Friday, 22 June 2012

Creative Thinking Events

The first workshops as part of our JISC Enterprise Benefits project have now been booked. These workshops will introduce participants to Enterprise Architecture and overview the Archimate software. The first is an internal overview during Staff Fest on the 2 July and the second is in conjunction with the RSC West Midlands in Wolverhampton on the 6 November 2011. This event will be a national session and we hope to include a range of participants. Full booking details will be available soon.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Birth, Death and Resurrection of Senior Management Engagement

At the start of the project a new Executive Pro Vice Chancellor (PVC) for Learning and Teaching had been appointed, who was the initial sponsor of the Enable project. The main role of the Executive PVC, was to chair the Senior Management Working Group (consisting of a number of senior faculty staff (Deans and/or Faculty Directors for Learning and Teaching) and a number of Directors/Heads of Services and senior colleagues. 

In addition to the start of a new PVC, the then Vice Chancellor had indicated that she would soon be retiring but had yet fixed a date.  This was subsequently confirmed as January 2011.  As a consequence, the academic years 2008/9 and 9/10 were characterised by certain amount of “planning blight” and senior managers being (understandably) cautious in the face of impending change.

Not only did the executive start the project in some state of organisational churn, so did the department the Enable team were working from. The Learning Development & Innovation (LDI) team had recently been moved (following an external review) from the University’s Information Service to the Academic Development Institute (led by the Director of Academic Development).

After the first four months of the project the Academic Development Institute was abolished and the LDI team (including all Enable project staff) became a standalone team reporting to the Executive PVC.   During this period, senior management engagement with the project was good .  There was also considerable engagement from staff involved in the various change initiatives across the University, and from award leaders, programme managers and Faculty business staff and quality administrators.

About 18 months into the project, the Executive PVC left the University (and was not replaced for about a year). Following a fairly lengthy hiatus during which it was unclear (even to the Head of LDI) who the LDI team reported to, it was agreed that the team and the Enable project should report to the Deputy Vice Chancellor through the Director of Academic Policy and Development.   Senior management engagement had waned somewhat during the “hiatus” (but “spoke” engagement had remained good), however the Deputy Vice Chancellor became very receptive to the ideas on managing change and sustaining innovation being promoted by Enable, and a good period of senior management engagement ensued.  However, this period also coincided with the “last days” of the previous Vice Chancellor and the selection and arrival of the new Vice Chancellor, who took up leadership of the University in January 2011. As a result, although engagement with Enable’s ideals was good, translation of this engagement into action was very difficult.  However, this period also saw the opportunity – seized by the Enable team – to initiate the “FLAG” work of Enable on the back of a number of Senior Leadership Team initiatives instigated by the new Vice Chancellor.

In June 2011, a new Executive PVC arrived at the University.  At this point, oversight of the LDI team moved into the new PVC’s purview although the Head of LDI continued to report to the Director of Academic Policy and Development who had similarly moved reporting lines.  This move created another “disjoint” in senior management engagement as the new PVC obviously had a great many things to take on board and to plan.  

By the end of the project, 7 of the 17 people who attended the first SMWG meeting had left the University, including the Executive PVC. Nevertheless engagement was subsequently renewed and the Executive team has now picked up messages  sent by Enable including the concept of ‘joined up thinking’, and the development of a Change Management role.  This renewed interest was due to the project team able to present a clear message of Enable to the executive thanks to previous experience with communicating with the executive team, along side this the project team were able to use senior management champions to pass the message of Enable on to the executive.

Despite the considerable “organizational churn” evidenced above, a constant and stable factor throughout has been a recognised institutional need to ensure curriculum development is responsive to demand.   This included ensuring that policies, processes, and supporting technologies for curriculum/product development were designed in a way that was responsive to the needs of both faculties and learners.   This required flexible management of the existing portfolio including the process for creating new product, along with guidelines and workflows to encourage a culture of innovation. 

A History of FLAG


FLAG was first raised Flying forward (May 2011), this blog highlighted the reasons why a tool for supporting  course developments focusing Flexible Learning, and in consequence all course developments. FLAG (Flexible Learning Advice and Guidance) has been designed as a support tool, designed to address a number of issues highlighted by Enable. To reiterate the issues here:
  • Difficulty in finding the right advice on course design at the right point
  • Knowing which source of information would be the best/ most up to date
  • Identification of champions to support stakeholders engaged in course design
  • Reduction in faculties having to produce own advice and guidance
  • Takes burden off staff to hold expert knowledge in the whole process
The project blog from May 2011discusses the concerns around doing the project, including adding to an already perceived arduous process and ensuring the right level of stakeholder engagement.


