On 18th June 2014 the Finance department of the University of St Andrews held an away morning for their entire team in the Gateway building. The day began as might be expected, with a brief report of the current situation within Finance and an outline of recent and ongoing projects, and, in keeping with the spirit of the day, an update of the year’s social calendar.

However, the bulk of the morning was devoted to a training session looking at Lean thinking and tools. From our perspective this was very encouraging to see; Finance has always been enthusiastic to work with us. Indeed, Beki Thomson, Deputy Director of Finance, had already emphasised the importance of taking time away from daily tasks to improve those same tasks, which is exactly in line with what we do – spend time now to save more time later.

Our session began with Fin giving a brief talk on Lean – the history, the fundamentals, and a few tools. As often takes place at training events, the Finance staff were invited to highlight where the 8 wastes were present in their workplace, and what potential solutions might be. However, on this occasion, we went one step further; the real purpose of the day was to carry out the first steps of a Lean session.

We began with an example: how to make a cup of tea. Our tea making process was intentionally terrible; everyone involved had plenty of ideas about how to make it better, ranging from simple reorganisation to new technology. The practical session that followed saw Finance staff do exactly the same for the real processes they work with every day.


Process Mapping
Process Mapping


The department was arranged in teams that corresponded to their working groups, resulting in creative team names, my personal highlight being ‘FAS & the Furious’! Each team selected a process, established a quad of aims, and then mapped out their process along with identifying which wastes existed where, and how long the process took. Crucially, the final step involved generating ideas to improve these processes.


"FAS & the Furious" Process Map
“FAS & the Furious” Process Map


This was as far as the activity went on the day – we had already condensed what would usually take days into a small period of time. Each team presented their chosen process and what could be improved moving forward – everything was very visual and clear for all to see. Consequently, the real strength of the event was that it worked directly with what Finance does. The activity resulted in lots of conversation between people from across the department and highlighted some common themes in terms of what needs to be addressed, which will ultimately save everyone time. It is clear there is a real desire for change moving forward within Finance, making the activity more than just an isolated event.

Ultimately, the way staff interacted on the day, in terms of a good working culture and a holistic approach to improvement, is relevant throughout the University, and of course, wider institutional change is what we are here to facilitate.