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Organizational Excellence


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See below for previous issues and additional news.

Newsletter: June 2024

The program application is open through July 31

Why it matters: Participants will gain knowledge, skills and experience in improving service delivery and promoting operational excellence, one of the university’s strategic priority areas.

What to expect: Learning sessions will introduce process improvement and resource optimization concepts, facilitation tools and problem-solving methods.

  • Participants will apply their knowledge by facilitating an improvement project in their work area.

Next steps: Learn more and apply on the Office of Organizational Excellence website.

  • Cohort members will be announced the week of Aug. 5.

What they’re saying: “My favorite part of the project component was that we put what we learned into action. Participating in the sessions would have been meaningful alone, but applying those concepts to an actual project was the best and most practical way to ensure the concepts were understood.”
– Lindsey Cox, Director of Compliance and Tax, Office of the Controller, and Improvement Leader Program 2023-24 participant

Improvement Leaders during Mapping Exercise

The Student Disability Resource Center and Office of Civil Rights and Title IX teamed up to improve the way students with disabilities request and receive academic accommodations.

Process Improvement ProjectWhat's new: Staff members are implementing improvements that will have the greatest benefits:

  • Updating the application form and exploring integrations with data sources that will auto-fill form fields to increase accurate first-time completed applications.
  • Filling vacancies, designating focused application review time and streamlining the way phone calls and appointment schedules are managed to reduce application processing time.
  • Sharing information about the center’s services with faculty members and student leaders to enhance support for students with disabilities.

By the numbers: Making these changes will reduce time spent processing applications, giving staff members nearly 800 hours a year to repurpose for higher value work.

Learn more: Visit the website to see the summary action plan, read the report and watch the team's presentation.

University of South Carolina employees can access a wealth of resources and information for free through the university’s institutional membership with the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation.

Network for Change and Continuous InnovationNCCI promotes best practices in continuous improvement, change management and innovation across academic and administrative functions in higher ed.

Rich resources: Through NCCI, you'll have access to:

  • Recorded webinars featuring successful strategies employed at institutions across the country.
  • A members-only resource library packed with articles, templates and tools to help you drive positive change in your work.

Dig in: To create your free NCCI account, follow the instructions on the Organizational Excellence website.

With a “blitz” approach, many improvement projects can be completed more quickly than most people realize. 

Some can get done in a single day. For projects that are more complicated but still blitz suitable, the group might have two or three meetings covering up to 12 total hours.

  • There are three essential ingredients: a clear and narrow scope, well-defined goals and effective advance work.

Why it matters: Blitz projects can guarantee fast progress, a sense of accomplishment among team members and genuine momentum for change.

The Office of Organizational Excellence can provide guidance from start to finish.

Get started: Contact us to discuss your project.

Newsletter: March 2024

Meetings take up much of our time – which is why they're one of our biggest opportunities to save time.

The key is to take a constructive look at your current meeting situation, then to take a few key actions to achieve real improvement.

Timesaver Toolkit for MeetingsYou'll find everything you need at the Timesaver Toolkit for Meetings. Included are practical recommendations, tools, sample agendas, and a concise page of Top 10 Tips. You'll even see a meeting time calculator, so you can run the numbers on your own meetings

We've put THE most important meeting tips on a postcard-size card. To get a supply to share with colleagues, fill out this quick form.

Card with Top 10 Tips for Fewer, Faster, Better Meeting

Meeting Survey HighlightsTo learn more about meetings at USC, the Office of Organizational Excellence conducted a survey – and heard from 145 people who average 344 hours in meetings each year. Among the survey findings:

  • There are way too many meetings just to share information. Reducing these would be an easy and instant time saver.
  • Meetings are rarely designed to fit their purpose. By developing a purpose-driven agenda, you'll set up your meetings for success.
  • Just about everyone gets frustrated with meeting dominators who talk and talk. A few good ground rules can help.

There are proven practices to help all of us make the best use of meeting time. See the survey report for insights and recommendations.

President Michael AmiridisCelebrating Progress

At the concluding session of the 2023-24 Improvement Leader Program, President Amiridis recognized the group for making a difference and influencing positive change at USC.

Each of the improvement leaders facilitated an improvement project. Check out the their slides and recorded presentations to learn more about key improvements, action plans, and results.

Newsletter: December 2023

As 2023 concludes, the Office of Organizational Excellence has evolved from a vision of President Amiridis to a small and mighty unit.

  • The office facilitates high-impact, university-wide improvement projects in partnership with university leaders.
  • They are expanding our internal improvement capabilities – the office created and launched the USC Improvement Leader Program to embed improvement skills and competencies within units.
  • They're also providing strategic alignment and process improvement consultation and guidance to individual units as a neutral, third-party.

