Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Taming of the Queue

When members of the UVA research community submit sponsored program proposals, those proposals, and the resulting awards, as well as various post award requests go into a pipeline for processing by the pre award team. This pipeline, often referred to as the queue, has long been stuffed with up to several hundred transactions at a time. In an attempt to work through the backlog, pre award team members have sometimes been able to make admirable headway, but the actions have always piled up once more, seemingly insurmountable.

Until now.

In the last four months, the pre award team has not only focused diligently on the speedy processing of the queue
but also, they’ve tackled the underlying processes that cause the delays and backlogs.

The team has implemented process improvements for certain types of transactions, like the implementation of the ePRF, and then began to work on different types of transactions, making big process changes even while they “kept the trains moving” in the queue.

Kelly Morrison, Director of Pre Award, said the team’s focus was shoring up basic business processes, adding checklists and appropriate levels of review, and removing bottlenecks in the workflow. Morrison also re-evaluated staff roles during this process, making sure that not only did they have enough staff, but also, that the right people were doing the right jobs for their skill sets.

“The focus in the past had been just pushing through transactions,” Morrison said, explaining further that the problem with that approach was that haste made for errors that had to be corrected later on, slowing the process.

Morrison said that even though additional review and checklists might sound counterintuitive when the aim is to speed up a process, taking the time to make sure things are done correctly the first time has produced big, sustainable results for the team: they’ve seen a 70% drop in the number of actions in the queue.

That’s good news on its own, but the best part is, they’ve been able to hold that number at its new, lower level. The decline has been slow and steady instead of fluctuating up and down.

This consistency is a result of the team’s improved processes, and Morrison says the team isn’t content with the progress they’ve made.

“We need to continue to work on the queue to get us to an optimal level,” she said, adding that the team is focusing on not the number of transactions, but instead the time it should take to process certain transactions.

In the New Year, Morrison expects to develop service-level agreements for proposal turnaround times and award setups, with a goal of, at a minimum, hitting those goals 80% of the time.

Other improvements in the works include reconfiguring the setup for awards in ResearchUVA so that the entire award can be appropriately tracked, and also rolling out notifications and approvals associated with the ePRF and routing all post award transactions, for example, no-cost extension requests, electronically.

Questions? Comment below or contact Kelly Morrison.

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