What do you mean – Business Process Improvement?

I spoke at the S-Lab conference at the University of Strathclyde recently, and while I was there I caught up with Heather Lawrence and Nicola Cairns who produced the Guide to Evidencing the Benefits of Business Process Improvement in Higher Education funded through the Innovation and Transformation Fund (ITF) at the Leadership Foundation.

The guide has been well received by the sector. The website has had 6000 unique visitors since it was launched last July and there have been over 3000 downloads of the guide itself. So a notable success.

The place of ‘Business Process Improvement’?

The Leadership Foundation has made a small amount of funding available for a third phase of work and the team at Strathclyde has been successful in gaining further funding. Heather and Nicola spoke to me about helping them with this next phase as I had supported them with the original guide. And I am more than happy to do this.

They explained that the purpose of this next phase is to produce case studies and other materials which demonstrate that the principles, methodologies and tools contained within the guide can be applied in many different areas of a higher education institution’s activities.

They said that in some areas there is a view that ‘Business Process Improvement’ does not include them. Somehow they believe that BPI activities only cover a subset of an institution’s business.

This set me thinking why this should be so. If I realised that the term business process improvement would become a barrier I would have suggested a change in terminology before the guide was published. But I didn’t see this as a problem.

You say ‘change management’, I say ‘business process improvement’

I gave up the unequal struggle against the intrusion of business jargon a long time ago. I am now used to a spade being called a ‘manual soil extraction implement’, which used to be put to work by navvies but now by ‘highways maintenance and development engineers’. So business process improvement it is.

When I was trained in management consultancy by Deloittes nearly 30 years ago we called it Change Management; but it is all the same thing. And I would argue that if any change is to be taken forwards it should deliver business process improvements. This even extends into the areas of teaching and research.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. Where a new ICT system is selected and implemented – for example, a new students records system – this is likely to be undertaken because it offers better functionality, streamlining of processes, integration with other core systems, more informative reporting and other benefits.

This may well be at additional cost for the software but the decision to go ahead will be taken because the assessment of all of the costs and benefits demonstrates a positive benefit. This is business process improvement in a nutshell and the guidance produced by Strathclyde can be used in this instance straight off the shelf.

A number of institutions, or at least faculties and departments within institutions, are changing their approach to teaching undergraduates using the flipped classroom. I am looking at the efficiencies delivered by this flipped approach and will blog about it at a later date. But this teaching method has implications for academic staff resources as well as physical resources.

Some of these produce savings, others are cost neutral and others require more resources; but the net effect is a better student experience and better student outcomes. Once again, the methodology and tools offered by Strathclyde are quite capable of assisting the management of this change and evidencing the benefits achieved.

So what’s the problem? It would seem that some people have a narrow view of what the term Business Process Improvement encapsulates and by extension what BPI teams in institutions do. So we will have to address this issue head on.

I can foresee that we will end up producing a series of guides for specific audiences so that they feel comfortable that the guidance can be applied to their particular circumstances. But now you know the secret you know that what we will have done is …

Guide to Evidencing the Benefits of Business Process Improvement [INSERT NAME HERE] in Higher Education.

Just don’t tell anyone.