Malcolm Cooper, MD, MCA Cooper Associates

Better Processes - Management is the Key! 

2020 is a year I think we will all wish to consign to the bin! But one positive effect of the pandemic for colleges has been the increased focus it has brought on the effectiveness of processes. Every college has been forced to re-appraise the way things are done to make sure that the constraints imposed on us all by the pandemic can be accommodated, but a positive bi-product of the need to do this has been that colleges have found that not only can they cope with the changes needed, but they can also improve processes at the same time. Improving processes usually also equates to a saving in resource and therefore cost.

Recently the Government have suggested that they may extend to the FE Sector their School Resource Management (SRM) strategy, a cost-saving initiative that they have been operating in schools, which they say has been effective.

Not everyone in the schools sector would agree with their assessment! The SRM Strategy involved an army of so called SRM Advisers being parachuted into struggling schools to help them to cut costs.

Two ways to improve the bottom line

We at MCA have been advising colleges for years that there are two ways to improve the bottom line, one of these certainly does involve cost-cutting but there is also the need to increase income.

Cost cutting alone to solve a college’s financial woes is a very dangerous strategy that, over time can lead to a scarcity of necessary resource that can in turn lead to a downward spiral of shrinkage and decline. Uninformed cost-cutting by people who do not fully understand the college’s real characteristics can do more harm than good.

This is not to say that colleges should not seek to reduce costs where appropriate, far from it, but it needs to be done with a degree of finesse and I would say local knowledge!

In my opinion, based upon twenty years’ experience of advising colleges of all shapes and sizes, cost-reduction programmes should be based on a thorough analysis of the way things are currently done, in other words it should be based on a process mapping review.

Improving efficiency and reducing costs

It is a fact that over time processes change due to various factors and usually they change to become more wasteful of resource and therefore more expensive. At MCA, we recommend a review of what we call the “As Is” situation, i.e. how things are currently done, warts and all, followed by an exercise to design the way forward. We call this the “To Be” situation.

By doing this, the necessary thorough understanding needed for safe cost-cutting can be achieved. Modern cloud-based process mapping software can be used, in addition to mapping processes, to calculate such things as potential cost-savings in different scenarios, whether, or not processes lend themselves to automation and whether the systems currently in use are still fit for purpose.

Using process mapping is therefore in my opinion, the essential tool in the modern college for improving efficiency and reducing costs. However, carrying out a blitz of processes, because of an emergency situation such as Covid-19 is far from ideal, because after the panic dies down, processes will once again drift back into bad territory. What is needed is a way to manage the review of processes.

Processes should be afforded the same status as policies

The best way to obtain maximum benefit from process mapping, in a way that will ensure that processes are always as efficient and therefore as cost-effective as possible, is to build the review of processes into the college’s annual business cycle. Processes should be afforded the same status as policies.

Most colleges accept that there is a need to constantly ensure that their policies are up to date and relevant. To do this they undertake regular reviews and have a comprehensive signing-off procedure. Processes should be treated the same.

I am not suggesting that process maps should be presented to the Board for approval, but I am suggesting that the status of process reviews should be elevated. The review process should carry the full weight and authority of the Principal/CEO.

A process management champion should be appointed for the whole college, this may be someone from the current management team, who may be supported by functional process management specialists in each area.

At various points during the year each champion will review the processes in their functional area and work with the college champion and other colleagues to review the process and the maps and update both.

In these strange times, process mapping reviews are essential management tools, but the key to it all is Process Management. Refreshing processes is something every college has been forced to do over the last twelve months but how many have taken steps to ensure that they stay refreshed!

Malcolm Cooper, MD, MCA Cooper Associates

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