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Transcript of Case Study
Admissions Web Lean
The Admissions team
31 January - 1 February 2013
followed by 21 February and 4 March 2013
A Lean event designed to look at the Admissions web pages
The University of St Andrews
The admissions team approached the Lean team to help them create a new information architecture for their web pages. Admissions wanted to streamline the prospective student's journey through the website in order to make the relevant information easily accessible to them and to make it as easy as possible to navigate. Before the Lean event the website was very much internally focused and the team wanted to flip the point of view to the external (prospective student). This would both improve the user's experience and the image of the university. There were also inconsistencies between the printed prospectus and the web material so a clear editorial process needed to be defined to ensure consistency across all materials. In order to achieve this the teams drew up a list of objectives...
To look at the admissions main homepage labels and 1st level content labels
To recommend a minimum standard set of Admissions-level content and links to be adopted on the University's web pages
To look at the second level content labels
To develop a standardised terminology/content labels for representing required and optional content across all Admissions web pages
To consider consistency of content labelling and layout
To provide a systematic approach to the application and use of recommended content labels in order to capture content across web pages
Creating the "journey"
Define and recommend standard structural and navigation pathways for presenting and linking to required, optional and new content on Admissions web pages
Recommendations for the management of Admissions web content
Recommendations for how the Admissions web content engages with the rest of the website
To recommend best practices for the management of content
To provide consistent navigation between Admissions level information and the university home page and school home page(s)
The Lean Event
The Lean team usually run 5 day rapid improvement events for teams. The team is removed from the workplace for this time and, although taking time out is sometimes difficult to arrange, feedback from staff indicates that the benefits outweigh the time spent.
5 consecutive days are not always possible due to existing commitments and this was the case with the Admissions team.
Their initial event ran from 31 January to 1 February.
After which it was decided that 2 further days would be useful for the team and so they met again on 21 February and 4 March.
So the Lean event was a total of 4 non-sequential days.
In the Lean booklet "Becoming Lean" they recommend that a Rapid Improvement Event should be a series of 5 consecutive days which "mitigates the loss of momentum" often seen between non-sequential days.
In hindsight, Duncan (web editor) said that the Lean process would have benefited from being consecutive days so that they did not spend so much time getting into gear again each new day. However, Ben (international admissions) offered a different perspective saying that "getting out of the Lean bunker and into the real world allowed us some time for reflection and to ground our conclusions in reality."
Admissions was a fairly unique case which was certainly a bit different from Lean's previous cases, but doing their event the non-conventional way did not stop them from working hard and reaping the benefits. Their event is certainly not a future model for how Lean events should be done, but both Duncan and Ben agree that the flexibility and willingness of the Lean team to work around Admissions' existing work commitments, and to see their case as an individual rather than part of a Lean mould, was crucial to them achieving such a positive outcome.
Day 1 consisted mainly of discussion. This discussion allowed the Admissions team to understand their focus for the web pages and to voice their concerns. Being out of the office and in a neutral zone allowed the Admissions team to feel some creative freedom away from the political constraints that so often effect discussions about change. Lean facilitated a discussion about the ideal scenario, free from issues such as costing and politics, which was fundamental in allowing Admissions to be as creative as possible before taking their ideal back into a political reality.
Journey maps are a way of mapping out the steps a user takes right from the home page through to receiving the right information in the quickest, most efficient way possible from the Admissions web pages. The Admissions team followed a technique often used by information architects called 'card sorting' using Lean's signature post-it notes. By moving the post-it note ideas for content and structure around, they could see patterns emerging and they could see where things applied as 6 or 7 broad themes made themselves apparent through this process.
The team started by mapping out the undergraduate's "journey". This map would then be used as a blueprint or starting point for other journey maps so it was understandably a slow process but, it was undertaken with the understanding that subsequent journey maps would be much easier to create.
The aim was to provide a consistent, user friendly experience for all site-users so, as new journey maps were being created, others were being tweaked retrospectively.
Representatives from other units and teams were brought in for some areas requiring extra expertise, such as the Study Abroad section. This ensured that the team had the best approach to these areas which required a particular focus.
Days 3 and 4
The creation of a recommendation document.
This document outlined:
1) Recommendations for the management of Admissions web content
2) Recommendations for how Admissions content should relate to the rest of the website.
It was decided that the Admissions team could use the expertise of a web editor and a web copywriter in order to follow these recommendations. A web editor was seconded from IT services for 18 months to help the Admissions team realise their new web pages.
Let's refer back to the initial 6 objectives outlined by the Admissions team at the outset. (click forward)
The first 4 objectives were covered by the creation of a new information architecture for the Admissions web pages based on the journey maps. (click forward)
The final 2 objectives were covered by the creation of the recommendations document which will ensure consistency across the web pages and consistency with the University's home page.
