Client Interview – Lean at Queen Margaret University
We have a special treat for you this week in that Ian Robertson, Director of Finance at Queen Margaret University (QMU) Edinburgh, has joined us for an exclusive interview on our work for him and the University.
Ian has been at QMU for two years, having previously held similar positions at the Royal College of Surgeons as well as up in St Andrews. Ian reached out to arrange a 4-day commission from February 2 – 6, for us to head down and assist with efforts underway aimed at slim lining administrative operations and specifically a tuition fee process at QMU.
So Ian! Thank you for agreeing to take time out from the workshops to come and chat with me. So straight in with the benefits of Lean – how do they look from your perspective as Director of Finance at QMU?
Great to be here Blake. So, from my perspective Lean allows us to do several things. First and foremost, it gives people the time out to think about what they’re doing, take stock, reassess and ask questions as to why they do their daily tasks. This results in two outputs, the first being better processes borne out of good ownership of employees’ individual tasks, but also a much stronger sense of the purpose and the process involved other tasks with which they were not previously familiar. Another great benefit, particularly once we have trained up our own Lean facilitators, is that being able to map out our processes for the purposes of improving them, as we have been doing just today, affords the opportunity to fast-track training for new joiners. We have two staff currently doing just that, and whilst they are not really in a position to contribute, as I say there is hugely enhanced learning there and thus less wasted instruction time. Lean all round.
Why did you get us engaged?
So, the University has undergone a transformation process over the last two years that has involved cost cutting. One of the outcomes of that has been the need for staff to do more with less, which led me to suggest to the executive team that we deploy Lean thinking to ensure our staff manage with the higher workload generated by cutbacks, and we gained traction from there. We chose St Andrews Lean Consulting having personally seen you in action, but also on the basis of fantastic feedback and a track record of developing internal capacity among clients to deploy Lean thinking and embed an internal culture of Lean, so being that self-sufficiency is the goal for us, and you have experience of Higher Education, you were the natural choice.
What is the training being delivered currently by St Andrews Lean Consulting?
Seven people are being trained as Lean champions over the five days, with Lean theory training as well as simulated rapid improvement work being the central foci, developing the skills that will enable us to press on with the aforementioned plans, but also to help promote the goal of an upskilled staff body.
And what have been the lessons learned so far?
So firstly, the fact that people need preparing and convincing to ensure that they are on board, otherwise the traction isn’t there and a risk develops of progress being undone. Secondly, scoping exercises in a smaller environment are essential, makes sure everyone has an awareness and clarity of what is going to be undertaken here. Third is the focus on tackling the perception that opportunities to come up with new systems are few and far between, which isn’t true. We can make significant changes that deliver tangible savings with this approach and we will only do so if we all recognise that our individual actions, not the actions of others, will ensure its success. A final one is empowering staff to the extent that they can confidently propose process innovations to management without feeling intimidated, so that solutions are proposed in the first instance but secondly that they are implemented without seeking to overturn anything.
So, flowing from that Ian, how easy has it been to get people on board?
Initial signs have been good, particularly at a senior level. Grassroots has been trickier because of the perception of themselves as being too busy.
Do you think there has been the right amount of time on this?
The main constraint has been pace and the academic calendar. In the sense that we can’t stop functions for maintenance, I would say those maintaining the bridge can’t close it completely, but that does seem to be a regular occurrence here in Scotland!
What would you say to others thinking about introducing Lean?
I would say they are unarguable benefits if you’re prepared to put the commitment in and attain proper buy in from the very top. There is little point in doing this in a half-hearted fashion, even if Lean gains early traction within that individual team because the success of Lean can depend on buy in from other teams, and higher up management could end up overturning it if they do not have the confidence in the approach. So, real benefits here but not to be undertaken lightly.