UW News

January 12, 2011

The Organizational Effectiveness Initiative: Seeking to save money while preserving quality

UW News

  • Learn more about the Organizational Effectiveness Initiative online.

In Olympia, legislators are meeting to discuss the budget that will support state activities, including the UW. In Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma, groups of staff are meeting to discuss how they can be more efficient and effective to save money while preserving quality.

Its a key part of the administrative side of developing what Interim President Phyllis Wise calls a “sustainable academic business plan,” and its being done under the rubric of the Organizational Effectiveness Initiative.

The initiative was started in October by Interim Provost Mary Lidstrom and is being facilitated by Ruth Johnston, associate vice president for finance and facilities. “Process improvement is our focus,” Johnston said of the initiative. “We want to figure out more effective and efficient ways to do things, and also be able to tell the story of what weve done with metrics.”

The first step in the process has involved Johnston interviewing each of the vice presidents and vice provosts to ask what units have done to improve their work. Information is also being collected through a Catalyst survey.

“What Im finding is that some units have a long history of process improvement, and other units have always been looking at improvement but they havent done it in a systematic way,” Johnston said. “Some units dont have a strategic plan yet. Most dont have metrics. So our first concern is to foster work inside units. Then well launch one or two universitywide organizational effectiveness improvements.”

To help get the job done, Johnston has been assigned to devote 50 percent of her time to the initiative, along with Kerry Kuenzi, administrator and quality improvement champion in Planning & Budgeting. Two new temporary employees have been hired to help carry out the work of the initiative. Sherry Steinaway is a process improvement specialist and Laurin Guardinier is a metrics specialist. The idea is that when units undertake a strategic planning or process improvement project, Johnston and her three associates will be available to help them, at no charge to the unit.

Other resources are assisting as well. Luann Stoke from Finance and Facilities administration has already worked with External Affairs, which launched a strategic planning process in December. Vice President of External Affairs Randy Hodgins said the exercise was one he had planned to do even before the Organizational Effectiveness Initiative was launched, because his unit is a fairly young organization in its present form, and its offices are spread out over the campus. (External Affairs includes Media Relations and Communications, Government Relations, UW Marketing, Trademarks and Licensing, UWTV and KUOW.)

“I wanted us to look at who are we as an organization and whats our unifying mission and vision,” Hodgins said. “We need to ask ourselves how can we bring some commonality to what looks like a variety of different units that all are responsible in some way, shape or form with advancing or communicating the value and benefits of the University.”

To that end, External Affairs had a meeting of the leaders of all its units that was facilitated by Stoke. The group was able to hammer out mission and vision statements for External Affairs, and will meet again to work on goals. Once thats done, Hodgins expects to see stepped-up collaboration among units.

Over in Planning & Budgeting, work on the initiative has consisted of a more specific project — the creation of the “straw budget.” That, according to Director of Budget Operations Amy Floit, is the budget proposal that is presented to the Board of Regents after months of analyzing the revenues and expenses of the University. Once approved by the regents, it becomes the budget for the new fiscal year.

Floit and the seven staffers who work for her met, with Johnstons Finance & Facilities colleague Vincent Lau facilitating, and mapped out the entire process from start to finish, creating a flow chart, then began looking for places where they could be more efficient.

“We have two processes we identified as being areas we can improve, one of them being the allocation process itself,” Floit said. “Right now the report goes out to the units and we sit and wait for them to claim the funds. We want to explore the idea of being able to fund the allocations directly, rather than waiting for a request to be received.”

There would of course be qualifications to that policy that would need to be worked out. Floit said she and her staff will be analyzing the process as their work continues.

The other idea was “looking at how research cost recovery is calculated, the timing of it, the reviews the units do, how we might streamline that process,” Floit said.

When theyve had sufficient time to discuss the ideas further, she said the group plans to bring in some administrators who would be affected by any proposed changes, to see what their thoughts are.

The Organizational Effectiveness Initiative also includes efforts that have already been going on at the University. Johnstons unit, Finance and Facilities, under the leadership of Senior Vice President VElla Warren, has a long history of process improvement using LEAN approaches, and starting last summer it took on the job of helping the humanities units within the College of Arts and Sciences create a “shared services center” — a centrally funded center that would take care of some of the administrative tasks that departmental administrators now do. Humanities was chosen because it has the largest collection of small departments where a few staff members struggle to complete a myriad of tasks.

Amy Peloff, assistant director of the Comparative History of Ideas, said she and several other humanities staff met as a team and decided that purchasing and payroll, along with website maintenance, were the tasks it would help them most to offload.

Accordingly, A&S is hiring a project manager, two fiscal specialists and a web person to staff the new center. The funding is for two years. If the project is successful, other groups of small departments may do the same thing.

“It will be interesting to see what happens when you get humanities minds working on process problems — stuff that seems technical or very business oriented,” Peloff said. “I think you get a different kind of lens on the issues, one that is less corporate.”

Johnston said such staff involvement is crucial to the success of the initiative. “Process improvement can be led from the top,” she said, “but it cant be accomplished without everybody involved.”

To facilitate that involvement, Johnston said that any unit working on process improvement will not only have access to the project staff at no charge, but also to staff in Professional and Organizational Development. A website also contains many useful tools.

While the Organizational Effectiveness Initiative looks at administrative effectiveness and efficiency,  academic units are also looking at their activities with an eye to improvements.  As part of the sustainable academic business plan, Interim Provost Mary Lidstrom initiated the Program Evaluations Initiative in October. The initiative, facilitated by Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of undergraduate academic affairs and chair of the Board of Deans and Chancellors, asks academic units to gather information that will help inform decision making.

Its all part of the Two Years to Two Decades Initiative, under which the University plans to spend the next two years positioning itself for the next 20.

“People at the senior level understand that theres an urgency to all this,” Johnston said. “We have to really look at what were doing administratively so we can b
e more efficient and free up resources to put into our core missions.”