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Letter from Leadership

Dear colleagues,

I am pleased to share our annual report for 2023, recognizing the accomplishments of the Operational Excellence (OE) team and our campus partners as we strive to support the University’s mission of teaching, research, and public service.

The OE team began the year with a listening tour to identify campuswide administrative and operational challenges that present opportunities for improvement. From February to May, the team met with 15 academic units and 18 administrative units. We shared common themes identified from the tour with University leadership and we were called to focus on student support and academic success. From that, we have begun work on a student support project that will kick off solution design in early spring 2024. We learned a lot from the campus community on the listening tour and those learnings will continue to inform future projects.

The team worked closely with campus partners to lead several projects. This is always the heart of our work, and we are proud of the impact we have had across campus. I hope you’ll take a minute to look through the projects.

In addition to our project work, we continued to offer our Lean Foundations training where roughly 95% of participants were satisfied with their overall learning experience. The most consistent feedback we receive from training is that participants want more in-depth tools. In response to that feedback, I am delighted to share that the OE team has designed the From Problem to Project Workshop. We piloted the workshop in December 2023, and we anticipate offering this to campus later in 2024.

We also continue to build and strengthen relationships within the campus community. We formed the Campus Operational Project Portfolio Committee to share information on University-wide operational projects, make connections across units, and learn from one another. The team provided Lean Foundations training and project definition consulting for the UNC University Leadership Education and Development (ULEAD) cohort. Georgia and Nick served as panelists at the UNC Project and Change Management Community of Practice Conference, while Candace and I shared insights at the Faculty Administrators Orientation at Carolina. I served as a guest lecturer in the Human and Organizational Leadership Development (HOLD) Capstone course where I shared how OE approached COVID-19 and crisis management. This lecture led to senior Katey Boyd joining us for her capstone project in Spring 2024. Georgia also delivered a presentation to a graduate-level class at the University, focusing on remote team collaboration and providing an overview of tools utilized during the Innovate Carolina Junction project.

Over the past year, the OE team has experienced changes and the opportunity for growth. I am now serving as the associate vice chancellor for Operational Excellence and Candace Reynolds was promoted to associate director for Operational Excellence. Mieke Kovens, senior transformation manager, transitioned into a new role and we welcomed Transformation Manager Madeline Snider in September. Morehead Cain Scholar Benny Klein joined us as our student assistant. We look forward to continued growth in 2024 to meet the needs of campus.

We leveraged opportunities to connect with peers at other universities through the Network for Change and Continuous Innovation (NCCI). I was elected to the board and serve on the Governance Committee and served as the inaugural Chair of the Educational Council. OE team members, Candace, Nick, and Georgia also serve on NCCI committees. During the NCCI conference in Baltimore, MD, Candace took the stage to present “Roadmap for Solution Design.” In addition, I was part of a round table discussion with colleagues from the University of Virginia and Clemson University sharing our approaches to excellence and I also moderated the closing session. The conference provided additional avenues for OE to cultivate strategic partnerships and engage in consultations with other universities and served as a platform for showing our expertise.

We expanded the tools in the OE toolbox as Dr. Sarah Collie, associate vice president for organizational excellence at the University of Virginia, trained us in Liberating Structures. Transformation managers also pursued our core certifications with Georgia and Nick completing the IDEO Design Thinking Certification and Madeline becoming certified in Prosci Change Management.

Finally, OE closed out the year by hosting our 5-year Celebration of Impact. The event highlighted how OE’s projects have shaped operations University-wide. Since 2018, OE has interacted directly with over 1,000 individuals from every major campus unit, led more than two dozen projects, and trained 215 individuals on Lean Foundations. As we look to the future, OE’s impact promises to help shape the landscape of Carolina and the academy, fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and sustainable growth.

Rick Wernoski
Associate Vice Chancellor for Operational Excellence 


The Operational Excellence team led various projects across campus this year. Click the dropdown tiles below to learn more about each engagement.

Approach: Solution Design
Project Lead: Nick Sengstaken
Campus Partners: Enrollment Division, Office of the Provost and the University Registrar

The design team worked to demystify the waitlist process for student course registration, incorporating both SSM and student feedback. We developed new guidelines for eliminating “paper waitlist” practices and made extensive changes to Connect Carolina increasing transparency and overall functionality.

Status: Project completed October 2023 as outcomes were implemented in ConnectCarolina for Spring 2024 registration. At the time of this report, for Spring 2024 registration, there has been a 480% increase in the use of waitlists in ConnectCarolina and a 120% increase in students admitted into courses from Waitlists in ConnectCarolina.