This initiative has been powered by strong supporters and partners.

University-wide improvement projects don’t happen because one office is interested in improvement. They happen because leaders see an opportunity and seek positive change. We owe a debt of gratitude to President Amiridis, our Advisory Group, our initial project sponsors (Donna Arnett, Ed Walton, Rex Tolliver, Julian Williams, Venis Manigo, Ann Vail), and all who have served on project teams and project review groups.

We are also thankful for our first cohort of improvement leaders who are taking time to save time. These leaders and their sponsors will feel the return on their investment.

With the support and involvement of so many in 2023, the year concludes with a strong foundation of Organizational Excellence at USC. We look forward to building on that foundation in partnership with you in 2024!

Academic Financial Planning Optimization

Resource Optimization ProjectThe providers of academic financial planning information from various administrative units have come together to hear directly from users about their reporting needs, review existing platforms, and develop a coordinated future state plan for the delivery of academic financial planning information. The team includes the Budget Office, Provost’s Office, Bursar’s Office, Controller’s Office, Division of Information Technology, Human Resources, and Institutional Research, Assessment and Analytics.

Status: Initial report and action plan drafted based on user feedback, platform capabilities, and future state vision.

What's next: Incorporate feedback from sponsors and share final action plan with stakeholders.

In the photo below: The academic financial planning optimization team is working together to refine and prioritize their improvement ideas.

Academic Financial Planning Project

Student Disability Accommodations Process

Process Improvement ProjectThe Student Disability Resource Center and Office of Civil Rights and Title IX have partnered to provide visibility into the student disability accommodations process, reduce student disability accommodations process time, and ensure a coordinated approach for graduate students who need both academic and workplace accommodations.

Status: Initial action items drafted based on process mapping and stakeholder survey responses.

What's next: Refining action items for review by sponsors.

Graduate Student Application Process

Process Improvement ProjectThe Graduate School is reviewing its application process to provide clarity and visibility to students, faculty, and staff; improve the application process time; and reduce duplication and ensure a coordinated process.

Status: Initial process mapping and improvement idea generation conducted by the Graduate School team (internal review).

What's next: Hearing from stakeholders via a survey to inform improvement ideas (stakeholder feedback).

Click on either or both of the following links for a quick slide-show overview of resource optimization projects and process improvement projects.

Resource optimization projectProcess Improvement Project

Improvement leaders have completed their core content sessions, and their improvement projects are well underway. This first cohort of improvement leaders is moving quickly and setting the bar high!

Each of the 13 people in the cohort is guiding a project – with a broad reach across the university and significant impact on a wide range of stakeholders.

  • 7 are process improvement projects to streamline processes, save time, and improve the experiences of students, faculty, and staff.
  • 6 are resource optimization projects to align efforts toward common outcomes and make the best use of faculty and staff time.

What's the impact: Some of the projects are focused on individual academic units, and the project discoveries and plans will be relevant to and useful for academic units across the university. Similarly, projects focused within administrative areas will facilitate better service to students, faculty, and staff throughout USC and will reduce time spent on low-value activities.

When to expect results: The last improvement leader session is scheduled for February 2024. Many of the projects will conclude by that time, and others will be completed soon after. Action plans and improvement results will be shared, with details and links in the March newsletter.

During their learning sessions, participants engaged in an in-depth simulation for hands-on experience with process improvement. In the photos below, they're studying a process to find occurrences of process waste.

Improvement Leaders

Improvement Leaders

Newsletter: September 2023

USC's Improvement Leader Program is underway. The 2023-24 cohort had its first session in early September, with participants from 3 colleges, 5 administrative units, 3 student services units, and the Alumni Association.

Focusing on results: As the sessions unfold, each participant will build a core toolset for improvement and facilitate a project in their department. With 13 people in the program, this real-project approach will have a tremendous multiplier effect.

Building our capacity: Participants were identified by their units as contributors to positive change. Congratulations to all of them – and to their colleges and divisions!

See who's in the 2023-24 cohort.
Learn more about the program.

The Purchasing Department is implementing its improvement action plan – developed through an improvement project that included customer listening sessions, a survey, process mapping, and close analysis of all the input.

Why it matters: The aim is to improve process times for purchase orders and increase customer satisfaction.

One key point of focus: Loopbacks factored heavily in the findings. These occur when a requisition is submitted with incorrect or missing information, or under the wrong procurement method – and Purchasing needs to "loop back."

Data-driven improvement: This front-end delay can be very time-consuming, so the action plan includes improvements to reduce loopbacks. A targeted reduction from 80% to 50% in one year will free up an estimated 6,300 hours for higher-value work. And because 3 days pass on average for a loopback to be fully resolved, due to the inevitable back-and-forth to get needed information, every eliminated loopback will speed up the process by an average of 3 days.

