Tag Archives: Continuous improvement

Continuous improvement up for a game of Nordic collaboration


When we started to learn about lean and continuous improvement at UiT the Arctic University of Norway, we quickly realized we needed a network, a kinship, to support us. We had little knowledge of which universities we could turn to, to hear those encouraging stories of thrilling successes or the chaotic tales of thundering failures (both equally important). Our perception was one of a growing number of universities in the UK that were heading down the winding road of continuous improvement.

Our foot in the door was a direct request to Christine Stewart at Cardiff University back in 2013. On the back of our visit to Cardiff,Lean HE logo we were invited to participate at the 2014 conference of the newly formed Lean in Higher Education hub in the UK (Now known as Lean HE). Literally as we flew to Waterloo (Canada) the following year, to build further on budding friendships, we formulated a desire for a similar Nordic network – not to mention a bold dream to hold a conference on continuous improvement ourselves. We even promised ourselves to use such a hypothetical opportunity to launch a Nordic initiative.


Fast forward 5 years to April 2020. Last week, we held our first meeting with Nordic colleagues. On the agenda: Exploration of a Lean in Higher Education Nordics network. Ironically, the lockdown due to the Corona crisis made it easier to go ahead with a fully virtual meeting – allowing 12 participants from 6 Nordic universities to meet and explore the interest of such a network. It was a pleasure to experience that the first meeting had a vibrant feel to it. As for the conclusion there was no doubt about the commitment between the participants, but rather a crispy clear desire to establish a Nordic branch of Lean HE Europe.

Hopefully, five years from today, we can look back at this meeting as an important steppingstone to acknowledge years of fruitful Nordic collaboration within continuous improvement and innovation.


Nordic countriesHaving observed the growth of the Lean HE network globally, and the value of “local” branches such as the Southern, the North and Midlands in the UK, Lean HE Poland and Lean HE Netherlands and Belgium, we are certain that a Nordic branch will prove valuable as well. The Nordic countries have strong ties and shared values at their core. Lean HE Nordics will give us a platform to collaborate, explore and innovate on our journey of continuous improvement.

-Svein Are Tjeldnes

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Wall of opportunities

When working with people, teams or organizations on change, I have often come across displays of various challenges. Some are easy to read while others are more subtle or even hidden below the surface. Typically, these challenges comes within all kinds of contexts – some are personal and some are more culturally or organizationally driven. Mark Robinson, Managing Director of St Andrews Lean Consulting, has visualized such challenges in “the wall of excuses”.


I have used this visualization myself when addressing change challenges, and it works well as an eye-opener and a platform for honest discussions on the difficulties we face. On top of that, it is also humorous and serves as an icebreaker when closing in on the matters of subject. By the way, my personal favorite excuse is BOHICA. Yes, it’s an acronym.  Yes, I’ll tell you what it stands for: Bend Over Here It Comes Again…

However, I have several times felt the need to free up some positive and creative energy after banging mThe wall of opportunitiesy head on the wall of excuses. In a presentation I held a few months back, I challenged the audience to use two minutes to counteract on all the reasons not to change, and see if it was just as easy to come up with reasons to “just do it”. Those two minutes were somewhat mind-blowing and I had to get hold of an extra flip chart to wall it all up. Together the audience actually created “the wall of opportunities”.

If you ever feel the need to turn heads around, then try this and see what happens.

– Svein Are Tjeldnes

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Live as you preach!

Processveilederkurs 2019A couple of weeks ago, the improvement team at UiT delivered training for process guides and facilitators. Through two three-day courses, we trained 21 leaders and employees in continuous improvement and facilitation competencies. Lean core values, principles, tools and techniques were discussed, practiced and reflected upon. We aim to design our training as interactive and practical as possible, as we believe learning is strengthened through doing and training.

A new feature in this particular course was a stronger emphasis on broader facilitation competencies and skills. This part of the course is built on the 6 core competencies as described by the International Association for Facilitators, and the facilitation model developed by Svein Are Tjeldnes (UiT) and Stephen Yorkstone (Edinburgh Napier University).

The courses were very well received, and the feedback and evaluation indicated successful and valuable days of learning. In addition to the participant’s evaluation directly after the courses, we (the improvement team) made notes of possible improvements throughout each session. In the end we had a total of over 30 small and large improvement suggestions noted on post-its (of course).