Approach: Transformation and Change Management
Project Lead: Georgia McRae
Campus Partner:
Innovate Carolina

In its efforts to better serve the community of Chapel Hill, the University obtained funding to create a co-working environment that created a bridge from the Chapel Hill community to the University. OE in partnership with the Innovate Carolina staff, developed 60+ operational procedures through benchmarking and building relationships within the coworking industry. The project also clarified roles and responsibilities for the growing team with a RACI matrix. After the process was complete one employee shared an email with feedback, “I feel SO much better knowing what I am responsible for and what I need to train/hand off to other people. I had the best meeting I’ve had in a while with my interns because I felt so much clearer on what we needed to do.”

Status: Project completed August 2023. Since its launch, The Junction has become the hub for industry leaders and University researchers to collaborate, advance innovation, and foster meaningful partnerships.

Approach: Solution Design
Project Leads: Candace Reynolds and Nick Sengstaken
Campus Partners: Digital and Lifelong Learning, Enrollment Division and the Graduate School

The CBC project aimed to address gaps in the administrative processes related to non-degree seeking and graduate credit-bearing certificate (CBC) students that prevented these students from being adequately tracked and supported. With input and support from campus partners and leadership, the CBC design team addressed these challenges with a new ConnectCarolina structure, a centralized administrative model for certificates, and additional technical ConnectCarolina interventions.

Status: A pilot program assessing project outputs is currently underway with eight certificate programs from across campus supporting over 160 students.

Approach: Solution Design
Project Leads: Georgia McRae and Mieke Kovens
Campus Partners: Facilities, Finance and Operations, Plan and Design and Real Estate Development

OE is partnering with campus leaders to design and implement a comprehensive process to inform decision-making for the request, allocation, and utilization of administrative space on campus.

Status: Project is ongoing and further updates will be shared in Spring 2024.

Approach: Facilitation, Advisory
Project Leads:  Rick Wernoski and Nick Sengstaken
Campus Partners: Employee Forum, ITS, Office of the Provost and the School of Data Science and Society

Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an emerging technology that is seeing widespread adoption. OE facilitated workshops to establish guidelines ensuring responsible and ethical utilization by University staff and administrative personnel.

Status: The first phase of the project was completed in September 2023. OE is currently working with ITS and University leadership to develop an approach to testing AI and Gen AI use cases at Carolina.

Approach: Training
Project Lead: Liz Billings

The OE Team developed this workshop based on feedback from Lean Foundations participants who asked for more in-depth tools to continue their learning. The From Problem to Project workshop takes a deep dive into the first steps of the A3 problem-solving model and provides high-level guidance on the complete framework.

Status: The workshop was piloted in December 2023 and we anticipate offering the training to campus in 2024.

Approach: Transformation and Change Management
Project Lead: Georgia McRae 
Campus Partners: College of Arts and Sciences, School of Education, Office of Human Resources, Office of the Provost and the School of Medicine

OE developed a standardized process for permanent fixed-term faculty appointment, reappointment and promotion letters.

This process transitioned the creation of letters from the Office of the Provost to the individual schools, who had delegated authority. Following the design, three training sessions were conducted, with 136 responsible HR staff in attendance to communicate this process.

Status: Project completed February 2023.

Approach: Advisory, Solution Design 
Project Leads: Mieke Kovens and Nick Sengstaken
Campus Partners: Campus Safety and the Office of Emergency Management and Planning (OEMP)

OE developed a new mission continuity framework for the University. This process involved updating emergency management contacts lists, establishing university priorities around mission continuity, and then aligning those priorities with continuity plan rollouts. Acting as thought partners, OE played a key role in outlining and drafting the Campus Lifelines framework to support OEMP’s rollout.

Status: OE project completed July 2023. OEMP continues to meet with campus partners to facilitate conversations regarding Campus Lifelines.

Approach: Solution Design, Transformation and Change Management
Project Leads: Rick Wernoski, Candace Reynolds and Nick Sengstaken
Campus Partner: Adams School of Dentistry

Worked collaboratively on two projects:

  • Design a new academic organizational structure: facilitated faculty and staff focus groups and worked closely with senior leaders to design a new structure.
  • Enhance operational efficiency in the Dental Faculty Practice. OE and Dental Faculty Practice teamed up with Patient Business Services to develop an insurance playbook for Dental Faculty Practice’s front desk staff. Moving forward, they will use the playbook as a comprehensive guide for training front desk staff members.

Status: Academic organizational structure design project completed October 2023 when 85% of faculty voted to approve the new structure. Operational efficiency work is ongoing.