Before launching into a refurbishment or new build project it is worth taking a step back to give consideration to what it is you hope to achieve in the new space. Is it really just a replica of what happens in your current space or are there things that could be improved about the way your organisation currently works?
‘Business processes are wrapped around everything’
Michael Turpie, Telford College
There are a number of examples within the education sector of organisations that have reviewed their processes as an initial part of their learning space design project. We produced guidance on process improvement that gives some simple fast-track ways of identifying improvements and emphasises the need to put the learner at the heart of the process. Elsewhere in this guide we refer to the need to have a creative view of the future that you wish to create. This has to be a starting point for process review.
Having a view of what you would like things to be like means that during process review you can measure proposals against that future rather than adopt a ‘deficit’ approach that tries to ‘fix’ what is perceived to be wrong, which can be threatening and insulting to staff that operate current processes. For example, a rationale that is business process-focused, such as that used by Telford College, provides a common focus for staff and managers to make improvements.
Telford has introduced a managed Just-in-Time printing service for staff in its new building. This has resulted in storage space and financial savings. Michael Turpie, Associate Principal at Telford, endorses the need to plan, to be organised, and to think through the cycle. As a result of the initiative throughput has increased by 50%. There is an electronic document management system in place at Telford and the Corporate Information project completely changed information systems in the College. Electronic signatures, ID management, workflow, etc are all built into it and the information is more accurate than before and flows well.
At Glasgow Caledonian, the Students Access to Services (SAS) project undertook process review as an extended project over more than two years that involved all the departments providing services for students. The starting point for this review was a simple underlying principle that ‘students should not have to understand how the university is structured in order to access its services’. The University engaged a project manager and used external services to review what was done and how it was done. A key aim was to identify which processes were:
- information provision
- deeper processes involving problem identification and solution
The first two, information provision and transactions were, as far as possible, taken on line and are delivered in the Saltire Centre through all the computers in the building but also specifically through the Arup kiosks (interactive information points).
Feedback from the university was that an important phase of the SAS project was the input from Jisc, and particularly the application of the administrative principles including ‘Do it once, Do it right’. It was reported that these principles were very important, culturally significant, customer service guidelines for staff delivering on the front line.
Several organisations have looked long and hard at space issues and identified that small offices can be empty for large amounts of time, paper files may be stored for years without seeing the light of day, and although single offices allow peace and quiet they also work against interaction and serendipitous conversations between staff. Some have come up with some quite radical solutions including; limiting the amount of storage space available to each member of staff, moving them out of one and two person offices into open plan offices and introducing ‘hot desking’.
At Telford College not even the principal has an office! Such changes need to be carefully managed but flexible working arrangements and improved staff social areas can help win hearts and minds. Some staff at Telford found the experience of leaving years of junk behind very ‘cathartic’
Technology can also play a significant role in how processes are transacted. For example one aim in the case of Glasgow Caledonian was ‘to make the best use of staff and technology’ by making information and transaction services available on a self-service basis. In addition to improving current services, technology can often facilitate new ones, for example, Newcastle College believes the introduction of VOIP has not only provided cost savings (by only having one set of cabling), it has also encouraged them to provide a more efficient service by introducing a ‘Call Centre’.
This has been particularly useful in dealing with high volumes of sickness reporting calls. The Call Centre also deals with calls from a range of other colleges partnering with Newcastle to deliver work-based learning.
The development of an integrated IT infrastructure, such as that at Newcastle College, is an essential pre-requisite for developments such as the centralisation of admissions processes, the provision of self-service information and transaction facilities, integrated buildings management, and personal development planning schemes that are integrated with other information systems. Moving from a September peak to year-round interviewing allows more time to discuss the suitability of programmes of study and ensure that special needs are identified and supported.
Some of the techniques that are used to stimulate new ideas, as described in techniques to aid imagination, can be used when you are considering your processes; the SCAMMPERR technique may be particularly relevant.
A good framework for innovative ways of thinking and assumption-busting can be found in the work of Michael Michalko. His book, ‘Cracking Creativity’, provides a rich source of approaches to thinking differently and his Thinkpak is a practical tool for getting groups to experiment with their ideas. Thinkpak goes way beyond brainstorming by providing a structure for idea generation and development.
The Thinkpak is a pack of 56 cards to support groups based around the SCAMMPERR structure that Michalko has devised for looking at topics from a wide range of different angles. SCAMMPERR is an acronym for the nine principles that Michalko offers for creative work:
- Substitute something
- Combine it with something else
- Adapt something to it
- Magnify or add to it
- Modify it
- Put it to some other use
- Eliminate something
- Rearrange it
- Reverse it
For example when defining a new facility it’s a good idea to start from what you know – say you are designing a new laboratory – and ask what other functions could we use this space for (combine it with something else). Could it also be used as a small cinema in the evenings? What could we take away? For example, some institutions have designed labs that can be easily adapted for use by any of the sciences, rather than design a discipline-specific lab.
The Thinkpak provides a powerful framework for individuals or groups to develop new ideas or new approaches to old ones. As well as the cards themselves, the Thinkpak booklet has a range of initial strategies to prepare for idea generation and selection. The Thinkpak could be a very useful resource, at least at the outset, to break out of old mindsets.