Tag Archives: Continuous improvement

Make the most of your and your colleagues’ time

Click for Dep. of Pharmacy youtube video

Last week we were fortunate enough to act on an invitation to do a presentation at the annual seminar for faculty and administrative staff at the Department of Pharmacy at our University. It is quite common for us to be invited to present some of the work we do, both internally and externally, but this was actually the first time the invitation came from a seminar mainly for faculty members. An interesting and very welcomed opportunity to discuss some of our ideas with those who actually work with our core business: teaching and research.

It all came to be as I for some time have had discussions on work efficiency, waste of time and how to deliver valuable contributions to the student experience with my colleague and good friend, Professor Morten B. Strøm. Morten is, as I see it, genuinely interested in developing his own teaching and looking at how he himself can change his ways in order to help the students learn better.

Svein Are and Julia

For us, being asked to present at such a seminar is a near perfect pitch to be able to raise some questions and maybe even get some new thoughts sparked off among the faculty members. The alternative is to invite ourselves out there, but as you know, pull is by far preferred to push.

We had 75 minutes in the program, and through a joint understanding with the Department Head, we decided to address three topics of interest with the heading “Make the most of your and your colleagues’ time”.

  • Identifying time thieves (using the 8 wastes as a reference) and dealing with them
  • How to start thinking of changing the way we interact, and
  • A session on a potential new way to increase the output of academic writing (with the help from Niklas Modig’s theory on looping[1]).

Feedback from the participants so far suggests that it was a fun and valuable session, with some inspiration for new ideas. Moreover, as we used some of the time to talk about waste, they fortunately pointed out that this hour was not an example of such.

It was interesting and felt important finally to be able to present and discuss aspects of the improvement process with members of faculty. They are the ones working directly with our core business, and they are the ones most able to improve the student experience efficiently. So far, we have been doing most of the improvement work within the administrative field, improving back office processes more than the front line.

For us, the most important take home message was an essential question from one of the faculty members: “How do we know that it works?” She was referring to one of our earliest improvement processes at UiT (back in 2010), namely the process of hiring phD-scholars. Even though the lead-time in this process, through a structured improvement initiative was reduced by 42%, she still experienced that it took too long from start to finish. Through this we find some core take-home points, valuable to be reminded of:

  • We need to show that the improvement process actually improves something
  • The processes improved must be perceived as important to staff and students
  • We need constantly to think of how to improve the improvement process itself

-Svein Are Tjeldnes


[1] Inspired from the TED-SSE lecture «lean on yourself»

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Say it, do it, and improve it! – Impressive learning impact

For two days, UiT The Arctic university of Norway visited the Business Improvement Team (BIT) at the University of Strathclyde to attend their “Lean for Leaders” course in September this year. The strong collaboration between the improvement teams at the two universities has arisen from the LeanHE global network, allowing us to tap into a large joint source of knowledge, experience and expertise.

Following John Hogg’s (Director of Continuous Improvement) Erasmus+ visit to Tromsø in April, we managed to visit Glasgow this September. An excited group of 10 UiT leaders (and two from the improvement team) met early on Sunday morning at the Airport in Tromsø, suddenly realising that travelling to Glasgow is not a walk in the park. Anyway, the journey was pleasantly uneventful. After being welcomed by our host, a nice social evening and a short but efficient night’s sleep, we were all ready to attend Strathclyde’s well renowned lean course.

Graham Ross led us through two days of intense learning, instructive (and FUN!) exercises, lots of reflection, all with a well-balanced sense of humour (I won’t repeat the one with KAI-COSTA though) and participant challenges. With the help of John Hogg, Susan Ali and Susan Hillis we managed to cover topics like the two main Pillars of Lean, the 5 Core Principles, the 8 Wastes, Value Stream Mapping, Evidencing Benefits, Lean Leadership Model, Improvement Kata, 5S, and even more.

In addition to all the expert (and friendly) teaching, coaching and training delivered as part of the course, my feeling is that it was one point in particular that enhanced learning for our group – and made for a classic and powerful Eureka-moment: We could actually witness ourselves that Graham and the rest of the BIT practice what they preach. After going through extensive training with examples and models, we could pop into the next room and witness them working on actual improvement processes throughout the university exactly the way they taught us. They told us how to do it, and showed us they were doing it.

We cannot recall ever having had that same experience in any other course we have attended. It is not even all about the processes they are working on, but the whole way the team is organised and how they work together. The office space, the project rooms, the course room, the mind-set of the team members, and even the storage space and cupboards are all live examples of working in a continuous improvement environment. Inspirational!

Yet, after all this, there is more. The whole key, of course, is not only to practice as you preach but also to evolve and improve. With the BIT’s Daily Stand Up meeting, they aim not only to help others improve, but to improve their own way of doing it. In short, impressive.

For our part, it remains for us to put some of the new knowledge to good use. Our improvement team will work closely with each of the ten participants to ensure that they will get support to form and initiate their own improvement projects within their teams. For us especially, it has been rewarding to be able to learn from colleagues with more experience and to be able to have ten leaders from UiT attend this course at Strathclyde (not easy or cheap to make this happen). Most importantly though, I look forward to following our leaders’ improvement projects and evidencing the impact this collaboration will have on our organisation. And you can all feel safe that we will share how things move on from here in another blog.

