Monday, September 9, 2019

Continuous Improvement Bright Spot: The Financial Planning & Analysis Budget Team

A conversation featuring the Financial Planning & Analysis Budget Team: Brian Logwood, Senior Director, Budget and Financial Planning; Keith Carter, Senior Budget Analyst; Anne-Marie Cumiskey, Budget Analyst; Devin Foster, Budget Analyst; and Rohan Patel, Senior Budget Analyst.

We sat down with Brian and his team to discuss their holistic, team-based approach to continuous improvement. This is a group that believes in doing their work better by challenging the status quo, transforming customer service by empowering their team members, being proactive about change, and removing the limits on possibilities.

Read on to hear them tell it after the jump!


Brian, you’re new to UVAFinance. How do you view continuous improvement, and how does your team practice it? 

Brian Logwood (BL): Continuous improvement is often viewed as continuous process improvement. Most of what we do is not process; it’s leadership, it’s communication, it’s teamwork, it’s collaboration. It’s not just a task list. If you’re thinking about continuous improvement in terms of “how do I shorten my task list?” -- that isn’t it.

When we talk about how we want to look at things differently, we’re not taking a checklist and saying “how do we reduce steps?” Instead, we start by considering what our stakeholders or customers need from us and how can we better serve them.

The first question we ask is how can we help, and how can we deliver a better product or service. What do our customers need? Then we identify the process to do it that achieves the outcome without crushing staff in the meantime. That’s where the process part comes in.

People become complacent and accepting of past practices just because it’s easy and accepted, and just because it’s always been done that way. This limits the questioning of WHY. Being new, I don’t have all the answers, I just wanted to find a way to help the team to feel empowered: they have ideas, they have answers, they just weren’t sure how to turn them into solutions and needed a safe environment to throw things out there and see how it turns out.

We needed a mindset where it was encouraged to think differently and it was a safe place to think differently.

How have you done that?

BL: We’ve just developed a trust in each other

Devin Foster (DF): One of the most important parts of it from my perspective is the flow of information. Brian hears things in his leadership position, breaks them down, provides us with information, and lets us dissect it and come up with our own ideas on how we can help with issues or make situations better.

Rohan Patel (RP): Our team dynamic allows the flow of information and then a discussion. We meet frequently as a team and work closely together. We catch each other’s mistakes and we share thoughts and ideas with one another before putting them out in the UVA community. We get one another’s feedback – there’s a lot of collaboration and working together that naturally brings about improvement. 

Anne-Marie Cumiskey (AC): The safety we have in our group is an important part of our ability to foster continuous improvement. Folks say there are no stupid ideas . . . but you can have a tendency to hold back unless you feel it’s safe not to. I feel free to give as many stupid ideas as I want to in this group. Brian also allows us the opportunities, to use the muscles and skills we’re developing, like leading discussions.

BL: Continuous improvement involves a lot of personal development because you’re trying to be better today than you were yesterday and better tomorrow than you were today. In an environment that focuses on continuous improvement, we have the day to day opportunities to improve ourselves.

What are some of those opportunities you’ve seen?

RP: I can think of a situation that illustrates this – recently we had to create a report in Excel because the current system broke (HBCM). Brian brought everything together, but charged some of us with data, some with checking, and we turned that report around in two weeks, even though we were checking every single thing. Brian charged everybody with what they were good with, and he took heavy lifting on the macros. He gave us the structure of what we should be working on and improving, and the report works perfectly right now, and are transferrable to the new system. IT is working w/all the specifications it needs to create reports for the BOV and schools, but it is transferrable to Adaptive Insights or Anaplan. The improvement will be continuous.

Keith Carter (KC): Here’s another example: we were making last-minute changes within the budget submission. I was getting hundreds of lines and rows to upload, both replacements and increments, and was having to do the replacements manually – this could take 2-3 hours, finding 23,000 lines or so manually. We brainstormed and came up with the solution – wouldn’t it be cool if we had this macro where we could both replace an existing budget and increment the budget for data that’s already there? Brian and I sat down, he showed me how the macro worked, and lo and behold, my time on this project went from 2 or 3 hours to 15 minutes. I had shied away from macros before, but he showed me the steps and documented them so I could use it for the first time and also imagine how it could be used in the future. Last-minute files aren’t a huge time commitment now.

That’s what’s so important about this group. Brian has also brought inclusiveness; I think in the past, we all had our little siloes, our different areas of responsibility. We aren’t like that anymore.  The plan is for us to be fully cross-trained, and we’re working with the whole FP&A staff on this. The whole idea is that we can ensure that if someone is out, there’s always going to be coverage. When a question comes from one of our units, there’s always someone who can answer that question. This is very important as we approach Finance Strategic Transformation

BL: If you improve a process, that doesn’t build a team. It takes a team to execute processes. Improving teams and individuals improve processes. All we’re doing is: 1.) Giving everyone an opportunity, and 2.) Encouraging participation in that opportunity.

Everyone has an opportunity to jump in and everything that comes from that bubbles up to continuous improvement. It sets a foundation that everything else flows from.

AM: One of the most useful things we have done is to take one task that we all do and compare how we do that task. We all have the same goal but we get there differently. It has been very effective and good hearing different ways of doing the same thing.

RP: We have created this positive cycle, the opposite of a vicious circle. We are confident about being on the same page. The sharing and transparency is energizing.

So what’s next for your group?

DF: We are excited about the future. Brian has us doing documentation and SOPs. How to make the process better. We document it and have standard work.

This makes us feel better about transformation. We’re doing things now with an eye for the future, for the new systems we’ll be using.

KC: Exactly. Instead of being reactive about what’s come, we’re proactive about what’s to come.

BL: As a new manager, new on the team, it helps to approach every situation encouraging everyone to question everything. This team is expected to question everything, and that includes me. Challenges are OK. That’s how we build up better finished product. We’ve set the expectation that you should participate, that we want you to participate, and it’s expected that you challenge everyone and everything. Ideas don’t come from positions, they come from people. 

No comments: