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This month, direct from the home of the Grand Canyon, we’ll be interviewing Richard Baron whose new book, Streamline, uses fiction to get to the facts.

For today’s appetizer we’re going “old school” to show you how seeing spots is a good thing. We’ll find out how students at the University of California, San Diego are winning scholarships and saving trees. From there we’ll head to China for a life saving Lean Six Sigma project. For this month’s book we’ll discover the drama of Lean Six Sigma and we’ll answer a subscriber’s question that boils down to, “Where do you find the time?” Come enjoy a dark brew in the heart of January at the Just-In-Time Cafe!

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Just-In-Time Cafe,’s official podcast, where we help you build your problem solving muscles. We share best practices from over 20 years of success helping organizations from the Fortune 500, to small and medium size business, to government achieve their goals using Lean Six Sigma.


Tracy: Hey, Elizabeth.

Elisabeth: Good morning, Tracy.

Tracy: How are you doing today?

Elisabeth: I am very well. I am very happy to see you. I am psyched for today’s podcast.

Tracy: Me too. Let’s say we go to our private dining room and see what we can get for a drink and maybe a little snack.

Elisabeth: I’m right behind you. I’m bringing the menu.

Tracy: OK. So Elisabeth, what’s on the menu today?

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Elisabeth: I’m glad you asked, Tracy. For today’s appetizer, we are going old school and we’re going to share how seeing spots is a good thing.

Tracy: Nice.

Elisabeth: Next on today’s bulletin board, we’ll find out how some University California and San Diego students won scholarships and saved some trees with Lean Six Sigma.

Tracy: Do roles there.

Elisabeth: I think so. And then we’re going to find out how a hospital in China used Lean Six Sigma to ease the pain of young mothers.

Tracy: Well, they have a lot of kids over there so that’s probably going to be really helpful.

Elisabeth: And then for tools of the trade, we’re going to review a book that reveals the drama of Lean Six Sigma.

Tracy: We always like to have very little drama but it’s always nice to read about.

Elisabeth: I’m with you on that one. And then for today’s Q&A, we’re going to field a subscriber question that boils down to basically where do you find the time.

Tracy: Nice. That’s the most popular one.

Elisabeth: Yeah, the never-ending question. And then today’s special is an interview with an Arizona government employee who found that fiction can help with the facts.

Tracy: Nice.

Elisabeth: And that’s the big lineup, Tracy. That is our menu.

Tracy: Awesome. Exciting.

Appetizer: Sticky Dots

Tracy: So, tell me Elisabeth, how is seeing spots a good thing?

Elisabeth: So Tracy, we’re going old school with this appetizer and we’re going with sticky dots. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Tracy: Yeah. Those sticky dots, yes, that they sell in the office supplies stores.

Elisabeth: Yeah. They could be red, they could be blue, yellow, they’re, I don’t know, not even an inch in diameter and they’re sticky. So this basically is a technique that you and I both use for something called multi-voting otherwise known as N/3. So you can use it to pare down a list. It could be a list of potential solutions. It could be potential root causes. It could be potential diving spots. So let me describe the technique and then how sticky dots come in.

Tracy: OK.

Elisabeth: Let’s say a team has brainstormed potential root causes and they have completely covered the fishbone, a fish fuzzy with bones. And they got lots of root causes and they can’t trace everything. So they have to use multi-voting to narrow the list. So if you count up and they find really when they consolidate some duplicates, they got 21 total potential root causes to chase down.

If you divide 21 by 3, I can’t believe I made that easy for myself. But you get 7. So you give everyone 7 dots, which are basically votes. And they stick the dots next to the top 7 causes for the team to pursue either with data, with inspection, or observation. But those are the ones they’re going to pursue. And the ones with the most dots will rise to the tip.

The other technique I’ve heard as people say they were going to go Chicago Style, which means you can put more than one dot on one cause or one particular vote you can clamp dots but that’s a team decision if you want to do that.

And these are cheap. We get them at Staples or any office supplies store. You get basically a packet of 40 sheets. I counted it. It’s roughly a thousand dots for 10 bucks. Yeah, it’s cheap option.

Tracy: That’s so great. I see these sticky dots as a must-have in the facilitator toolkit along with posters, markers, and tape. If you have those four things, you could probably facilitate yourself through anything.

Elisabeth: You can.