To sum it all up: Say it – Do it – and then  Improve it!

Huge thanks to John Hogg, Graham Ross, Susan Ali and Susan Hillis for letting us tap into their way of working and for being such excellent hosts for our arctic band of travellers.

-Svein Are Tjeldnes & Julia Sempler

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Det brenn på dass!

The Lean HE Global Steering committee (some missing the photo-opportunity).

Last week we boarded a plane headed for the UK, with Leeds and Sheffield as our destinations, where we participated in meetings in the Lean HE Europe and Lean HE Global steering groups as well as a community of practice seminar. Moreover, as customs demand we took the opportunity to teach our UK friends a tiny bit of essential Norwegian, such as “Det brenn på dass” (sure we could have chosen worse phrases). Now, you might wonder where we want to go with this, but you’ll know in a minute.

As of 2016, UiT the Arctic University of Norway has been a steering group member of an international network for lean in higher education (HE). The Lean HE network is a global consortium of universities, all aiming to promote continuous improvement philosophies in HE through networking, the sharing of best practice and by supporting the delivery of a conference series. You can read more about Lean HE on the website: http://www.leanhe.org/

Building, participating in and contributing to a network for continuous improvement specific to higher education has been a chosen strategy for our improvement initiative, and it was early quite clear to us that we had to turn to international waters in order be part of a larger community. To tell a long story short: By a semi-planned search, we came across a UK-based network for lean in higher education – The lean HE Hub, and as soon as we reached out, we were warmly welcomed.

Det brenn på dass! But the University of Sheffield is clearly doing something about it.

So what about the title: “Det brenn på dass”. (It literally means that the toilet is on fire). In English, you would use the phrase “burning platform”, but our UK colleagues rather took to the Norwegian term as a somewhat more colorful description of a state of emergency. When the john/wc/toilet/loo/shitouse burns, you’re in dire trouble. If you don’t put that fire out you won’t be able to go about your business the next day, and we wouldn’t want that would we?

The thing is, we all want to move from an organisational state where we operate by firefighting and to a state where fires are prevented instead of fought. Collaboration ensures new perspectives, massive learning and makes it possible to reach for something further away than you could reach on your own. Maybe even a small step away from firefighting.

For us, being part of a larger community has been beneficial beyond our hopes. There is great value to meet and discuss with people who work with the same challenges as you do. Discussions, both formal and informal that gives new perspective to old problems, workshops and coaching-sessions where everyone brings a piece of an unknown solution and the recognition from peers – all part of a common effort to lift ourselves. In this way, networking itself adds value to our processes.

The next step in our international collaboration with other universities working with continuous improvement is a visit to UiT from John Hogg, Director of continuous improvement at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. During his Erasmus+ funded visit from the 18th to April 22, we will make the most of it, having planned several activities with different groups of people and of course an open community of practice seminar. Make sure to read more and sign on to this seminar!

What better way to illustrate the value of international collaboration than to make sure the learning is of mutual benefit to everyone.

-Julia Holte Sempler and Svein Are Tjeldnes

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Stop what you’re doing!

Stop sign pictureHave you ever been encouraged to stop what you’re doing at work? No? Well then, here’s one. I encourage you to stop doing what you do as soon as you have any doubts about the value of the task at hand. Now, let me quickly add a disclaimer: My call for laying down your work should not be used as an excuse for not doing your job. Quite the opposite in fact. I would even argue that you’re not doing your job if you do not evaluate what you do and how you do it regularly.

A heads up for those of you who actually do stop what you’re doing upon realizing there’s something wrong: Laying down the work requires a commitment in which you have to work hard to solve the present problem. In fact, it calls for a session of pure improvement work. And for the best result: do it together with your team with encouragement from your leader.

In practical terms, what could this mean? The point is not to be overly critical to every process you participate in or task you perform, but to apply your experience, skills and common sense to it. A warning sign could typically be if you experience a process to be inefficient and tedious, a task to be of no value or a form to be inadequate or even with no purpose. The goal of course, is to call out ineffective processes and/or unnecessary tasks in order to improve flow.

In a busy workday, I know that colleagues find it hard to question procedures and the value of given tasks. The consequences of not doing the job on time could be hard to carry. The thing to bear in mind though, is that it could potentially be much worse (and more expensive) not to seize an opportunity to improve a faulty process or task. It is of course also important not to exaggerate. We have to improve our work gradually. We cannot afford to try to do it all at once, in which case we would not be able to get any work done at all. On the other hand, it is almost only when we stop the work we’re doing that we are able to take the time to review the process or the task with a goal to improve it.

In my opinion, we are in dire need to understand that continuous improvement is part of the job, not something that should be added on top of a full position. It is also my conviction that this is a vital key to success in our improvement initiative at UiT the Arctic University of Norway.

Now go and stop what you’re doing!

As complimentary reading, I would recommend “Aktivitetsfellen” (In Norwegian) by Øyvind Kvalnes (Associate professor, Department of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour, Norwegian Business School) https://www.bi.no/forskning/business-review/articles/2017/03/aktivitetsfellen/

-Svein Are Tjeldnes

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