Continuous Improvement at Alliance MBS

Continuous Improvement at Alliance MBS

The University of Manchester


Sue Wildgust, Head of Core Services, Executive Education,
Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, United Kingdom

At Alliance Manchester Business School, we have an eclectic mix of Executive Education programmes and clients. Our programmes can be large, small, open, customised, with delegates and clients who are both English-speaking and non-English speaking. They can be as short as a 1 day masterclass or run for a number of years. We design accredited as well as non-award bearing programmes. These might be held in Manchester, elsewhere in the UK or at a venue anywhere in the world. Our Executive Education portfolio is a complex one.

As you might appreciate, this causes us many, many challenges and in the context of a restructure of our department and a number of new recruits joining the team, we needed to take a deep breath and look at updating our established practice, challenging our ‘norms’, diversifying our offering alongside the ongoing challenge of getting consistency v customisation.

We were also aware of the need to better understand our delegates and client experience and so, in 2015, we commissioned a piece of research on how we work with them. This resulted in us questioning “what is the delegate journey?” and “how do our internal processes impact on the delegate?”

Initially, a small group of us got together to discuss how improvements could be made. We discussed the findings from the research and agreed that there were lessons to be learned. The group decided that a culture of continuous improvement (CI) was the best method and approach to enable us to embed a new way of working. The CIG was formed.

CIG (Continuous Improvement Group) is a grassroots movement to help us do a better job for our delegates. Everyone is welcome; it’s full of big ideas as well as the quickly achievable, practical steps that we put into practice.

The ultimate aim of this self-appointed group is to create and sustain a culture of continuous improvement for employees in Executive Education and to support the growth agenda, transform process and costs, and make a real difference to the delegate journey, the client experience and to the working environment of our people.

Deliberately the group decided to be an open one, so everyone who wants to can get involved and all are encouraged to do so.

When we started meeting monthly, we looked for some quick wins. We needed to show that we could make a difference. We found pockets of excellence in the way we work. There are many incremental improvements that can be quick, satisfying wins. These small changes as well as existing best practice are now put in our fortnightly internal newsletter and have genuinely garnered support from the wider Exec Ed team.

We have also worked in partnership with an external world class organisation (BT) from outside the higher education sector to enable us to help us implement our CI approach. With the use of Lego bricks (we all loved this bit) we looked at the numerous steps in our processes and the things we needed to improve. The message that stood out for me was teamwork and desire. Using Lego, we had a competitive spirit that drove us to do better and better.

We processed mapped our delegate journey which clearly highlighted all the areas where we could make improvements and then added the required actions. We have been working through these over the last few months. Some are easy for the CIG to influence; we now screen potential tenders better, we have refined our clients requirements capture, we continue to highlight the best practice of our “Programme Definition Workshop” and we have streamlined our delegate evaluation process. Other necessary improvements have required wider support and the back-up of our Senior Leadership team who have been increasingly supportive and incredibly interested in the projects we have undertaken and in what we can achieve.

We always refer to the client or delegate in every step of what we do as these are the people who will benefit most from our CI work. The group are also looking at what metrics we have that we can measure in order to better understand our successes and failures.

We are still struggling to standardise some key responsibilities and processes. Some of this is frustrating and adds unnecessary pressure. However, we have argued that this freedom can also add to the delegate journey; we can be flexible and adaptable. I think we need to work harder to be able to retain that spirit within a new environment with shared processes; consistency v customisation.

We are seeing that the CI ethos will continue to benefit our environment and that CI will become a habit adopted across the whole team.

Comments from members of CIG:

Angela Gardner, Head of Executive Education Elearning

“Our eLearning team care passionately about the quality of the delegate journey. We use technology to support so many aspects of their interaction with us and we are allied to a relatively young field where innovation, testing and continuous refining are key to success. We use a CI approach all the time in our practice and are committed to supporting the wider endeavours across our team.”

Jo Blain, Executive Education Marketing Manager

“In the marketing team, everything we do is with the end user in mind, whether that’s an individual or an organisation. The objective of the continuous improvement group (CIG), to constantly revisit whether our processes are improving the delegate journey, is beneficial to all our activities. Meeting as part of the CIG has really brought the department together and broken down some of the barriers that exist between different business areas. It’s not easy but we continue to benefit from the improvements made so far and hopefully our delegates are benefitting too!”

1 Comment

  1. Jill Ingham 4 years ago

    I’m delighted to have recently joined the CIG. I really like the open nature of it, you can put forward comments and new ideas in a welcoming and positive environment. Maybe structures and rigid agendas are not always a good thing! As Business Development Manager I am privileged to deal directly with new customers and enquiries, and hear about their challenges, so it’s great to have a place to share this with colleagues so that we continuously improve our delegate experience.

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