Tracy: Because ultimately dots and voting and getting people at least to agree, that’s a great tool to have handy. I find that it cuts a lot of wait time or unnecessary time out of discussion. You could just get people to vote. And sometimes what we do is we have the people in the room that hold higher positions wait to put their dots on so that other people are not influenced by what they think.

Elisabeth: It’s true. We call that dots attract dots. Once the dots start going up, everyone is like, “Oh, that’s what everyone wants. Maybe I should go over there.” The other bonus is it gets people moving. You have to get up off your butt and go put a dot somewhere. So that is also a good sort of kinesthetic part of training or any activity. So, all good.

The other bonus is it gets people moving. You have to get up off your butt and go put a dot somewhere. So that is also a good sort of kinesthetic part of training or any activity.

Tracy: Yes, very true, very nice tool. I love it.

Elisabeth: We love it. So Tracy, next up is the bulletin board.

Tracy: Yes, the bulletin board.

Bulletin Board

Elisabeth: So Tracy, how did those UCSD save those trees?

Tracy: Well, you know, funny you asked. So UCSD is actually doing Lean Six Sigma programs. They offer to a bunch of students. But what has been happening is there have been a lot of UCSD employees coming to the class. And how do I know this? Because I teach the class at UCSD. So I was really happy to see that this article in the news because I know these people. They were my students.

And what’s happening at UCSD is they really try to practice what they preach. So they that they’ve got lots of great teachers at their disposal, great programs, and they’re taking it upon themselves to say, “Hey, you know what? We’ve got this great program that we can really benefit, our students can benefit from them – from this course if they improve some of the processes students have to go through; volunteer services, human tissue even and have a human tissue in science program where people donate organs. And how do we streamline processes there.” So not only are they saving trees, they’re expediting organs.

Elisabeth: Wow!

Tracy: So it’s really exciting to see. They have a scholarship program within UCSD where people can apply. Employees can apply and get into the class. And this was about a couple of – this particular article was about the best in class for the spring of 2016. And it was basically improving invoices that flow through marketplace for improving payments for vendors as well as other different kinds of contractors.

So the wonderful thing is they reduced the paper out of the process and they reduced the cycle time for invoices to be paid. And so of course, the vendors at UCSD are very happy with this and it just helps with the relationships in general. So they reduced the invoicing time. They improved the client experience. They improved the vendor’s experience. And ultimately, they are getting to the process quicker. So it’s really exciting to see. And they started out with only 76 people and now there are about 12 people in this quarter’s class. And people are really excited. It’s really exciting to see and to be a part of it too.

So I feel like I’ve been able to contribute to some degree to make this happen, and that’s really exciting.

Elisabeth: Well done, Tracy. I can hear the excitement in your voice and it’s great to hear something like that. Nice effort.

Tracy: Yes. So Elisabeth, tell me, how did the hospitals in China help or how are they helping out young mothers?

Elisabeth: It’s a really interesting story and I’m going to apologize to anyone of Chinese descent, yourself included, for my butchering of the name of the town which is Taizhou or something like that. In China, they used Lean Six Sigma at this hospital to reduce unnecessary caesarian sections. And what they found were that there were rising rates of caesarian. It was becoming the method of choice for all births increasingly. And higher youth was leading to higher complications and also some higher mother and child death rates, so pretty unacceptable there.

So they’re trying to understand why were the caesareans going on when they weren’t needed and what could they do about it? So they tackled this. They came up with a list of root cause. Kind of an obvious one maybe to you, you’re a mom. I’m not. But one of them was labor pain like, “Hey, I’m in pain. End the pain.” So that was one method of ending the pain.

Another one was clinical assessment of women in labor. Someone assessing and saying, “Well, this one is in labor and she is going to need a caesarian.” When she didn’t.

Another interesting root cause was observation of labor. People saw what people went through in labor. Now, you see a lot of clips. People know about it and they are afraid. So they choose, “I’m going to opt for a caesarian section.” Which is interesting.

So they screened for women that really needed them. Some people absolutely need caesareans. And then they implemented a list of counter measures. They improved the assessment process for women in labor so that people didn’t erroneously assess that they needed the caesarian section when they didn’t.

They strengthened the guidance for prenatal nutrition. For some reason, that was adding to some of the pain that women were in when they were in labor.

They implemented more painless labor techniques. I’m thinking they should have listed this as number one. Why that’s three, I don’t know.

