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Interested in making your work life easier?

Sarah Buller, MSU Denver’s process-transformation specialist, invites you to stop doing things that don’t make sense.

By Lindsey Coulter

January 14, 2019

Sarah Buller and colleagues in copy roomSarah Buller, process-transformation specialist with the Office of University Effectiveness, works with teams and departments to develop the best possible ways to navigate process hurdles — essentially transforming the way we Roadrunners work. If you’re looking to start the New Year off with a cleaner, more efficient workflow, read on.

What is process transformation?

Process transformation is continuous process improvement. People who come to me already know they have a problem that needs to be solved. They feel the frustration and experience the inefficiencies. That frustration directly impacts their workplace satisfaction — indirectly impacting students. Process transformation asks people to take a step back, slow down and get anyone who touches the process involved in problem analysis and solution generating.

Then you ask questions like, “How can I spend more time doing the things that are valuable and meaningful — and that will positively impact the student experience and student success?”

Why is it important to develop a process-improvement culture?

The more efficient and effective we are as a university, the better able we are to get faculty in classrooms with calm minds ready to teach and administrators with calm minds ready to support/serve. Plus, if we have students stressed about things like their transfer credits being approved or their financial aid not coming through — or they’re being sent on the “Roadrunner Runaround” — then they’re not able to be present in the classroom ready to learn.

What issues do you typically encounter?

Oftentimes, processes are filled with what we call in process-improvement language “waste”: inefficient movement, waiting, confusion, poor communication, lack of standardization, underutilization of people’s skills, etc. When I help teams examine a process, I’m helping them consider ways to minimize that waste and maximize value-added activities. It could be that a department doesn’t have a standardized way of doing a specific task or has issues with communication or technology. Recently, I worked with a department to streamline a particularly cumbersome task, saving them 38 hours of work annually.

What can people expect?

First, we focus on building shared understanding and team cohesion. That fosters trust and safety so that sustainable change can occur. I honor and respect people’s historical knowledge and perspectives because we’re not talking about tearing a process down; we’re asking what might be done differently to increase value and better serve students.

Communication and respect are key components of process-improvement work, and I facilitate the conversation using collaborative approaches and Lean Process Improvement tools. One of those tools is root-cause analysis, which is asking “why?” five times to drill down to the heart of a problem. That avoids just treating the symptoms of the problem.

Are these skills and processes that could be scaled and replicated?

Yes! My vision is to create a campus full of change agents, and my invitation for people is to stop doing things that don’t make sense. I want to empower people to ask why they’re doing a certain process a specific way. If the answer is, “It’s the way I was told,” or, “It’s the way it’s always been done,” that’s an opportunity for exploration and improvement.

Jim Murphy, professor of accounting who is also certified in facilitating process improvement, and I are also developing a training program so people can facilitate projects in their own departments. This will include learning of facilitation, change management, effective teamwork and process-improvement skills and tools. Process improvement can happen at any time, and anyone can do it. Achieving perfection is not the goal, but taking steps toward perfection is. Any incremental improvement is valuable.

Sounds like a great way to approach inclusive leadership.

It absolutely goes hand-in-hand with inclusive leadership. I get really excited thinking about the potential of all the interdepartmental, collaborative transformational-sustainability teams. Inclusive leadership and process improvement both focus on bringing diverse perspectives to the table and collaboration in order to effectively attack issues.   

How can people connect with you?

The Process Transformation website guides people through questions to start thinking about their process pain points and problem statement. It asks about their experiences, existing metrics and ideal state, and includes information on how to get in touch.

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