Conducting a lean and yet not mean process review

24 02 2015

In 2014, we conducted a process review in preparation for migrating to a new Library Management System (LMS). We had been using our SirsDynix system since about 1998, and in common with many other libraries, we were keen to move to a next generation system reflecting the changing landscape of the sector and in particular the shift towards digital.

Taking note of the JISC LMS Change tools, we wanted to conduct a process review which would help to inform our specification and in turn the system we ended up with. I attended a useful talk at the Ex Libris User Group meeting in which a university described the procedure they had followed prior to choosing and implementing Ex Libris ALMA. They described the use of the LEAN process (this area is acronym laden) in which essentially the following steps are taken:

  1. Document current processes.
  2. Review each process and derive the objective which is behind it
  3. Identify the quality drivers which need to be in place for the objective to be achieved/
  4. Describe how we will measure whether this has happened.

The great thing about the process is that it is totally focused around the needs of the user as opposed to what a librarian thinks the user needs. The other great thing is that it empowers your staff to tell you their experiences from the coal face which is likely to lead to much better outcomes than relying on a bunch of senior staff theorising in an ivory tower.

Having said that, it is still quite difficult to get some of your library staff to be objective and to really unshackle themselves from that ever-lurking “the librarian always knows best” attitude.

One of the other challenges is to train staff who prefer words (presumably that’s why some of us became librarians) to use largely visual tools such as flow charts. However, I think some brief work to explain the workings of these beforehand did pay dividends and so it was not as much of an obstacle as I had feared.

We were very careful to decouple the processes from the library system “per se”. We asked staff to discount the fact that we do such-and-such because the it’s the only way the library system can handle a process and instead try to think critically about why we do things. We framed this as trying to think of this from the point of view of the services which the user needs instead.

It was pleasing to see that leaving junior and middle level managers to get on with this in groups using post it notes was something that people felt they were able to actively participate in. Almost all groups realised at least to some degree that various services which we had been offering were no longer as necessary as they had been. This makes the decision to decommission any services that really aren’t needed far easier to implement as your staff are with you rather than resisting change. What was perhaps less successful was our request to think of services in new areas which we don’t offer at present but perhaps should be doing in the 21st century. I found this especially surprising from younger staff who were probably HE Library users themselves quite recently but perhaps this indicates just how fast things are changing in the sector.

If I was doing it again, what would I change? I think it would be very powerful to introduce some real users into some of the groups to offer their view and trigger conversations in areas which might not have been considered. The old Amazon voucher trick may well be money well spent and provide a better outcome.