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, 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.
THE NORDIC FLAVOR
Having 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.
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 my 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.
The Lean in Higher Education (leanHE) conference 2017 has come to end and, and as I sit on the plane from Sydney to Bangkok I’ll take the opportunity to write down some thoughts. Time flies, and it is hard to believe that it has been a full year since we left Scotland after the 2016 conference (which inspired our first improvement blog). In the day-to-day work and operations it might sometimes be difficult to spot the overall progress, but the conference gave a good opportunity to think about this. In the next passages I’ll sum up a couple (out of many) learning points as I give my view on the impact of the Sydney conference for me and my colleagues from UiT The Arctic University of Tromsø (UiT).
UiT has participated in this annual conference series with two or more delegates each year since it was held in Cardiff in 2014. This has had major impact on our work with continuous improvement. In Waterloo, in 2015, we were informally asked if we would be interested in hosting the conference at some point. In 2016, in Stirling, there was a soft launch of news that UiT would host the conference in 2018. Finally, this year in Sydney, it was a pleasure to formally announce Tromsø and UiT as the host for the next leanHE-conference.
With the knowledge that we would be responsible for next year’s conference, we travelled to Sydney not only to learn more about lean and continuous improvement in higher education, but also to observe how Macquarie University ran the event, the flow and feel of the conference and the overall output. We bring a lot of useful knowledge on this back home.
Another important discovery for us was that we are more capable of bringing experience and knowledge to the conference than we have been before. It was a good experience to be able to present some of the work we do at UiT. There are always new angles and takes on different problems, and so one of the most useful outputs was the many opportunities to grow larger and stronger networks with colleagues from all over the world.
For my part, the most interesting presentations came from Vincent Wiegel and Tobias Byron. Vincent (from HAN University) made sure to challenge and engage the audience, even a bit provocative – which is good. It was interesting to see how he made use of digital solutions to interact with the participants during the presentation. Tobias (from the Macquarie group) brought reflections on what he whish he knew about lean ten years ago. Interesting to see how embedded lean was in a large company.
It is always good to meet old friends, but just as good (and important) to make new ones. We made the most of the time in Sydney. I feel certain that we have strengthened our ties with existing networks across Europe and made new connections in both Europe and Australia. Making new connections is a promise for the opportunity to learn something new.
Our goal for next year’s conference in Tromsø is to make it both practical and applicable. Primarily we want every speaker to have practical and interactive elements in their presentations. We’d like to arrange more workshops where participants get to practice new skills and techniques, and also where we all can be inspired to use new technology both in teaching and facilitating process improvement.
Finally yet importantly, I want to congratulate Valerie Runyan, her team and the Macquarie University for a conference well done and for hospitality beyond what anyone could expect. 150 participants and speakers have been attended to in every possible way. We are very grateful for this, and as we continue planning next year’s conference in Tromsø we will make sure to make good use of Valerie’s knowledge and experience.
Welcome to Tromsø and UiT the Arctic University in Norway next year.
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.
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.
I dag (28.03.17) har jeg fått lov til å dele noen tanker om UiT sitt arbeid med lean og forbedringsprosesser med ca 300 deltakere på årets NARMA-konferanse i Lillestrøm. NARMA er et nasjonalt nettverk for forskningsadministrasjon, og ligger under UHR-paraplyen.
Utfordringen som ble stilt kom i form av et innledende tema: «Effektivisering og avbyråkratisering. Er lean svaret for forskningsadministrasjon?». Mitt svar på spørsmålet får dere helt nederst.
Undertegnede og Tina Lewis fra Københavns Universitet fikk hver våre 40 minutter til å fortelle om våre institusjoners erfaring med bruk av lean som forbedringsfilosofi. Det var svært interessant å få høre om erfaringene fra KU, presentert av en leder som selv bruker lean i sitt daglige virke. Til min store glede kunne jeg konstatere at vi var helt på linje, med et hovedbudskap om at lean handler om folk og de små forbedringene i arbeidshverdagen og ikke et middel for de store og raske innsparingene. De kommer etter hvert, dersom man tør å bruke tiden på å investere i medarbeidernes og teamets evner til samhandling. For egen del valgte jeg å presentere tanker om hvorfor vi har satt i gang forbedringsprosessen, mer enn hvordan. Hvorfor er langt mer interessant, og ikke minst så genererer «hvorfor» mer engasjement enn «hvordan».
