"Approaches to Quality Improvement-Reengineering, Fast Track, Virtual Teams"

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September 2002


  • Penny Kowalski, team member, Registrar’s Office Course Scheduling Reengineering Team
  • Ron Servello, team member, University Libraries Fast Track Equipment Team
  • Joelle Sherlock, team leader, Commonwealth College Career Services Virtual Team

In this session of the Quality Advocates’ Network, members from three teams presented information and answered questions about their teams’ approaches to quality improvement and the results they achieved.

Registrar’s Office

Before her team started meeting, Penny Kowlaski would have described the procedure in the Registrar’s Office for scheduling courses as redundant, manual, disjointed, and producing massive volumes of paper. After several months of reengineering and streamlining, the Course Scheduling Reengineering Team has created a totally electronic process. Staff assistants in each academic department now complete course scheduling on-line. The process has become so efficient that the course scheduling staff in the Registrar’s Office currently finds their role is primarily to act as trainers and to provide support to staff in the departments. When registrar’s offices in the Big Ten compare statistics for scheduling courses, Penn State is now one of the most efficient.

University Libraries

In the early 1990s, the method for requesting and purchasing equipment in the library was extremely ad hoc; all requests were made to one or two employees who decided if the request was approved. No process was in place to consider the various needs across the libraries and many requests were delayed or lost. The method was very cumbersome and not cost effective. When Penn State adopted CQI, University Libraries was one of the first units to see the advantage of working in teams. Formed in 1992, the Equipment CQI Team brought together members from all departments in the library. One of these members was Ron Servello, facilities administration officer for the libraries. The charge presented to Ron and his team was to make improvements in how equipment was ordered and financed. The team used various tools, conducting stakeholder surveys, brainstorming, flowcharting, etc., and ultimately developed an entirely new process that is now managed by an on-going team. About one year ago the on-going team took time out of their regular agenda to review equipment-ordering procedures and address the Libraries’ changing needs and requirements. To do this they used the “Fast Track” method for achieving process improvement. As a result, procedures for requesting equipment have been further streamlined and a handbook has been developed to communicate the changes to Library employees.

Commonwealth College

As the first assistant director of Career Services for the Commonwealth College (CWC), Joelle Sherlock faced the challenge of coordinating career services across 12 campuses. It was important that the offices pool their resources and not “recreate the wheel” 12 times over. Joelle was also looking for a method to promote regular communication among the career services professionals and a deeper appreciation of the challenges and needs at 12 difference campuses. Computer technology provided the solution. A virtual career services CQI team was formed, and members met using real time on-line communication, as well as the telephone and e-mail, to communicate each week. Team members’ responsibilities and expectations were identified, and ground rules were established and reviewed before each meeting. Among the results achieved by the virtual team was the development of a secure Web-based Commonwealth College Career Services Staff Development and Reference Resource-an Intranet site.

Lessons Learned

The most important impact of the CWC Career Services CQI Team’s virtual communication has been the team members’ renewed energy for their profession and an increased interest in finding ways to work more closely with their colleagues despite the challenge of being geographically dispersed.

The Libraries Equipment CQI Team was given the authority and resources to change and implement the processes they sought to improve, and in Ron’s opinion, this empowering of the team, along with the fact that team members represented a cross-section of the libraries, made all the difference. Teamwork was also very important. The team members worked hard to achieve consensus, which often took longer, but was central to maintaining the viability and longevity of the team.

As the Registrar’s Office Course Scheduling CQI Team began to review its procedures, it became apparent that, given the IT tools that are available to help manage processes, it was critical that the team start from the ground up and, working in partnership with academic departments, recreate the very core of the scheduling process. Since the process would be entirely new, it was also important to accurately document the process, provide detailed instructions, and develop a contact in each academic department with whom to communicate regularly. Establishing the security of the system was also key to the success of the program.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.