University of Sheffield (Great Britain)

Contributed by Rachel McAssey

The University of Sheffield (Sheffield; was founded in 1905 as a community-supported institution with a special focus on civic engagement. It enrolls approximately 27,000 students and is a member of the prestigious Russell Group for its research-intensive activities (receiving approximately a third of its funding from research). Sheffield’s Lean journey began in 2011 based on the early successes of Lean at the University of St Andrews and the release of the “Diamond Report,12” challenging UK universities to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. An initial pilot program, developed with help from St Andrews, led to the creation of the Process Improvement Unit (PIU;, funded by and reporting to IT with a crossfunctional steering committee (e.g., IT Director, CFO, Registrar) chaired by the VC. External consultants13 and Lean colleagues at other universities were instrumental in the initial launch and evolution of Lean at Sheffield.

The PIU offers Lean training to all employees in a single office or work group as well as general enrollment courses and is included as a component in centrally delivered leadership training. More extensive “belt” training is available in small groups to employees endorsed by their management. Approximately 100 Green Belt graduates work with their home departments informally to help implement Lean problem-solving. Six Lean facilitators (three in the PIU) are available to lead cross-functional RIEs at the request of campus units. The scope and deliverable of Lean projects are set by senior project Sponsors, and the Lean facilitators determine the best implementation approach (e.g., a 3- to 5-day RIE, a project spread over time to align with critical decision points of senior leaders).

The PIU has completed numerous Lean projects over the years. For example, PIU led a 4-day RIE to improve the process for preparing the undergraduate prospectus, a key recruitment document that is updated annually and shared with prospective undergraduate students. The development process involved over 100 members of University staff, and production deadlines cannot be missed because the prospectus is needed for established recruitment events. The current process map indicated areas of waste, for example, multiple providers of data for the prospectus, limited information sharing, and significant rework at proofing stages. The RIE team identified and prioritized solutions to create an improved process for preparing the recruitment prospectus, including:

■ A briefing meeting for academic departments and professional services to ensure everyone understands the complete prospectus production process (not just their own process steps).

■ Standardized templates for departments who are providing information to the print Marketing team.

■ Better use of Google documents (rather than emailing and filing word documents and spreadsheets), shared with key staff.

■ Use of an online proofing system.

Implementation of the new process resulted in a number of improvements: a sixfold increase in compliance in providing information on time (from 15% to 90%); a 48% decrease in the number of email queries and follow-ups (from 871 to 453); elimination of one proofing stage (from three to two); and an increase in staff’s self-reported satisfaction with the prospectus production process (from 48% to 78%).

A second Lean project examined the processing of contract changes for staff (e.g., moving from fixed-term contracts to open-ended contracts, changes to the number of contracted hours). Preliminary analysis indicated that concerns with the process were limited to the “providers” of the process: the staff in HR, Payroll, and Pensions invested significant time and energy - even on small changes - to ensure the pay and pension scheme for revised contracts were accurate. Process mapping indicated that data for the revised contracts came from many sources and required manual input, leading to input and format errors; this required the staff from these offices to waste time checking documents against computer systems, comparing spreadsheets, etc. The RIE team proposed and implemented a number of recommendations within 3 months of the improvement event, including:

■ Establishing standardized work for initiating the contract change process.

■ Establishing standard output (with appropriate flexibility of practice for the three departments).

■ Reducing approvals and clarifying the responsibilities of the remaining approvers.

■ Reducing manual inputs into different systems and spreadsheets.

The revised process for making changes to contracts resulted in a decrease in the number of days to issue contract changes (an average 50% reduction in time across the different faculty teams), a 65% reduction in duplicated information across electronic data bases, a 41% reduction in the number of process steps (41 down to 24), a 64% reduction in handoffs during the process, and a reduction in the number of required approvals.

Lean at Sheffield continues to mature and evolve with changing expectations of leadership and an expanded mission to provide broader support for strategically aligned organizational change via the newly set up Strategic Change Office (established in August 2018). For the period up to August 2018, Lean leaders continued to improve their Lean offerings, including testing their Lean training at other universities to identify improvements and inviting Lean colleagues from other universities to co-facilitate Lean projects and discover new ideas and approaches that enhance the continuous improvement of Sheffield’s Lean initiative.

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