Basert på spørsmålene fra salen trekker jeg glatt en konklusjon om at plenumsforedragene om lean vekket interesse og nysgjerrighet. Dersom noen fortsatt sitter med spørsmål, eller har lyst å diskutere lean generelt, er det bare å ta kontakt: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thoughts upon arriving home after the LeanHE-conference 2016 in Stirling
When I was a youngster I played the drums and timpanis in both a windband and an orchestra, and several times a year I would get to go on a trip with either one or both. For instance a one week tour from northerly Sortland to Sandefjord (which was really exotic since they had bats flying around) far south, or even longer tours to Italy (talk about exotic for a young Norwegian boy). Or going away on school camp with all your friends and schoolmates, and maybe even a girlfriend (or two).
All of these travels had one thing in particular in common: to be together with your best friends and the coolest folks, around the clock for many days – and importantly enough: without ANY parents. However, as with all fairytales, suddenly the tour is over and you arrive home. I can still vividly remember the kind of empty feeling that landed on me as soon as the last goodbyes and hugs were done and the door to our house shut behind me.
Today I am experiencing that same empty feeling. A kind of sorrow and mourning having left that lovely bubble of excitement, buzz, being with good old and new friends, learning and developing together with 170 fantastic lean practitioners at the Lean in Higher Education in Stirling. Can you relate? However, this is not all a bad thing. It simply means that we had a rock’n’roll badass great conference. I am proud to be a part of this particular community.
I count myself lucky to know Sue Jennings, Lorna Prince and the rest of the team at University of Stirling, who gave us this amazing conference at the most awesome venue. Including the fabulous dinner at Stirling Castle where I got to go through two first-timers: Wearing a real Kilt (Scotland’s National Tartan) and eating Haggis.
I also feel grateful to Steven Yorkstone, Susanne Clarke and the rest of the Global Lean HE steering committee for discovering me in Waterloo (last year), urging me to become a member of the committee. They are highly competent people, both as lean practitioners and as warm and welcoming persons. The same goes for rugged John Hogg (always going strong in every sense of the word), the lovely Rachel MacAssey (chairing the European division with steady hands), smiling Valerie Runyan (taking on the task of next year’s conference in Sydney), energetic Mick Gash (always present with helping hands and thoughts), Pat Browne (ever offering own ideas), devious Mark Robinson (never short of comments), vibrant Vincent Wiegel (always strongly present), Marilyn Thompson (the happy Canadian) and Tammi Sinah (who never seems to run out of energy).
It would be clearly impossible for me to mention every person I had the luck of meeting these important days in Stirling, but hey – I could go for a few. I absolutely loved talking with and learning from Sean Jackson of Virginia University. His session “Who’s ready for lean” was excellently delivered and thought provoking. I keep thinking that if we had applied some of his ideas and work on change readiness assessment, I know a couple of processes we never would have started at my university.
Most importantly, I have to point out my absolute favorite session among all the high quality contributions delivered at Stirling (A description of them all can be found in the program). Nicola Cairns and Heather Lawrence gave a fully packed room great insight in evidencing benefits and impact of change, even using lean teaching methods. I have declared myself their number one fan.
This conference did also present new and a bit surprising friendships. I had the pleasure of getting to know and discussing lean with Birute Budreviciene, Sandra Kavalevskyte and Aidis Stukas from Kaunas University of Technology. This was their first LeanHE conference and I trust we will see them again as they were very eager to hold a seminar in Lithuania soon. Best of luck on further exploration of lean. I also, by coincidence, ran into Swedish Karolin Arvidsson from Middlesex University. Please follow through on your idea to bring the team over to Norway and UiT – The Arctic University of Norway for a visit. The same goes for Jose Franken from University of Twente, as we will connect to discuss the build-up of teams.
As the LeanHE conference also puts great weight on networking, it was especially gratifying to finally meet and put a face to many of the twitter-accounts I have been following for a while. For instance Stuart Morris from University of Lincoln. I trust we will be able to explore our collaboration and networking further as it will be easier after meeting in person.
Eventually I want to thank all of my fellow” MacKenzie” clansmen and -women at our table during the castle dinner. You all made the dinner memorable, thus helping to create this Post Conference Syndrom write-up. Julia H. Sempler, Jeung Lee, Edvins Balodis, Tom Laws, Katrien Verhooge and Anne Wendt: We were a great even when discovering the vegetarian mix-up.
Then – at last but never the least, my team, friends and wonderful colleagues from UiT – the “concept group” responsible for driving change. Julia H. Sempler, Frank Lindrupsen, Karin Eilertsen, Grethe Karlsen and Kjersti Dahle: The five of you are the ones who are designated to help me get over this post conference syndrome, by relentlessly pushing forward with continuous improvement step by step, day by day.