UCD Agile: the start of a continuous improvement journey

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University College Dublin (UCD) is seeking to weave continuous improvement into the fabric of the university. Its director of agile, Michael Sinnott describes the university’s approach.

UCD Agile was created in October 2015 to support a key element of the university’s strategy from 2015-2020, which aspires to ‘increase agility and effectiveness’. This process enhancement and culture change initiative builds on many great examples of creativity and innovation. It looks to weave continuous improvement into the fabric of University College Dublin and to provide the development, support and empowerment staff need to truly make this opportunity their own.

UCD Agile is sponsored by the registrar and deputy president, with implementation objectives set by the university’s senior management team (the UMT). It has a steering committee made up of senior university managers, including UMT academics, and reports to the UMT on a regular basis.

The drive behind our first year’s three phases was to ‘start small and learn by doing’

It is still early days here in UCD. We began projects and training with a first phase in March 2016, started its second phase of projects in September 2016 and recently received senior management sign off for the third cycle of projects, beginning in early 2017.

Lean was chosen as the initiative’s philosophical and methodological underpinning – the ‘agile’ in our title simply means ‘responsive and flexible’. We are following the standard approach to lean projects – identifying candidate business processes in need of enhancement, getting team leads and sponsors, training teams, running the projects etc.

Read more about continuous improvement in our series on lean

The drive behind our first year’s three phases was to ‘start small and learn by doing’, learning not just how to ‘do lean’ but how to plan for and manage these kinds of projects. In this way every project has three objectives:

  • to deliver the immediate value sought
  • to train staff and provide experience
  • and to provide management insight and support planning

This phasing allows us learn quickly about the culture we are changing and how best to develop our approach.

In all of this, a key objective was to use UCD projects to create success stories that would be compelling to an audience within the university.

We held an event in March 2017, Work Smarter Together, which should help to grow a community of practice in the broad university operations space and to meet the challenge of sustaining our learning and experience.

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Michael Sinnott
Michael was appointed on October 2015 as director of UCD Agile, University College Dublin support unit for its strategic initiative Increasing Agility and Effectiveness

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