The Lean event allowed the Admissions team to see their vision for their web pages and they were able to create an effective and efficient process in order to achieve this vision.
The Bigger Picture
The Lean event itself raised a couple of other issues which create a bigger picture beyond the specifics of the Admissions web pages.
The change and development of other parts of the website could be realised following the changes created through this Lean event. For example, Admissions pages could introduce user profiles so that users can save their preferences and personal information in order to streamline their experience upon their return to the website when all the information relevant to them would be readily available on their user profile. This would include the improvement of the course search function where a user's profile could re-direct them to the courses they are interested in without the need to search again upon their return to the website.This would be beneficial to the university as it would allow for the collection of data relating to website hits and how many people return after creating a profile and where these people come from. This information could be used to further improve the Admissions web experience for the user.
A format has been created which could be used as a template across the website to provide consistent navigation and links between Admissions and schools web pages.
It was decided that areas specific to international students were of a high priority and required a particular focus. Therefore, further discussion was needed to decide how to present international students with all relevant information on the site.
This discussion would consist of the advantages and disadvantages of separating international students from home/RUK students and how to define who an international student is.
The Admissions team decided to work with Lean again to facilitate further meetings on this touchstone issue.
Recommendations might be created in the future for the testing of new web pages before they go live.
The issue of secondment was highlighted as a web editor (Duncan) was seconded from his own post to work in the Admissions team for a period of 18 months. The process of releasing someone from their normal position to work within a different team where their specific skills could be put to use is an interesting one which could perhaps be looked at in order to make secondment available to other functional areas within the university.
The need for having an intranet for internal staff and student use which was separate from the internet which can be seen by all external parties is under discussion. It has become apparent that the university's website as a whole is more internally focused and as such it needs to be pushed to focus on the external user who does not want or need to see any of the internal work tools currently visible to them.
Even after their Lean event ended, Admissions continue to consult Lean as they proceed with their web project. They are now focusing on the specifics beneath their second level content whilst taking into consideration the programmatical reality as they strive towards their ideal vision.
Qualitative and quantitative descriptors were outlined for how the team wanted the new web pages to look and feel.
In the case of Admissions the typical user is a prospective student.
Admissions provides content both for undergraduate and postgraduate prospective students.
The Admissions team admit that, even months after the event, they still refer back to their large pages of sticky notes. This goes to show how effective and solid the outcome of the initial Lean event was, that it continues to be a reference point as the Admissions team project advances beyond those initial steps. It also shows that the post-it note approach is very effective.
Of course the Admissions web Lean is just a small part of a bigger web development project, fronted by the web team which was created in 2006 to centralise management of the website and to control consistency across it's pages. It has become apparent that there is a bit of inconsistency across design and content which needs to be looked at as part of the bigger web development picture.
Ben from the international Admissions team came from an inherently cynical background regarding Lean, he saw it as a managerial tick box with no concrete outcome. However, he says that "where we are now is a direct result of the Lean sessions. Lean were fundamental in allowing us to see a concrete, tangible and measurable outcome" which Admissions took forward and used outside of the Lean sessions.
Duncan, the web developer, had previously been involved with Lean on different projects and he said: "Lean has become less like a cheesy away day. Mark and Fin are good at asking the tough questions, summing up our conclusions and stress-testing our outcomes."
Without Lean Admissions agree that they would certainly not have achieved the same outcomes in such an effective and efficient manner. Lean facilitated a neutral environment, out of the office, where creative freedom could be expressed and decisions could be taken without the burden of workplace politics. They are keen to continue working with Lean as they continue with the project and they would recommend Lean to other units who need someone to help them facilitate a discussion about change.
In essence they would like the website to be future-proof so that this process does not have to be re-done every 4 or 5 years, that the structure and editorial format is in place and will be usable for many years.
The Admissions team has made quite some progress since their Lean event concluded. They continue to meet with the people who were initially part of the Lean event, 5 or 6 key stakeholders in the Admissions web process. They are implementing the changes they agreed upon during the Lean sessions led by the Web Advisory Committee (WAC) which is chaired by Duncan and helps to oversee the evolution of the web pages and to ensure their organisational fortitude.
An approach for the postgraduate section of the website was agreed upon. An arts postgraduate perspective was sought, as was that of Thomas Marr from international admissions, to assist in this section.
A decision was taken on the appropriate terminology to be used on all of the Admissions web pages. A website-design perspective was included in this discussion. A Corporate communications perspective may be sought at a later date when the team begin to discuss content gathering and creation.