Kanban Moves Upward in Academic Administration

This is the story of the Princess and the Pea.

Sort of.

Actually, this is the story of how administration felt the effects of kanban being used in areas that were not immediately visible. Only in this case, the effect the pea (kanban) had on the princess was so positive that she demanded more peas!

The first pea was a personal kanban that I used for my tasks, which is still heavily relied upon and has experienced a phenomenal evolution that I blog and discuss to anybody who will read and share!

When you get down to brass tacks, you have to wonder how three people train and continually develop 150 online adjunct faculty, develop and maintain 10 online undergraduate and graduate degree programs, provide communities and ensure professional delivery, and respond quickly to over 1000 online students…

…Kanban. Personal kanban. Whatever. That thing that lets you maintain visibility over a lot of moving parts that nobody can possibly keep in the air otherwise.

The initial sharing of kanban started with my lead instructional designer and myself, where at that time we were just two curriculum dev slaves and I did faculty development on the side. Developing an agile method of curriculum design was the first step to our ability to maintain a lean time and still provide quality curriculum. Now that the curriculum design process had a tonne of waste cut off, mapping it to a kanban board was pretty simple and provided visibility, constraints, and updates between us; especially helpful as we were in different states.

Then came a stronger element of faculty development and coordination. This had always been a part of my job, but as the adjunct faculty community grew, I focused my efforts on faculty development only, and hired a faculty coordinator to handle more logistical matters of scheduling, contracts, and of course the billion and one faculty questions. This added a dimension of our shared kanban board to include administrative projects and repetitive tasks. Two very pleasant side effects resulted.

  1. When work became overwhelming, it was pretty easy to ask, “please tell me which of these cards need to be de-prioritised”. Talk about visibility at work.
  2. The monthly multiple hour visit from hell otherwise affectionately referred to as the “monthly report” was reduced to about 10 minutes of analytics once the classes of service were balanced with continual updating of card space throughout the month. (Still furious with 10 minutes of my life gone forever for a task that puts my team’s output into a few meaningless numbers, I continually search for magical ways to push a single button with my eyes closed so I don’t have to grit my teeth in frustration…)

Who knew that slapping a few cards on a virtual board would save so much time, effort, and stress? There are complexities that are best researched and understood before it’s misunderstood as a silver bullet, but the time invested in understanding the basic theoretical underpinnings is trivial to the massive number of hours sitting in meetings considering how many ways you can 1) kill that other person or 2) kill yourself, or in the most dire of straits, 3) simply blow up the entire organization.

Our successes with kanban as a team had started taking an obvious effect outside our little sphere. Many times we were approached carefully about perceived complicated projects or tasks, and our response was generally quite positive with a very quick soft deadline provided that was typically weeks or months before they anticipated. Also the complexity and number of degree programs, faculty, and students grew exponentially without the team growing, yet stress and poor quality production still wasn’t a factor.

The Dean then called for kanban to be required for onsite curriculum development and design processes that involved the new element of directors over specific areas (business, ministry, nursing, etc.), and since that time only a few months ago, four more kanban boards relevant to specific teams have been created. Another side effect is that onsite and online curriculum developed could then be shared effectively for cheaper development and more aligned/shared materials and technology.

Bottom line…kanban is├é┬áspreading farther out across our value stream of the adult programs, and if it’s made this much of a difference over a two year period for just three people, what will it do for the bigger picture of adult learning?

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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.

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