And then they did midwife team building, which is kind of fascinating. And they did a promotion of childbirth assist skills. So they really tackled this from people’s side, from a procedure side, from a medication side, nutrition.

They really came at this like I would have loved to have seen their brainstorming session because they really – it’s a robust set of counter measures. And their success went from the rate of C-sections went from 41.83% down to 32%. And they did a test on it basically found that the P-Value was .001. So their efforts truly made the difference on this, which is great.

Tracy: Wow! That’s really exciting. I myself have had two C-sections and the first one, it’s really interesting. Some of the things that doctors do follow because it was happening in America too and there were lots of doctors apparently that were scheduling C-sections because it was – it’s easier. It’s more predictable. You’re scheduled for a C-section and it will be done in 15 minutes as opposed to waiting around to have a baby decide when they want to come into this world. So that’s much more variable and not very efficient.

Elisabeth: No.

Tracy: So unfortunately for mine, I had 24 hours of labor with my first child and then finally ended up having to have a C-section because my body started to go into stress mode. But then I was able to schedule a C-section with my second because I’ve had one prior and they said, “You have the option of scheduling.” And I said, yes. So I took it.

Elisabeth: I’d go for that.

Tracy: And my second child was born in 15 minutes. But I can see that because it is efficient. Sometimes that’s always not the best, right? So efficiency in this case isn’t always the best option especially if somebody can have a healthy baby and a healthy delivery the natural way.

Elisabeth: Absolutely.

Tracy: So, very interesting. That was very interesting article. Thank you for talking about that.

Elisabeth: Absolutely.

Tools of the Trade: Streamline by Richard Baron

Elisabeth: So next up, we have our Tools of the Trade. Today Tracy, we are discussing a book on Lean Six Sigma. So tell us how does fiction help with the facts?

Tracy: Well, I’m really excited to do this interview and it’s about a book called Streamline. And it’s a business novel. It’s Your Path to Government Efficiency Starts Here by Richard Baron. So we’re going to be interviewing Richard Baron today. And what’s really great about this book it’s told in a story. It’s about a City Manager named Sam McConnell who is about to lose his career because his customer satisfaction is in the toilet and people are very frustrated. The City Councilor is very dissatisfied with how things are going and he is really tasked with trying to improve the city processes for their customers.

The City Councilor is very dissatisfied with how things are going and he is really tasked with trying to improve the city processes for their customers.

So often, people learn better by hearing stories just like everything, everything in our society is all around story telling. So I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Elisabeth: Tracy, I actually enjoyed this book as well. This being – the story makes it completely accessible. It really walks you through the steps right down to like facilitation. The dialogue is there, how they talk to people in meetings. And some people would really enjoy having that level of detail. I like that he included reality as resistance. I like that he highlighted typical issues in government processes. And he put in examples of the 8 wastes, example of the swimlane maps, great value add analysis, which is one of the most powerful and simple tools I think.

I love that he combined Lean and Six Sigma tools. It really gives you a good sense of how they go together. And he did throw in a little drama, which is a little bit interesting and it was making me get back to Eli Goldratt’s The Goal. That was the first novel based on process improvement. It was in a manufacturing setup.

So I really like that Richard Baron has added to the list of books done in this fashion but he is focusing on service and on government which both could really use the attention.

Tracy: Absolutely. I really think that this is a book that’s very easy to read. And I think the biggest audience is going to be – those that really have no idea how process improvement, Lean, or Six Sigma is going to fit into their government processes. So it’s a great I think first step book and I really do – I would ditto your comment, Elisabeth, about the simplicity of it in providing very simple examples of doing waste walks and finding ways in the process and then trying to figure out what to do about the ways once you identify it.

Elisabeth: Yeah, yeah, absolutely great.

Special Request

Elisabeth: So next step, we have our Q&A. Tracy, you got a question from our subscribers, something around how do you find the time.

Tracy: Yes. The question that came in is we never have time to work on projects. How do I help people find time to work on a Lean Six Sigma project?

So, I think this is a very interesting question and very important to deal with because I find that early on in process improvement efforts, this is one of the hardest things to do, is to actually find time to work process improvement and Lean Six Sigma projects. And I think probably the simplest answer is a lot of times when I ask people this, well, what do you have to do anyway? What are some of the things that you have to work on and get done this year? Maybe you have some strategic goals or you’re tasked with certain initiatives that you have to undertake. What are those things?

