Tech Transfer eNews Blog

How U Missouri’s TTO focuses on improvement with process mapping

By David Schwartz
Published: May 11th, 2022

A detailed article on the University of Missouri TTO’s performance improvement efforts, including examples of their tip sheets and accompanying checklists, appears in the April issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here.

When Lisa Lorenzen moved to the University of Missouri nearly three years ago from a similar job at Iowa State University, she brought a wealth of experience that she was determined to put to good use.

Upon assuming the role of Assistant Vice Chancellor of Mizzou’s Technology Advancement Office, she saw an opportunity to improve operational efficiency and performance tracking. By the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit with full force in early 2020, she was ready to begin implementing her plan.

Lorenzen’s staff first set about examining the way it goes about its work, with a three-year goal of increasing disclosures and licenses each by 25%. For the past two years, the team devoted a lot of effort to developing process maps, tip sheets, checklists, and data tracking to help improve the chances of reaching that goal, and now Lorenzen feels the necessary tools are in place.

The initiative is similar to one that she oversaw during her tenure at Iowa State, where transparency was an issue. “The tech transfer process [at Iowa State] was not understood very well by faculty and staff,” she says, “and these tip sheets — which all contain a time frame if it’s process related — were a way of helping to manage expectations. If you submit an invention disclosure you will know if and how it is moving forward within 60 days. If you are going to give the inventors a deadline, you have to be committed to this internally as well.”

The tip sheets cover things like invention disclosures, copyrights, open source software, patent protection, and converting a provisional patent. Each one contains a graphic representation of the process involved, a step-by-step description of the process and specific roles within it, and an expected timeline as well as cost information.

Lorenzen feels that transparency is just one of the three major operational objectives that process maps and checklists help achieve. She cites these as key benefits:

  1. By providing timelines, they get the whole team on board with “this is how long we have to do it.”
  2. The documents create buy-in from the whole team, not just the licensing staff.
  3. They provide transparency to internal customers.

Even though transparency was not an issue at Missouri, the first two objectives were. “The licensing staff in the different areas had a lot of process and timing variation,” she comments. While they all used “roughly the same process, the amount of time it took to complete varied a lot.” As for buy-in from the team, she says, with the help of these tools “we have built a very good general understanding of the functions of our office, across all staff.”

This process takes a considerable amount of time, but it creates buy-in so that the team feels ownership of an agreed-upon process. “When we get to a point where we’re happy with it, then we sit on it for a week, and then read through it all again to be sure we’re all still happy with it,” she explains. “The first time you do it, everyone is like, ‘Oh my gosh. Torture me now.’ But after about six months, everyone feels ‘This is actually useful. We’re learning from each other. Now I understand what this [other] person does.’ It helps give everyone a nice, rounded understanding of what goes on in the entire office.”

The endeavor also can pay off in efficiency. For example, Lorenzen reports, the office eliminated eight steps from its disclosure intake process by simply asking, “Does anyone use what you did? And [in those eight steps] the answer was ‘No.’ There was just a lot of wasted effort [in the process].”

The accompanying checklists, used only internally in the department, are developed after finalizing the process maps, and the team ensures that the two documents are consistent and complement each other.

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