An agile solution to higher ed problem solving


An agile solution to higher ed problem solving

A new change management model for UW Oshkosh

January 31, 2023

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Kimberly Langolf

Chief of Staff, Finance and Administration, University Affairs, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

Solving problems in higher education is not a new concept, but the traditional way of consensus and pontificating over long periods of time is no longer a viable option. UW Oshkosh is a public regional comprehensive institution, and how we deliver education is changing, our workforce is depleting, and budgets are getting smaller. Using agile project management strategies in higher education can solve problems quickly with evidence-based solutions while honoring the culture and initiating robust change. As chief of staff, solving problems is literally in my job description.

Typically, it costs a tremendous resource to advance innovative opportunities, it is difficult to keep up with student needs due to the time it takes to make change, and we lack the people necessary to dedicate their time to change management.

Traditional change management styles like the waterfall method are essentially a domino effect that can take weeks to years involving analysis, design, implementation, testing, and maintenance. The benefit of this model is an entire project proposal and timeline are developed and run against the project with a comprehensive report at the end to evaluate deliverables against the goals. The downside to this model is it's expensive and very difficult to adapt in real time.

During COVID-19, higher education was forced to make a big change and adapt in real time. Agile project management does this by minimizing the need to predict and maximize learning, postponing prediction and deciding just in time, predicting with less precision, and enabling adaptation.

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I developed a more agile solution to problem-solving in higher education. This model has eight steps:

  1. What is the need and what isn’t working?
  2. Is there a “will” to fix it?
  3. Define the purpose and scope of the project.
  4. Identify the right people to be in the “room.”
  5. Design a project plan (brief timeline).
  6. Develop a plan to improve, redesign, and fix the problem.
  7. Identify the resources needed, focusing on reimagining vs. investing.
  8. Track and monitor metrics against deliverables and then adapt.

This model has been implemented to reorganize our institution’s grounds and custodial departments and design a new one-stop shop webpage. Both projects took four weeks with minimal investment in resources and have been very successful.

EAB provided several resources that enabled the success of this initiative including “Student Service One-Stop Shops” and “Administrative Efficiency and Effectiveness”. The relationships developed between higher education leaders throughout the country were invaluable to my career development. Working in small breakout groups is where I learned the most and was able to share experiences.

See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects

Kimberly Langolf and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2022

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