USM Rollout – the story so far

By Jeremy Britton and Amy McDonald

Phase 1 of the rollout of the Unified Support Model (USM) began in October 2018. Since then we have made great progress, working with the first four offices in Law, Arts & Humanities, Social Science and Engineering & Architecture to shape and define the rollout.

First off, for those unfamiliar with the USM, at its core it exists to ensure that staff are fully equipped to define and deliver a consistently high standard of service in the most effective and efficient way. It’s called a model because it’s as much a philosophy, an approach to work, as it is implementing the processes and systems we use to carry out the work. 

We’re taking a design thinking approach to the rollout. “What’s design thinking?” I hear you ask. Well, a quick web search will tell you this: Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding.[1] We’ve already discovered that redefining problems is part of the day-to-day of the rollout, but the most resonant aspect of design thinking, for us anyway, is the emphasis it places on using the experts, the users, to discover how best to move forward.

It was quite apparent at the outset of this rollout that we wouldn’t have immediate access to all of the answers to the questions that would come up along the way. Seeking first to understand the user, to get their inputs and glean their experience and understanding has been and will continue to be a crucial aspect of the rollout.

 The USM rollout began with Jeremy heading out and meeting Directors, Deans and College Principals from offices in the immediate rollout cohort. We also took some time to meet with people from other support units who, although not directly involved in the rollout, are working in close partnership with those who are. (This includes the Student’s Union and Student Advisers) These initial meetings presented an opportunity to begin the formation of a relationship between the rollout team and those with whom we would be working over the coming months. It also gave us insights into what conversations had already been taking place about the USM across campus. A picture began to form about the path the rollout would take and we built from there.

Next came the establishment of the Unified Support Model Rollout Learning Team (a mouthful, we know). The Learning Team, in part, acts as a forum in which members from each office in the rollout can come together and share their insights, expertise and ideas to inform the rollout of the USM. So far, membership includes one member of staff from each of the four Phase 1 offices, one from Registry and one from a later-phase office. The Team will shortly grow to include members from all 14 in-scope offices.

When we started engaging with the people working in those offices in Phase 1 we approached it through the design thinking lens. This was very much the “Empathise” and “Gather” period of the Phase 1 rollout. We sought out the knowledge and insights of the experts, those working in the offices, as well as the students who were using their services. If the USM is about ensuring the delivery of a consistently high standard of service, our initial workshops with the teams needed to be about discovering what those high standards were, where they had already been defined.

This took the shape of running a workshop in each area with those delivering programme-level supports. The four phase 1 teams individually took part in these to discover their own unique Why Statement. A Why Statement is a sentence that clearly expresses the team’s distinctive contribution and impact. For anyone who is interested in learning more about the concept of a Why Statement, we got the idea from Simon Sinek, who has a really interesting Ted Talk[2] on the subject.

The reason we were drawn to a Why Statement as the initial workshop is that it seeks to discover things as they already are, it’s not an aspirational exercise that looks to change how a team view themselves. The Why Statement discovery process, whether for a team or for an individual is grounded in real-life stories. In the case of a team, it looks to verbalise what that team have to offer when they are operating at their best. Having run four of these workshops we’re hooked and feedback from the teams has been very positive too. We believe that by using the Why Statement as an ongoing lens in each of the teams we will all be able to successfully embed a model that works to everyone’s needs and for everyone’s benefit.

We’ve also very recently run a workshop with the Directors of the various units in Registry to establish how the rollout will take shape in their teams and look forward to engaging with them in the New Year. In the coming weeks we will begin looking at the processes used by each unit and the systems used to support them. Working with the teams, we’ll analyse them in terms of what is working well and where, if possible, enhancements can be made.

Student facing workshops will run in the New Year to establish a baseline of student sentiment focusing on the supports available to them. We’ll use the outputs from these workshops to keep our course true in rolling out the USM.

That’s all from us for now. Phase 1 is well underway and we’re enjoying it so far. There’s a lot of discoveries yet to be made and a lot of strategies and solutions to pursue. We’ll be running a review of Phase 1 toward the end of January where we will look to employ some of those iterative aspects of design thinking to keep what worked well and, hopefully, continue to ensure a successful rollout that works for everyone.