A process may be defined as ‘a particular course of action intended to achieve a result’, or more specifically as:
A set of logically related tasks performed to achieve a defined business outcome.
In both of these definitions the key thing is what is important is the end result. A process exists to achieve a purpose. It is also useful to think of roles and responsibilities in this way. A person’s job is not to carry out a process it is to achieve a result. Emphasising this can make it easier for people to think about how they might achieve that result in different ways.
Michael Hammer, often called the father of business process re-engineering, defined a process as:
A related group of tasks that together create a result of value to a customer.
Moriarty & Thompson, 1996
This definition best fits the a client-centred approach.
Processes can be viewed in a variety of ways – one of the simplest is to see the components of each process as input, transformation and output.
Inputs may be information, materials or activities. The fourth, and most important, element of the process is the client. The purpose of the process and its end result is to meet the needs of a client. In education we can only really create effective and value-adding processes if we recognise that the client is usually the student.
When reviewing our processes we need to think about why we are doing them and what output the client requires. In the case of education, the learner is the client because they are the recipient of a final product with the choice of where to seek it.
Keep the strategic vision and output in mind when thinking about your processes. There are many tools you can use to help in your review, and we will explore some of them in this guide, but before you get into the detail remember to focus your efforts on the why (the strategy) and the output (the transformed input). It is easy to spend a lot of time analysing the detail and a lot of that time may well be wasted.
Above all else keep thinking about why you are doing the process at all and the ouput you need from it.
This clear focus will be necessary once you start to examine the realities of processes in your organisation. It will help you cut through the organisational smokestacks that currently exist to see the process overall.
Lean activities and processes
Lean isn’t an acronym rather it is a way of thinking about activities and processes that focuses on adding value and eliminating waste. The approach grew out of the automotive industry and is generally credited to Toyota.
The Lean approach is based on the premise that only a small proportion of the resource/effort that goes into a task actually adds value for the customer therefore it tries to eliminate the tasks that do not add value. Taking the student as the customer of post-compulsory education it is not difficult to see how this approach can be applied.
Lean thinking requires taking a view of the ‘supply chain’ across the organisation as a whole so it is an enterprise-wide approach.
Cardiff University adopted the Lean approach in 2006 and has based a considerable amount of process improvement on the 5 overriding principles of Lean:
- Identify customers and specify value - The starting point is to recognise that only a small fraction of the total time and effort in any organisation actually adds value for the end customer. By clearly defining Value for a specific product or service from the end customer’s perspective, all the non value activities – or waste – can be targeted for removal.
- Identify and map the value stream – The Value Stream is the entire set of activities across all parts of the organisation involved in jointly delivering the product or service. This represents the end-to-end process that delivers the value to the customer. Once you understand what your customer wants the next step is to identify how you are delivering (or not) that to them.
- Create flow by eliminating waste – Typically when you first map the Value Stream you will find that only 5% of activities add value, this can rise to 45% in a service environment. Eliminating this waste ensures that your product or service “flows” to the customer without any interruption, detour or waiting.
- Respond to customer pull – This is about understanding the customer demand on your service and then creating your process to respond to this. Such that you produce only what the customer wants when the customer wants it.
- Pursue perfection - Creating flow and pull starts with radically reorganising individual process steps, but the gains become truly significant as all the steps link together. As this happens more and more layers of waste become visible and the process continues towards the theoretical end point of perfection, where every asset and every action adds value for the end customer.
The University of St Andrews also adopted Lean in 2006 and uses the concept of 8 wastes to identify areas for improvement:
- Transportation Unnecessary movement of materials, people, information, equipment or paper
- Inventory Excess stock, unnecessary files and copies, and extra supplies
- Motion Unnecessary walking and searching, things not within reach or easily accessible
- Waiting Idle time that causes the workflow to stop, such as waiting for signatures, machines, phone calls
- Overprocessing Processing things that don’t add value, e.g.asking for student details multiple times, excessive checking or duplication
- Overproduction Producing either too much paperwork / information, or producing it before it is required
- Defects Work that needs to be redone due to errors (whether human or technical)
- Skills misuse Not using the full potential of staff, wasting the available knowledge, skills and experience
The University of Strathclyde initiated its Strathclyde Lean Six Sigma Efficiencies in Education Kit (SLEEK) programme in 2011. A 2013 evaluation report identified that (allowing for the cost of training) the programme would generate savings of c.£210k equating to each member of staff trained to yellow belt level making savings of £2k, and each member of staff trained to green belt level generating savings of £20k.