BFS leverages continuous improvement, teamwork and innovation to enhance the annual budget process

In the 2020 budget cycle, UT faced increased pressure on its budget due to the pandemic. Business and Financial Services (BFS) saw an urgent need to improve budget processes so FAS units could continue to be good stewards of resources and make the best possible financial decisions to support the mission of the university.

“There were limitations to the budget process that if lifted would allow better long-term planning and more transparency when creating budgets,” said Ben Post, BFS director.

To help identify and prioritize needed improvements, BFS formed a business process improvement team consisting of members of multiple FAS units. In addition to BFS members, the team included representatives from FAS Business Services, Information Technology Services, Facilities Planning and Maintenance, Technology Resources, and Accounting and Financial Management. The team met to provide feedback, and share experiences and expertise. Members also attended formal training to immerse themselves in continuous process improvement concepts.

“The training gave the group the skills needed to examine any existing process, identify gaps and bottlenecks and use methods tested in industry to change processes to be more effective and efficient,” Post said.

Office of Capital Planning and Construction Business and Financial Officer Vitria Sunoko, who works within the Facilities Planning and Maintenance portfolio, described the value of the extensive training.

“The team attended 13 training sessions,” Sunoko said. “This training allowed us to start working and getting to know our team members and is something that the team could use for other process improvement opportunities on campus.”

Post explained that the training and improvements were driven by feedback received over the last couple of years. While some of the feedback was informal, the business process improvement team also conducted a series of formal stakeholder interviews that more directly informed the process improvement effort.

“Much of that feedback revolved around a lack of clarity about expectations, deadlines and roles,” Post said. “Many of those issues have been addressed in the updated process. Additional feedback was provided about the lack of tools available for forecasting and analysis. BFS is still working on addressing those concerns, and we hope to roll out even more improvements to the process in 2022.”

Addressing concerns about deadlines, BFS created a budget improvement timeline. According to Post, the budget improvement timeline includes set dates for updated information and instructions as the BFS Budget and Finance team releases them throughout the budget season. The timeline also includes set dates for each unit’s deadlines as well as scheduled, but flexible, dates for budget meetings.

In addition, BFS created a template to make it easier for units to create their own budget narratives—descriptions of the financial condition of the unit that address the current financial position, historical information about the operation, goals and objectives for the unit, and how all of this content ties to the proposed budget. Post said that not only does the template simplify the process for all units, but also its consistent format will make it easier for leadership to review the budget narratives.

BFS also incorporated the quarterly financial review into the budget process to help inform budget preparation. This change includes a new, uniform quarterly financial template. Plus, BFS is enhancing its website to provide all the information and tools related to the budget process so that there will be a single point for answering questions and accessing materials. Post noted that the BFS budget and finance team will still be available by phone, email and virtual meeting to answer questions about the process.

The internal parts of the improved process have been implemented within BFS, and new steps, such as communication tools, are launching before the end of January.

Post emphasized that the project exemplifies many, if not all, of FAS’ shared values, with teamwork being a key aspect within and beyond the project team. The improvement project would not be possible without the commitment of financial and IT professionals from across the FAS portfolio, Post said.

Facilities Services Finance Manager Quentin Rodriguez, who helped with the process updates, agreed that teamwork was key to identifying and launching needed changes.

“It is an amazing feeling working with committed colleagues, leadership and other stakeholders and realizing that everyone has many of the same goals and ideas whirling around in their minds,” Rodriguez said. “Each person in the group brought a different knowledge base, skill set and work experiences to the team.”

Rodriguez was able to use his more than 17 years of experience to do his part in this project, which included budgeting, forecasting and strategic planning.

“The team included many different voices and personal and professional backgrounds from across BFS,” Post said. “Process Improvement, in principle, is about innovation. In practice, the team brought an abundance of creativity to find solutions to address the concerns highlighted in the feedback that we received. Many of our recommendations were simple solutions, but the best innovation is about simple and elegant solutions.”