As previously mentioned in the May 2011 post the project team treated FLAG development as an internal project, which included a full project plan with clear roles and responsibilities and a list of relevant stakeholders. In September a new bog, New Product Design, was posted around the approach of FLAG. This blog discusses the issues highlighted from engaging stakeholders across the University with a clear focus on the process of course development, using the baseline information from Enable. This focus with stakeholders helped the project team unpick issues not previously noted by Enable, or reinforced issues noted during the base lining process.
The project team spoke to course developers with examples of the ArchiMate models from the baseline that focused on the different stages of course development. For initial interviews with faculty staff the model was printed out that was then drawn on to update the model to what was taking place internally. It is worth noting that the initial models focused on University level processes, by discussing these with the faculties we were able to capture the unique processes from faculties.
Each updated model was then used to create a best practice workflow broken down into three stages of course development Strategic Approval, Planning, Validation (similar to the stages in the Manchester Metropolitan University Accreditation! game, also for a screenshot of the game check out the CETIS Blog) These stages were used to help break down the workflow, even with those stages each workflow was one side of A3 paper! These workflows were then taken around for a second round of interviews, and updates, changes and other aspects of course design were then added to the workflows. For example how the faculties engaged with both Partnerships and Quality needed further modification. This round of interviews helped capture the supporting documents used by staff at different points in the flow and where they needed links to useful documents.
After the second round of interviews with the workflows the project team input the master workflow into the Pineapple system. This then helped the team sharpen the workflow, and the links to supporting documentation. Once the workflow had been completed a draft handbook was written to support the use of the software, and both were given to staff within the Learning Development and Innovation team for testing purposes. Successful completion of the tests resulted in the project team promoting FLAG as ‘in pilot’ with faculties & partners and volunteers from each were collected.
At the start of the pilot the volunteers were asked to complete a short online questionnaire asking about how they managed course developments and whether they felt that they focused on traditional course design. At this point the pilot was blogged again. However since the launch of the pilot a number of changes have occurred in the University causing engagement to decrease. The first was the restructure of faculties and schools from 6 to 4, the second was the change in credit structures for modules, and finally the process itself started to go through some change. The changes to the process had a limited impact on the pilot as they have yet to be approved by the committees and in the long term these changes will be of benefit to the project as by putting them straight in to FLAG we can ensure that course design follows the latest process, with the most up to date support documentation.
Due to these changes, and the length of time it takes to go through course development, the project team have left the piloting teams to work on FLAG at their own pace, with a number of emails every 3 weeks ensuring staff are still happy using the tool. Unfortunately recently the project team have been informed that one course design team have stopped using the tool, and we are in the process of organising a meeting to find out the issues that stopped their engagement. The project team are also organising interviews with other staff engaged in the pilot and developing an exit questionnaire for these staff to find out if their approach has been improved by the use of the tool or whether it helped them think outside of the traditional course development box.
Information about FLAG, its models and work flows have been handed over to two new initiatives in the University, the first is the Student Records System which would store information on courses post validation and the other is the JISC funded XCRI-CAP project. The project team also intend to work with the Document Management initiative to discuss opportunities to further develop the tool within that environment.

Lessons Learnt

By using FLAG as a way of starting conversations about course design within faculties it was clear that the ‘uniqueness’ of each faculty was more of a perception within that faculty rather than the reality. This is important to capture to ensure continuing stakeholder engagement – and can help them realise similarities in behaviour.
Start with interviewing senior staff engaged in curriculum design, before interviewing those ‘on the coal face’.  This then can highlight the difference between perceived processes and what actually occurs.
It is useful to interview stakeholders in small groups, for example tutors from the same faculty, business and quality administrators from the same faculty, and service teams (partnerships and quality teams are important), before getting a mix of groups together to discuss the models and workflows.
As highlighted in the Flying the Flag blog post be prepared for the pilot to take some time, initial engagement with the pilot was high, however as the course development continued some pilots became disengaged with using the software. This could be expected depending on when course teams feel they need the most support. Continued engagement with the course development teams is required at this stage.
Process ownership can be difficult, especially over a large process such as course design and is often easy to ignore in a project. It is important to get buy in from those involved in managing the process so that they can take ownership of updating the tool when the processes change. It is often easy to think around one process owner, but consider a process ownership team for those larger processes.
Make sure you are clear about the purpose of the project is and what its scope is. Although this was a project within Enable using a project plan really helped communicate the scope and purpose of the project, and how if the project was a success the tool would be handed over for further development/ embedding to the process owners, not left with the Enable team.