Several years ago, the State of Ohio embarked on their operational excellence journey using continuous improvement and Lean Six Sigma methodologies to make government services simpler, faster, better, and less costly. This initiative has proven very successful in achieving measurable results for both the State of Ohio as well as its residents. One example of this success was a well-documented project conducted by the department of mental health to improve the application process for their home health service certification. The original application form consisted of 24 pages. During the improvement process it was discovered that information wasn’t flowing steadily and there were multiple opportunities to streamline the flow. For instance, government employees had to return application forms to the applicants several times because information was missing or some fields were completed incorrectly. It was also found that there were multiple redundancies along the process. These issues were making the process unnecessarily long and cumbersome for both applicants and government employees. After implementing a Lean tool called Poka Yoke to eliminate recurring mistakes made by the applicants while completing the forms, the application forms were significantly simplified, and the initial 24-page form was drastically reduced to 10 pages, thereby decreasing application cycle time.
The State of Ohio is not an isolated case within the public sector that is seeking operational excellence through continuous improvement techniques. This has been a growing trend for decades. Other examples of government organizations that have followed this path are the city of Fort Wayne in Indiana, the city of Hamilton in Ontario, and the city of Montreal in Quebec. The culture of continuous improvement through Lean Six Sigma is helping government entities become more competitive while providing better quality of services to taxpayers and developing friendly environments to attract new businesses.
What is Lean?
The lean methodology was developed with the ultimate goal of reducing costs and increasing efficiency by identifying and eliminating activities in a given process (service or manufacturing) that fail to add value and yet consume resources. In the lean terminology, value is defined as ‘what the customer is willing to pay’. As a result, lean is heavily oriented not only to efficiency and cost reduction but also to creating value to ensure customer satisfaction.
On the other hand, Six Sigma is a system developed with the goal of controlling variation and making processes more consistent and reliable to ensure the quality of deliverables. The combination of Lean with Six Sigma results in a faster creation of value at the lowest possible cost.
Lean/Continuous Improvement within Government Entities
The operational challenges that are typically observed in the public sector can differ substantially from the type of service offered to the community. Naming all these operational challenges is not the scope of this article; however, three examples that are frequently observed will hopefully suffice to explain the benefits of Lean tools:
- Delays in delivering services. As mentioned in the example at the beginning of this article, service cycle times can be notoriously delayed by redundancies, excessive bureaucracy, and recurring errors that contribute to bottlenecks. These roadblocks are significantly detrimental to the easy flow of information while consuming resources without adding value to the service being provided.
- Poor quality services and customer complaints. We have also observed that, in several processes, the clients (e.g., residents, taxpayers, etc.) are asked for the same piece of information several times, as for instance date of births, residential addresses, clinical history, etc. These redundancies normally happen because the involved stakeholders lack the whole picture of the entire process. This is especially aggravated with more complex services (processes) that involve multiple employees, where those at the early stages are unfamiliar with the process steps at the end and vice versa. These issues not only consume unnecessary resources but also are detrimental to the quality of services being provided and to customer satisfaction.
- Lack of customer-centric view. A customer-centric view is a very common philosophy in the private sector that can sometimes be more challenging in the public sector. This requires a paradigm shift and the ability of leaders to manage the change in employees’ mindsets. The leadership principle ‘Be the change that you want to see in others’ is essential to achieve this goal.
In order to achieve tangible and measurable results through Lean, it is imperative to identify and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs vary quite substantially from one service to another within the different levels of government organizations, but one KPI that applies to all services is the service cycle time. We have selected a few KPIs per department in government organizations that can provide further clarification:
Tourism: For government activities related to tourism, examples of KPIs could be:
- Number of tourists visiting per season or year
- Tourist satisfaction rate
- Campaign response rate
Finance & Business Development:
- New businesses per year
- New taxpayers per year
- Construction approvals per year
Safety, Police & Fire services:
- Number of crimes committed per year
- Fire inspections per year
- Bed occupancy per hospital
- Wait time in emergency rooms
- Number of students per district
- Number of students per teacher
The Lean Six Sigma methodology follows the DMAIC steps, which is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. Here is a brief explanation of each step of the DMAIC process and how it can be applied to government operations:
Define. In this phase, the problem to be corrected is defined, and this is typically called ‘The problem statement’. This problem needs to be specific, and tools like the VOC (voice of the customer) can be very instrumental for this purpose. Customers are both external and internal. External customers are those outside the organization receiving the service, and internal customers are those within the organization receiving a service or a piece of information from the person/team working in the previous step of the process. The voice of these customers is essential for the formulation of CTQs (Critical to quality) or measurable KPIs that will be crucial to quantify the intensity of the problem and estimate the financial benefits of correcting it.