This is a rather large material, and we faced the risk of evaluation oblivion – not doing anything with any of the suggestions. In our busy days, we could easily have put all the notes aside thinking we’ll go through them all “later” or “a few days before” the next time we deliver the training. Instead, we took it upon us the very next day, using a tool we refer to in the training itself – a prioritization matrix.

Prioritization matrix2We went through each suggestion, post-it by post-it, and measured them against the two dimensions; “high/low impact” and “high/low effort”. It took us about an hour to go through all of them. (We threw away some of them as either not an improvement suggestion or not relevant). In the end we had 17 improvements in the matrix, all ready prioritized. By the end of the day, most of them were implemented (slides, examples, manuscript, exercises changed). The result is, that the course material and game plan is revised and improved, ready to go when needed. The work is allready done, and we have used tools and techniques we teach others to use (at the same time creating a new example). Sometimes it is worth reminding ourselves of this – to live as we preach!

– Svein Are Tjeldnes, Frank Lindrupsen & Karin Eilertsen

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Kontinuerlig forbedring av forbedringsarbeidet

Den siste uken før jul støttet forbedringsprosessen Phd-teamet ved det Helsevitenskapelige fakultet med å gjøre en verdistrømsanalyse (VSA) av prosessen disputasgjennomføring (nå-situasjonen). I fire dager har 15 personer fra Helsefak vært i sving med å nitidig kartlegge jobben som gjøres i de ulike delene av prosessen i dag. DenBilde fra kartleggingen kartlagte prosessen spenner over 39 identifiserte steg (i tillegg til 8 parallelle steg), utallige oppgaver og kommunikasjonslinjer. En lang rekke uklarheter og problemområder er identifisert. Engasjementet blant de som har deltatt har vært imponerende stort, og gjentagende tilbakemeldinger er både at det er på tide å gjøre noe med prosessen og at metoden og kommunikasjonen i arbeidet har vært inspirerende.

Som prosessveiledere (fasilitatorer) har vi denne gang ikke bare fokusert på å hjelpe gruppa til å få frem alle arbeidsoppgaver og steg i prosessen. Vi har hatt et eget øye til selve metodikken og hvordan denne kan forbedres i seg selv.

I samarbeid med prosesseier har vi valgt å prøve en, for oss, ny måte å gjøre kartleggingen på. Vanligvis har vi gjort slike kartlegginger over 2 hele dager med alle deltakere tilstede hele tiden. Det gjør at alle i gruppa får svært god kjennskap til hele prosessen, men samtidig at flere deltakere vil få lange perioder med passiv deltakelse alt ettersom hvor i prosessen vi er.

Denne gang har vi, basert på en grov analyse av prosessen (SIPOC), gjort kartleggingen stegvis over 4 dager med færre timer pr. dag. Hver av disse dagene har kun de som jobber med den aktuelle delen av prosessen vært tilstede. (Timelapse fra kartleggingen – lenke til YouTube). Det har ført til drastisk redusert total tidsbruk og svært liten opplevd dødtid. I rene tall er det slik at vi denne gang har brukt 50 ressurstimer på kartleggingen. I vår vanlige modell ville vi i dette tilfellet brukt 180 ressurstimer, en besparelse på 130 timer. Siden ikke alle har vært tilstede under hele kartleggingen beregner vi å invitere til et felles møte med grundig gjennomgang av hele kartet, beregnet til ca. 30 ressurstimer. Det gir oss fortsatt en besparelse på 100 timer (55%).

Neste steg i verdistrømsanalysen er å møtes for å designe ny prosessflyt samt å jobbe med tiltak for å fjerne identifiserte flaskehalser og problemområder i dagens prosess. Det blir spennende å se om den nye måten å gjøre kartleggingen på har innvirkning på denne fasen av prosessen.

Det er sannsynligvis ikke alle prosesser hvor denne måten å kartlegge på egner seg. Vi vil til å forsøke å identifisere hvilke faktorer som spiller inn i denne vurderingen, slik at vi fremover lettere kan planlegge hvordan verdistrømsanalyser kan skje med bruk av færrest mulig ressurser.

-Frank Lindrupsen & Svein Are Tjeldnes

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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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