Prioritizing relationships in KU's award management transformation

From: Jessica Johnson Webb, Associate Director of Award Management; Alicia Reed, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research
Sent: Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, 9:24 a.m.
To: KU Lawrence faculty and staff

KU research community,

We want to thank you for working with the Office of Research and Shared Service Centers as we transition grant management staff from Post-Award Services and SSC Research into a single Award Management Services (AMS) team. The next step in the project is assigning AMS staff their portfolios, which are composed of specific PIs for whom they will serve as a single point of contact for award management.

Portfolio assignments have been announced to our AMS teams. We want to share those assignments with you today and provide some insight into our methodology. These new assignments will take effect on Nov. 1 when the AMS unit begins operations. Until then, please continue working with your current point(s) of contact.

Leveraging existing relationships

As promised to campus, we maintained as many current working relationships as possible. Out of 368 total PIs supported, 246 (67%) saw either no change or reduction from multiple points of contact to a single AMS staff contact. By combining the roles of current SSC Research staff with those of current Post-Award Grant Management staff, we were able to spread portfolio assignments across a larger team of individuals. All AMS staff supporting PIs will have a smaller portfolio and be directly involved in most aspects of award management. Because our staff will be working directly with PIs throughout more of the post-award process, they will support fewer projects — allowing them to build stronger relationships and be more familiar with each project in their portfolio.

Investigators with projects that run through the Life Span Institute and the Institute for Policy & Social Research will continue working directly with their current points of contact, even after implementation of Award Management Services.

Between now and Nov. 1, PIs and departments who have new points of contact will have an opportunity to meet with their support staff and AMS leadership. We are working on plans to facilitate a smooth transition.

Data-informed strategy

AMS leadership drew on a variety of data sources to design the new portfolios, including complexity-scale rankings of individual projects and sponsors, completed by current staff; a staff workload survey; metrics on total number of projects and PI assignments; and transactional metrics by project.

Assignments were provided to staff last week, and we made a few adjustments based on their thoughtful input. We also expect some tweaks between now and Nov. 1 as we receive additional projects and, potentially, new PIs. We don’t expect major changes.

Staff workload

As we pulled together this data, it became clear that rebalancing assignments will offer relief to staff. We had a few SSC staff supporting almost 100 projects, and some Post-Award staff had up to 300 projects. With the new portfolios, no staff member has more than 37 assigned projects, and the average is 31.  

Once staff learn their new assigned projects and additional duties in the AMS unit, we feel confident that we will have the right number of people needed to meet both goals of KU’s award management transformation project:

  1. Improve service to campus partners + reduce PI administrative burden
  2. Create organizational structure to support staff's autonomous work + satisfaction


After we go live on Nov. 1 with these staff portfolios, we’ll move through a stabilization period during November and December — putting our new processes and assignments into practice and watching carefully for areas that need adjustments to be workable, reasonable and efficient. Please know that things may change quickly during this time if we identify aspects that are not working. We will communicate these changes as quickly and clearly as possible.

By January 2022, we expect to have firm processes and assignments in place. During the first six months of the organization, our team will focus on learning portfolios and working together as a new unit. We will ask for your input during this time to help us identify issues to analyze and solve. We will also request grace for our team as they navigate this big change and build new relationships.

Beyond stabilization

The complexity scales, staff input and transactional metrics used for these initial assignments will be extremely valuable to the new unit. After stabilization, managers will regularly assess team assignments to maintain a fair and balanced workload and ensure that staff are able to provide quality service to all PIs. As new projects and PIs come in, this data will be used to determine how best to assign work to AMS staff.

We feel confident that we have the right knowledgeable, hard-working, expert staff to support research administration at KU. Please reach out with any questions, concerns or feedback you have about these assignments. As always, you can contact Jessica and Alicia directly or utilize the anonymous feedback form.

Jessica and Alicia 

Jessica Johnson Webb 
Associate Director, Award Management  

Alicia Reed 
Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research