a means to ensure that all new staff were informed of all details of the department, being sure that items such as customer service expectations, confidentiality/FERPA, department dress code, net learning access, facility access, permissions, key name badge, signage updates and about 30 additional check items.  When a new process brings solidarity and consistency to multiple end users, it by nature will create efficiencies. Moreover, proactively socializing new employees into the unit’s best practice positioned the unit for greater future performance.

Project II/Point Event: HRS Leave & Holiday Tracking

When project teams create best practices by developing a new way of doing things, it is usually the result of frustration or the need to create clarity around a particular task. Much like University Housing, the Human Resources project team of Robin Schumacker, Julie Lang, Brandi Bailey, and Stephanie Retter gained clarity around departmental leave. More specifically, the project team, together with Matt Dorschel, the interim executive director, identified a problem area in which staff members were unaware of colleague vacation times, which caused problems with customers and conflicts with scheduling. The HRS leave and tracking point event was a one-day event in which the team mapped the current processes, which demonstrated that every department within HR tracked leave differently. The team then generated improvement ideas, prepared for testing trials and created guidelines for training and sustainment. The end result was an accessible electronic calendar for all employees to book and track leave.

Project III/Point Event: DBA After Hour Response Procedures

In addition to gaining clarity and mutual understanding around a task, another important reason to consider process improvement techniques is to limit risk mitigation. When a project team creates a best practice to mitigate risk, they are essentially lowering liabilities, legal exposure, cost and moving the University out of harms way. The ITS Database Administrators (DBA) consisting of Mark Schemmer, Cameron Zapf and Kyu Larson under the direction of Brian Borchers recognized that there was no formal process for responding to after hour alerts, pages and emails regarding disruption of service to the IT Database. Randy Wood led the three-member project team in mapping out the current informal process. Randy observed that discussion and solutions were generated when the point event team members had the chance to actually visualize the process in sequenced steps of how do we really handle that? The point event took 3.5 hours to create a new procedure that acknowledged, responded and communicated all after hour alerts, pages and emails. Further, this document identified what action the DBA is supposed to take at every step of handling an after-hours incident.

Closing Reflections & Lessons Learned

To date, there have been a total of 63 process improvement point events executed across campus since the start of the year. We estimate that the first 32 have saved in excess of 1,300 hours in processing time.  While we are in the process of analyzing cost savings, best practices projects are difficult to measure in terms of cost saving because they are new processes and the old processes have not been measured. Moreover, it is hard to operationalize the benefits to limiting risk to the University since you have averted the problem. Nonetheless, each CI Team leader has seen more team building, increased self and group efficacy and a general sense of empowerment.

One concern about process improvement initiatives expressed by supervisors is the amount of employee time commitment and the long duration in departmental downtime caused by continuous improvement projects. One lesson we have learned is to do a better job of informing campus leaders on the types of lean continuous improvement techniques. There are several types ranging from Kaizen (weeklong events) to point events (that last less than a day). Point event are less complex but can make a greater impact. For instance, Krista Bateman observed that a lot of leaders were impressed that we made such a high impact with just 30 minutes of the project team's time. Similarly, Catherine Weitz observed that most of the team was impressed by how much was accomplished in one day. Finally, Randy Wood noted that the DBA project team initially had reservation about committing to four hours, but in the end were impressed that they came away with a resolution to a long-existing problem. In closing, change is not an easy concept, nor is building a continuous improvement culture, however, we think the Continuous Improvement initiatives program has made significant achievements in the last six months. The CI team leaders have done a great job creating positive experiences once they provide assistance in examining work space, process or departmental needs. The potential of this effort is extraordinary, and there have been numerous requests for training on continuous improvement methods. Fred Hutchison (or One DFA leader) commenting on all the positive DFA initiatives put it best when he said:

In reflecting upon the strategic planning and continuous improvement efforts we have been making in DFA, I struggled in the beginning to understand the ideas and concepts presented. I had been introduced to different management tools earlier in my career but these had been one-time events with no follow-up and no guidance on where to go from here. Not surprisingly, there was little benefit from these exercises. As I begin to understand our current processes, I am becoming more comfortable with the concepts and am starting to see the value in these programs. I am now asking myself, If I had learned these skills 15 years ago, how much better of a manager, a leader, and an employee would I be now?