Case Study – The Central Evaluation Unit Source: Slack Operations & Process Management The Central Evaluation Unit (CEU) of the XIII Directorate evaluated applications from academics bidding for research grants available under the ‘cooperation & foundations’ scheme of the European Union. The scheme distributed relatively small grants (less than 100,000 Euros) to find the early stages of cooperative research between universities in the European Union. Based in Brussels, the CEU’s objectives were to make decisions that were consistently in line with directory guide rules, but also to give as speedy a response as possible to applicants. All new applications are sent to the CEU’s applications processing unit (CEUPU) by University Liaison Officers (ULOs) who were based at around 150 universities around the EU. Any academic who wanted to apply for a grant needed to submit an application form (downloadable online) & other signed documentation through the local ULO. The VCEUPU employs three ‘checkers’ with three support and secretarial staff, a pool of twelve clerks who are responsible for data entry & filing, ten auditors (staff who prepare & issue the grant approval documents), & a special advisor (who is a senior ex-officer employed part-time to assess non-standard applications. Veronique Fontan was the manager in charge of the SEU’s application processing unit (CEUPU). She had been invited by the Directory chief executive, Leda Grumman, to make a presentation to senior colleagues about the reasons for the success of her unit. The reason for her invitation to the meeting was, first, that the systems used for handling new grant applications were well proven & robust, and, secondly, that her operation was well known for consistently meeting, & I many cases exceeding, its targets. Veronique set a day aside to collect some information about the activities of the CEUPU. She first reviewed her monthly management reports. The information system provided an update of he number of applications (by week, month & year), the number & percentage of applications approved, the number & percentage of applications declined, the cumulative amount of money allocated, & the value of applications processed during th month. These reports identified that the Unit dealt with about 200 – 300 applications per week (the Unit operated a five-day 35-hour week) & all the Unit’s financial targets were being met. In addition, most operational performance criteria were being exceeded. The targets for turnaround of an application, from receipt of an application to the applicant being informed (excluding time spent waiting for additional information from ILOs) was 40 working days. The average time taken by the CEUPU was 36 working days. Accuracy had never been an issue as all files were thoroughly assessed to ensure that all the relevant & complete data were collected before the applications were processed. Staff productivity was high & there was always plenty of work waiting for processing at each section. A cursory inspection of the sections’ in-trays revealed about 130 files in each, with just 2 exceptions. The ‘receipt’ clerks’ tray had about 600 files in it & the checkers tray contained about 220 files. Processing grant applications The processing of applications is a lengthy procedure requiring careful examination by checkers trained to make assessments. All applications arriving at the Unit are placed in an in-tray. The incoming application is then opened by one of the eight ‘receipt’ clerks who will check that all the necessary forms have been included in the application. This is then placed in an in-tray pending collection by the coding staff. The two clerks with special responsibility for coding allocate a unique identifier to each application & code the information on the application into the information system. The application is then given a front sheet, a pro forma, with the identifier in the top left corner. The files are then placed in a tray on the senior checker’s secretary’s desk. As a checker becomes available, the senior secretary provides the next job in line to the checker. In the case of about half the applications, the checker returns the file to the checkers secretaries to request the collection of any information that is missing or additional information that is required. The secretaries then write to the applicant & return the file to the ‘receipt’ clerks who place the additional information into the file as it arrives. Once the file is complete it is returned to the checkers for a decision on the grant application. The file is then taken to auditors who prepare the acceptance or rejection documents. These documents are then sent, with the rest of the file, to the two ‘dispatch’ clerks who complete the documents & mail them to the ULO for delivery to the academic who made the application. Each section, clerical, coding, checkers, secretarial, auditing or issuing, have trays for incoming work. Files are taken from the bottom of the pile when someone becomes free to ensure that all documents are dealt with in strict order. Veronique’s confidence in her operation was somewhat eroded when she asked for comments from some ULOs & staff. One ULO told her of frequent complaints about the delays over the processing of the applications & she felt there was a danger of alienating some of the best potential applicants to the points where they ’just would not bother applying’. A second ULO complained that when he telephoned to ascertain the status of an application, the CEUPU staff did not seem to know where it was or how long it might be before a decision would be made. Furthermore, he felt that this lack of information was eroding his relationship with potentials applicants, some of whom had already decided to apply elsewhere for research funding. Veronique reviewed the levels of applications over the last few years which revealed a decline of 5% last year & 2% the year before that on the number of applications made. Veronique then spent about 10 minutes with fur of the clerks. They said that their work was clear & routine, but their life was made difficult by ULOs who rang in expecting them to be able to tell them the status of an application they had submitted. It could take them hours, sometimes days, to find any individual file. Indeed, two of the ‘receipt’ clerks now worked full-time on this activity. They also said that ULOs frequently complained that decision-making seemed to be unusually slow, given the relatively small amounts of money being applied for. Veronique wondered whether, after all, she should agree to make the presentation. Questions 1. Analyse & evaluate the processing of new applications at the CEUPU; a. Create a process map for new applications b. Calculate the time needed to process an individual application – the cycle time for the process c. Calculate the number of people involved in the processing of an application d. Explain why it is difficult to locate an individual file 2. Summarise the problems of the CEUPU process 3. What suggestions would you make to Veronique to improve her process?
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