Project report with background, data, and all improvements
Slides from August 2023 team presentation [pdf]
Video of team presentation video

Want to improve a process but don’t know where to start?

Check out this list of high-potential improvements. It gives you 14 practical recommendations on one concise page. It’s based on a review of 100 improvement projects to pinpoint key changes that had maximum impact in making processes more efficient, effective, and user-friendly.

Subtractive improvement: Most of these high-impact improvements involve subtracting and simplifying – which is perfect because no one has time for extra stuff. Perhaps you can eliminate redundant approvals to reduce hand-offs and rubber stamps. Or provide one clear checklist on the front end to mistake-proof initial inputs.

List of high-potential improvements

Newsletter: June 2023

Over the last six months, the Office of Organizational Excellence has evolved from a vision articulated by President Amiridis – to a start-up unit supporting efficiency, effectiveness, and outstanding service. Many partners across the university have made this progress possible.

Selected highlights:

  • Hired the Organizational Excellence team
  • Launched website with tips, tools and resources
  • Delivered interactive improvement workshops to 100 people
  • Provided organizational excellence overview presentations to 115 stakeholders
  • Facilitating two high-impact improvement projects:
    • Purchasing process improvement
    • Academic financial planning optimization
  • Heard from +300 faculty and staff as an essential component of these two projects
  • Launching improvement practitioner program in Fall 2023 (see below)

And we’re just getting started!

Learn more about progress to date.

USC's new Improvement Leader Program blends practical learning with real improvement projects and results.

  • The program begins in September and continues through March 2024.
  • Applicants submit three potential improvement projects supported by their department.
  • Applications are being accepted through August 1, 2023.

Learn more and get the application.

The Controller’s Office has recently announced a new process for reimbursing students and non-employees for travel expenses. Implementation is planned for early in the new fiscal year. Student and employee feedback, and data on travel reimbursement process times, made this a priority for the Controller’s Office team. The improvements will shorten the timeline for student and non-employee travel reimbursements and minimize the personal obligation for upfront travel costs.

Now in effect: Colleges and Support Units can take advantage of the Department Travel Card Program to book airfare (for employees, students and non-employees) and pay registration (for employees and students). Reach out to the Travel Team for details.

Summer 2023: For qualifying expenses that have not already been paid with a Department Travel Card, a new process with automated workflow in Finance PeopleSoft will simplify and speed up reimbursement.

Why it matters: It’s a costly imposition on students to have them pay with personal credit cards for travel to conferences or events, and then to have them wait to be reimbursed. Now, major costs (such as airfare and registration) can be covered by the university on the front end with the department travel card and the timeline for reimbursement of other costs (mileage, per diem, etc.) will be much shorter.

An improvement team from the Purchasing Department has been listening to its customers in a major way. The team held six input sessions and conducted a survey – in order to gather feedback, perspectives, and suggestions directly from the people they serve.

  • 6 sessions to gain in-depth input from key customers and stakeholders
  • 16 people provided input – including principal investigators and other researchers, administrative directors, business managers, IT managers
  • 161 people provided feedback via a survey of requisitioners 

Team members studied all the input, discussed it as a group, and uncovered key themes, common concerns, unexpected insights – then used this information to identify specific improvements to make the process easier and better for everyone.
The team plans to issue a report summarizing its action set in mid-July. In August, team members will lead a presentation sharing the action plans and telling the story of what they did to take improvement to the next level.
Why it matters: Every process has people who need what the process delivers. Customers are supremely important – they're WHY the process exists. With improvement projects, teams should reach out and hear directly from a cross-section of their customers – regarding needs, wants, frustrations, compliments, and suggestions. Kudos to the Purchasing Department for doing this so thoroughly.

When it comes to improvement, a few measures can make all the difference.

Without them, improvement can be guesswork. With measures, you can better understand the current situation, set realistic numeric goals, and see the degree to which implemented improvements are having an impact.

This tip sheet [pdf] gives you a full set of measures tailored for process improvement. They're in straightforward plain language, they're in four categories, and they're all on one easy page.

There's a lot on that page, but no worries, no one uses all these measures. Most improvement efforts involve a few – with process time (aka lead time), number of loopbacks, and rework rate being among the most common.

The Advisory Group for Organizational Excellence has quickly become an important force for positive change since its formation in January.

The group has met three times so far – reviewing accomplishments to date, identifying potential improvement projects, ensuring coordination, shaping near-term plans, and maintaining a vision of longer-term possibilities.

They have been active between sessions as well, working with the Office of Organizational Excellence regarding possible projects and other opportunities.

We are fortunate to have their guidance, support, and advocacy. 


Organizational Excellence

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.