Light bulbs and efficiency: PPRs prove transformational for business

The LFHE project evaluating participative process reviews (PPRs) is well underway and all the participative workshop events have now been completed. Examples of the kinds of process improvements being tackled range from annual course evaluations to academic promotions approval, from student enquiry support to accommodation check-in/check-out.

Some really interesting findings are emerging already from workshop observations, discussions and interviews with teams, which we discussed in a recent project team meeting. While we are focused on producing some illustrative case studies from higher education institutions, we couldn’t resist doing some thematic analysis!

Conducting interviews with process teams from both Oxford Brookes and external institutions, our external consultant, Dr Jay Allyson Dempster, identifies some interesting insights:

“I’ve interviewed both process owners who participated on the day, and stakeholders for whom their process review should have impacted and in every single case, their enthusiasm for the opportunity and the impact on ‘business as usual’ is very prominent in their remarks.

“Processes that benefit most from participative review appear to be ones that involve multiple strands and/or multiple players, and where the sense is they are simply too onerous and over-processed. The number of steps involved has usually grown organically, with things being done for historical reasons rather than because they are still essential to the process. The flow of information is often out of sequence or tasks inappropriately timed and this is causing issues on the ground for staff and their managers.

“Doing the Terms of Reference and Process Mapping activities in a structured and participative way is proving to be quite transformative, far more so than in other business processes they’ve reviewed internally or more informally.”

Benefits include:

  • maintaining clarity and focus on the key aims and objectives of the review;
  • engagement, inclusiveness and sense of co-ownership, developing better team working;
  • taking ‘real quality time’ to drill down into the detail, to achieve a deeper level of thinking and reasoning rather than making assumptions about the different parts of a process;
  • getting perspectives from managers and staff working ‘on the ground’ and the level of useful discussion, communication and cooperation;
  • gaining awareness and appreciation of the different information needs of everyone involved;
  • the robustness of having the entire process mapped out visually as evidence of the number and timing of tasks, roles and interactions;
  • making decisions there and then with everyone present and action plans for implementing the changes;
  • techniques to capture what is done/not done, where the gaps are and help to reassemble it into a leaner version of the process; and
  • changing the way people and teams work and think about their role as part of a business process, and the skills developed to apply to other projects.

Although it’s early days in terms of the teams running with the refined processes due to academic cycles, Jay’s findings are promising:

“What’s emerging are a broad set of benefits in how teams operate and cooperate, reductions in staff workload and stress as examples of tangible efficiency savings in resource terms.

“Keeping everyone involved in the loop is important for maintaining momentum of the changes and ensuring people stay fully committed to implementing the changes proposed.”

The evaluation as a whole will combine data from the interviews, documents and surveys in order to address our overarching questions about how we evaluate the success of PPRs and what measures or indicators of change can be used for interventions such as these.

— Dr Jay Allyson Dempster, External Consultant for the PPR Project, Belanda Consulting

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About the author

Stephen Broughton

Stephen is a postdoctoral pedagogic research assistant in the OCSLD. He started working at Oxford Brookes University in January 2015 and is also currently working towards a PhD in Mathematics Education.

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