Measure. In the measure phase, the measurement of the problem statement enters into a deeper level. Some of the most important Lean tools at this stage are those utilized to map the process to be improved. The value stream map and the SIPOC provide high level information about the process, whereas the process flow map or swim lane mapping provide more in-depth details that are of paramount importance to visualize inefficiencies, redundancies, delays, bottlenecks, and other sources of waste or activities that consume resources but fail to add value. Spaghetti diagrams are also used at this phase when it is necessary to visualize excessive movement of people, materials, or information.
Analyze. The analyze phase consists of a root cause analysis to evaluate all variables contributing to the problem that needs to be corrected. Lean tools such as fishbone diagrams are essential to brainstorm all possible root causes of a problem, and Pareto charts are utilized to determine the correlation strength between the root causes and the problem. The pareto principle states that 20% of these root causes will be responsible for 80% of the problem. Identifying the root causes that are most influential is especially important to minimize the use of resources to correct the problem while maximizing the benefits.
Improve. As the word denotes, this is the phase where the improvement takes place. There are multiple Lean tools such as Poka Yoke (error proofing), 5S (workplace organization), visual workplace using Kanbans, Lean layout, etc. Nevertheless, it needs to be mentioned that the workplace organization tool (5S or 6S to also account for safety) is so important that it is widely agreed that an organization that fails to implement 5S is highly likely to fail to implement Lean as a whole.
Control. In the control phase the improved process is controlled to ensure that stakeholders don’t revert to the old way of doing things. Some tools used at this point are drafting new standard operating procedures and performing FMEA (failure mode & effect analysis) to proactively anticipate sources of potential failures.
Success Stories of Lean within Government Organizations
The Lean tools mentioned above have provided multiple benefits to organizations within the public sector. In the State of Ohio, the bureau of criminal investigation has successfully utilized process mapping tools to visualize more clearly their DNA analysis process. It is important to note that many sources of inefficiencies, delays, redundancies, and bottlenecks pass unnoticed to the eyes of those involved in the process simply because of a lack of visualization. In other words, the sources of waste in a given process are easily exposed with a good process map. Improving the DNA analysis process allowed the bureau of criminal investigation of Ohio to deliver faster results that led to criminals being taken off the streets sooner and justice delivered more swiftly.
There are multiple examples from regional governments such as the city of Fort Wayne in Indiana, the city of Hamilton in Ontario, and the city of Montreal in Quebec. To illustrate some of the successes able to be achieved it is helpful to mention a few examples from Indiana:
- The construction permit cycle time was on average 51 days long. After revising the process and implementing Lean tools, this cycle time was reduced to 10 days for about 95% of all the construction permits requested. One construction company that had ceased doing business with the city due to delays in construction permit approvals was significantly impressed by the change and returned to doing business once again.
- The response time for street pothole complaints used to be up to 80 hours from the notification moment until when the pothole was repaired, and only 77% of potholes were repaired within 24 hours. After implementing Lean techniques to improve this process, the situation changed to 98% of potholes being repaired within 24 hours.
- The fire code reinspection process was also subjected to scrutiny and, after improving the process, the fire department was able to increase the number of annual reinspections by 23% without adding more employees to the team.
Lean Six Sigma Implementation & Training
At AMSaxum we help our clients with the implementation of process improvement projects and provide onsite corporate training on Lean Six Sigma/continuous improvement methodologies. There are Government grants available in Canada and the USA to cover the cost of corporate training.
For more information on continuous improvement within the public sector call AMSaxum at +1 416-878-3437 or contact us here.