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Doing things better

Quality Fair showcases projects that pave way to U's goal

By Pauline Oo

A 2008 Quality Fair poster winner.
The 2008 Quality Fair third place poster award went to Capital Planning and Project Management for "Improving the Project Initiation Process and Customer Experience with Kaizen." According to the judges, "[the project is a] great example of a quality improvement technique that could be used University wide.

February 4, 2008

There was a fairy complete with a tiara and wand, a larger-than-life human tooth, and cutlery made of potatoes. The University of Minnesota's Quality Fair Jan. 31 certainly had a festive--and entrepreneurial--air about it. The event, which drew almost 1,000 people in only its second year, is an opportunity for U campuses, departments, and units to share best practices, celebrate quality improvement projects, and showcase innovative ideas that they've come up with over the past 12 months--and that support the U's goal of transforming itself into one of the top three public research universities in the world. Or, in the words of Scott Martens, director for the U's Office of Service and Continuous Improvement (OSCI), the Quality Fair "is a chance to steal ideas." In addition to the 39 poster displays in the McNamara Alumni Center lobby, there were 22 other projects listed in the event program--8 posters or works-in-progress and 14 best practices and success stories. Prizes were awarded for the best posters (see box, right), based on content and visual appeal. "[The work featured at this fair] is all about getting better each and every day," said President Bob Bruininks during his introduction of the keynote speaker. "It's good to see so many people here interested in the long-term future of the U." Keynote speaker Lee Todd, Jr., president of the University of Kentucky, agreed with Bruininks's sentiments, after taking over the podium. "What you are doing here today [with the Quality Fair] is giving Bob more utility to go out there," he added. "States are not giving us money anymore because they think we are inefficient [and] when the state doesn't invest in us, we have to raise tuition."

Poster winners

The Improvement Liaisons Poster Committee were looking for innovative ideas or a solution to a problem; how the project promoted the goals of Transforming the U; whether the idea could be replicated across the University; and demonstration that the idea will work.

First place, Blue Ribbon
Focusing Improvement with a Monthly Performance Scorecard, Facilities Management

Second Place, Red Ribbon
Improving Affiliation Agreement Tracking, Academic Health Center Office of Education.

Third place, White Ribbon
Improving the Project Initiation Process and Customer Experience with Kaizen, Capital Planning and Project Management.

Award for being "Innovative"
Full Shelves and Increased Efficiency through Strategic Partnership, Facilities Management and University Stores

Award for having "Measurable Outcomes"
Using the Balanced Scorecard to Support Teaching and Learning in Central Classrooms, Office of Classroom Management

Award for being "Data Driven"
Duluth's Strategic Approach to Improving Graduation Rates, Office of the Chancellor, UMD.

For details of each project, see Quality Fair 2008 posters (PDF 4.79 MB).

Todd, who is responsible for charting the U of Kentucky's ambitious plan to become a Top 20 public research university by 2020, added that a change of culture among the faculty and staff is necessary to weather such storms as state-funding cuts. "We don't want to be seen as a source of cash but a source of solutions," he said. And one way to do that, he offered, is to become a well of "innovative and creative solutions to pressing problems [in the state.]" Under his leadership, the U of Kentucky offered free research help to community groups or people involved in tackling "the Kentucky Uglies"--illiteracy, poverty, and the high rates of diabetes and lung cancer--and in improving economic development in the southern state.

Quality and accountability

The Quality Fair itself was a model for doing more and doing better. For example, the free box lunches provided to visitors who had registered early came with recyclable material, namely the apples (cores) and the cutlery. The forks, spoons, and knives, courtesy of University Dining Services (UDS), were made of potato starch (80 percent) and soy oil (20 percent). A couple of friendly UDS Green Team interns were on hand to help the lunch crowd identify and dispose of their compost-friendly waste. The Green Team, made up of University students with a major or minor in environmental studies, had earned a spot among the Quality Fair poster participants for its efforts in educating the U community about the benefits of composting and recycling, as well as for UDS's overall sustainability efforts, including its organic composting program. (Since September 2007, UDS has offered organic recycling for composting in all its residential hall restaurants, at Minnesota Marketplace in Coffman Union, and Terrace Caf? in the St. Paul Student Center.)

Other noteworthy projects at the Quality Fair: CDesk, a mobile and versatile workstation designed by College of Design staff member Kevin Groenke with feedback from architecture and landscape architecture students and faculty; a new automated inventory process for custodians that reduces the time spent getting supplies to the cleaning closets by 80 percent; Digifab, a 36-page map and guide to the different types of digital fabrication equipment available for design and engineering students on the Twin Cities campus; and a financial literacy campaign, initiated by the Office of Student Financial Aid, which includes online quizzes that test a student's financial savvy and provides information about budgeting, credit card use, and financial aid.

Lee Todd, Jr.
2008 Quality Fair keynote speaker Lee Todd, Jr.

The fair also featured three concurrent breakout sessions that drew active participation and discussion: "The New Financial System: Impacts and Benefits," "Student Success: Past Present, and Future," and "How Other Schools Measure Accountability Inside and Outside the Classroom." The Office of Service and Continuous Improvement sponsored the event. For more information about the office or the annual Quality Fair, see OSCI.

Further reading A year ago, at the first Quality Fair, some 800 faculty, staff and students from the University's five campuses attended a morning of networking and collaboration to discover ways to innovate, improve, and inspire. Read: Quality Fair generates big energy for U transformation".