The Ufirst Project

From the Desk of Sean Jackson

From the Desk of Sean Jackson: The Art of Imperfection

Sean Jackson, Ufirst Executive Director

Sean updating the Ufirst Project kanban board

In February, we uncovered a technology issue on our project that required more time to resolve than we had available. This compelled us to reschedule our system launch date from July 2018 to January 2019. Our project plan was broken and we needed to repair it. In doing so, we resolved not to hide our repairs but to emphasize them so that we might continue to learn from the spots where we rejoined the pieces. This reminded me of Kintsugi.

According to legend, the Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490) once broke his favorite ceramic teacup. He sent it to China for repair and it returned mended, but covered with ugly metal staples. Dissatisfied with the inelegance of the repair, the shogun turned to Japanese artisans who removed the previous repair work and used lacquer coated with gold to repair the cup. The shogun was satisfied and thus was born the art and craft of Kintsugi, which translates as “golden joinery.”

An outgrowth of the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, the belief that posits and encourages us to see the beauty in the flawed and imperfect, kintsugi repairs broken objects in a manner that highlights the damage, rather than trying to hide it. The scars become important not only aesthetically, but also emotionally as they help us work through our regret for our loss and the recognition and acceptance of change as we interact with the transformed object. From a planning and execution perspective there is also the pragmatic benefit of understanding how historical risk factors have combined to influence the whole.

Our project includes a functional transformation in addition to a system implementation. The rescheduled system launch date means that we have the challenge of ensuring that we meet operational demands between now and January, extending our period of service stabilization. Our planning effort encompasses all of these areas and our team members and stakeholders have identified places of stress, strain, and things broken that require attention and mending. At each encounter, we ask why until we understand the root cause. Then we mend.

It has been difficult and challenging to develop a new plan that takes into account the myriad details that cut across our complex landscape. However, we have received a great deal of encouragement and support from our stakeholders, a reaffirmation of the importance of our work along with expressions of gratitude for our decision to maintain our commitment to quality by rescheduling our system launch. The engagement of and with our stakeholders has always been a point of strength on this project, and it remains so.

As we face together the challenge of stabilizing the delivery of our HR services using the current collection of technologies, we are bonding our relationships with confidence, respect, and grace, the golden joinery that will transform our broken project plan into one of imperfect beauty and lasting value.

From the Desk of Sean Jackson: Trust but Verify

Sean Jackson, Ufirst Executive Director

Sean updating the Ufirst Project kanban board

As I mentioned in my post last month, trust is a vital component of our collective ability to overcome obstacles. Trust is also at the heart of continuous improvement.

A commitment to continuous improvement helps to nurture trust by instilling confidence that a person or process is behaving in a predictable and appropriate manner. It is a commitment among all participants to be focused, transparent, and observant regarding what needs to be done and how we plan to do it. Inevitably, gaps emerge between what we expect and what we receive, either in terms of the result or in terms of the experience. We improve by resolving the gaps between expectations and results.

How do we do this?

We wonder why.

When we wonder why we catalyze our observations with our natural curiosity. To wonder why means that we trust enough to invite others to participate with us in challenging our collective assumptions to their very roots. We have to wonder, however, and not just ask why. Think about the difference between saying, “Why did they do that?” versus “I wonder why they did that?” While the difference may seem subtle, it is extremely important.

When we ask only “why?” we cease to wonder. When we cease wonder, fear steps in and begins to erode trust.

When we cease to wonder, we abandon truth for judgment.

When we are committed to continuous improvement, whenever results fail to match expectations, we wonder why, and experiment until we are able to produce the desired results in a manner that delights the participants in the process.

Trust, but verify. If there is a gap, wonder why. Experiment and change until all are delighted.

That is how we pursue perfection.

From the Desk of Sean Jackson: Welcome to the Blog!

Sean Jackson, Ufirst Executive Director

Sean updating the Ufirst Project kanban board

Welcome to the blog! During the next few months we will be exploring topics regarding Workday and our HR Transformation. I hope to share with you things that we have learned during the last several months that will be helpful in navigating successfully the upcoming changes. As we complete the launch of our new UVA HR and Payroll organizations in parallel with the deployment of the Workday system, we will be bringing to culmination nearly three years of work that has touched every area of the University.

Perhaps the most important lesson that we have learned through this time is that we are more alike than we are different. While there is comfort and solace in the recognition of our similarities, the real treasure is to be found through the respectful exploration of those areas where we differ. This type of exploration can be difficult to establish and maintain, however, especially when there are risks, constraints and uncertainty in play. Trust is critical to overcoming these obstacles and this is why we have worked hard to establish and build trust during our journey with you. Have we always been successful? Not always. Trust can be hard to come by in our culture here at UVA. Please know that we remain committed to building trust because it is so vital to our collective success—both in terms of the Ufirst program but also, and more importantly, beyond it.

Quote from Tony Bennett, UVA Men's Head Basketball Coach: Our word in the locker room before the game was just trust.


I would suggest that any meaningful journey of change proceeds by means of reasoned trust, not blind faith. In fact, I have been reminded by several colleagues on different occasions of the old Russian proverb, “Trust but verify.” Next month, we will consider how a commitment to continuous improvement will enable us to bring life to this proverb.

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