Managing Bottlenecks in Higher Education InstitutionsBy Ernest Hamilton, UniversityHerald Reporter
Colleges and universities famously juggle a constant stream of information and administrative tasks every day. Unfortunately for most institutions, managing those tasks and processing information quickly isn't easy. The process often slows administrative work down to a trickle.
When this happens, your departments have to deal with bottlenecks or blockages in processes that keep your institution efficient. Learning how to manage bottlenecks is the key to improving efficiency and keeping your college on the leading edge at all times.
Take a Step Back
Start by analyzing what's going on in the situation at hand. Look at where there is a delay in the process, and make a note of where those bottlenecks are. If you're entering student applications manually, you may need to create new contact or data collection forms to better streamline the process. It all depends on where you're struggling and what types of tasks and information are making the process of managing bottlenecks more difficult.
Every situation and department will be different. This means you'll need to take a close look at what's impacting your team the most, whether it be the registrar's office, finance office, or another department. Your administrative support staff can give you insight into the main pain points faster than any computer program or dedicated IT analyst, so take time to really listen to them.
If they identify overly complex systems that aren't serving your institution and are slowing things down, find ways to adjust those systems or phase them out as soon as possible. If administrative staff recommend certain tasks be automated, find ways to automate those tasks quickly.
Temporarily Slow Things Down
Don't be afraid to halt the number of new requests and tasks your institution is trying to deal with on any given day. It's better to slow things down and process information at lower volumes than it is to keep moving at an unrealistic pace where errors are likely to abound. Doing so only increases the severity of the bottlenecks and risks overloading your team with tasks they can't handle promptly.
Instead, prioritize the most pressing or time-sensitive projects you need to get done and focus on completing them. Then, move onto the backlog.
As you're slowing things down and analyzing the core causes of the bottlenecks, you'll be able to continue working through tasks without forcing your organization to come to a complete standstill. This will help you better understand how to manage backlogs and implement the necessary changes without interrupting your workflow.
Automate the Tasks You Can
The key to managing bottlenecks is to automate every process you can. Don't worry-automating your workflow doesn't mean you'll have to lay off employees. It just means you're going to help them repurpose their time toward meaningful work.
For example, instead of asking staff members to enter data on student financial aid by hand, invest in workflow automation software and programs that can handle the task for them. This will free up time in their day to focus on the tasks that can't be handled by a software program, like counseling students on their financial aid options.
As you become more comfortable with these systems, you may identify other areas where automation can help reduce bottlenecks and downtime. The important thing to remember is to keep an open mind and constantly review your department's progress and task load.
Start Delegating Tasks More Effectively
It should come as no surprise that many bottlenecks result from a lack of communication and unclear delegation of responsibilities. The best thing you can do is communicate responsibilities and tasks as clearly as possible every step of the way.
Most modern workflow automation platforms, like Kuali Build, allow users to see the tasks each team is responsible for, who's in charge of handling it, and what still needs to be done.
This will facilitate better communication among your staff members, which can further make managing bottlenecks easier.
Don't Get Bogged Down in Tradition
Tradition always seems to take the lead even when technology can improve workflow processes and reduce the amount of downtime in your department. Unfortunately, prioritizing tradition over advancement and improvement just makes it harder for your staff to effectively eliminate bottlenecks.
Be willing to embrace new processes and try different workflow automation efforts before you resort to traditional methods. This will help you modernize your department and ensure that sensitive information gets dealt with on time.
If, at any point, those new methods are slowing your team down or complicating your processes, reevaluate and start over. Remember, trying new programs and automating different tasks until something clicks is the best way to find long-term solutions for your institution.
Continue Watching for Signs of Bottlenecks
Unfortunately, understanding how to manage bottlenecks isn't enough to keep them from happening. You need to constantly keep an eye out for the early warning signs if you want your workflow to stay efficient.
Ask your team for input about the processes you have in place. If they notice slowdowns or start seeing an increase in errors coming through the system, you'll know that a bottleneck is about to happen.
If you're getting complaints from students, parents, or staff members relying on your department, you'll know it's time to analyze your systems. The more vigilant you remain and the more you analyze your current systems to identify what's working and what's not, the easier it will be to prevent future bottlenecks and keep your team on track.
Managing Your Workflow Is Key to Reducing Bottlenecks
Learning how to manage bottlenecks means monitoring your workflow and embracing modern technology in your department's daily tasks. If you're interested in learning more or want to see how to integrate workflow automation software into your institution, Kuali Build can help.