And so, a lot of times I’ll listen to what they are working on. And what I find often is those things are Lean Six Sigma opportunities. They just didn’t necessarily identify them as opportunities to apply process improvement.

And so, I think the issue is people tend to think often early in the effort that it’s a side project that they have to do when they have time to do it. And of course, who has time to work on things that aren’t important or aren’t aligned with the strategic goal? And so when you set it up like that, people are going to – it’s going to lose priority over time.

But if you’re applying Lean Six Sigma to things you have to get done anyways already in your strategic plan, if you need to redesign a customer experience or look at a different process because of problems coming out of it, those are absolute applications to process improvement.

So I think it’s really getting the light bulb to come on for a lot of people that what they probably have to work on as part of a strategic goal or initiative probably has application for Lean Six Sigma and aligning those two things are the best strategy that you can do.

Elisabeth: That’s nice. It’s a combination of alignment and also reframing like don’t think of this as separate.

Tracy: Exactly. And I think the last thing I’ll say to this is sometimes the reality is people just don’t see value in it yet. And so, guess what? People don’t make time for something that they don’t see value in. So it will constantly get to the bottom but low on the priority scale.

So the question really becomes, how do you see – how do you create value? And so, one of the things that I do or I recommend often is a Black Belt, if a Black Belt is helping you with your project, they shouldn’t be the ones trying to enforce you to do the project. They should be asking about the project. But ultimately, it’s their boss that should be asking them. How is your project coming? How are you – are you on track to finish it by a certain date? What have you done so far?

It actually should be aligned with the organization and the direct bosses asking about the work on projects, not just the side person as a Black Belt because ultimately if leaders don’t pay attention to it, the people that are doing these projects are not going to make it a priority.

Elisabeth: No. That’s the message loud and clear. The other thing that really helps me and has helped a lot of people I worked with is whether you’re on a team or by yourself, put it in your calendar, 10:00-11:00 I’m working on this.

Tracy: Absolutely.

Elisabeth: And that really helps.

Tracy: And what can really help with that is, leaders finding the time too, right? So working with employees to find the time to work on it, because sometimes employees just don’t know that it’s OK. They’re like, “Well, what am I supposed to get off the cash register to do this?” As an example.

Elisabeth: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. That’s a great one. Thank you, Tracy. Great question to address and that was a very helpful.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: So, next up is Today’s Special. And Tracy, you are interviewing Richard Baron, the author of Streamline. So do you want to tell us a little bit about your upcoming interview?

Tracy: Yes. So Richard Baron is an employee for Coconino County, which is one of the largest land mass counties in the country because guess where Coconino County is, Elisabeth? Well, I’ll just tell you because you might not know. I’m just kidding.

Elisabeth: Where is Coconino?

Tracy: Well, the Grand Canyon is in Coconino County. And that thing is massive. So from a land mass perspective, Coconino County is pretty big. And Richard is going to basically talk to us about his book and about some of the work that he has been doing at Coconino County for process improvement. And it’s really just – I just love hearing from different areas of our country in government talking about what things they are doing to make processes better and more streamline, not just for the employees but also focusing on the customer. So, I’m really looking forward to it.

Elisabeth: It’s a great description. I’m psyched to hear it. Thank you, Tracy.

Today’s Special: Interview with Richard Baron of Coconino County

Tracy: Hi, everybody! Welcome to the Café today. I’m really excited about our guest today. We have Richard Baron here from Coconino County in the state of Arizona. Richard is a process and project coordinator. Hi, Richard. How are you today?

Richard: Hi, Tracy. Doing good.

Tracy: Thanks for coming to the Café today. What kind of coffee do you like?

Richard: Well, I’m a tea drinker, not a coffee drinker.

Tracy: Oh, are you? Well, tea is supposed to be better for people. So I hear. So Richard, tell us a little bit about what you do at Coconino County?

Richard: Well, as you said, I’m a process and project coordinator and I lead the Lean and Six Sigma efforts for Coconino County. Again, we’re a government for the country. We’re the second largest land mass county in the United States. In fact, we’re bigger than quite a few states back East and we’re even larger than the country of Switzerland.

Tracy: Wow!

Richard: We’ve got a lot of land mass and we’ve got this thing called the Grand Canyon and it kind of cuts our country right in half. So it’s a big area.

Tracy: Wow! So you’ve got the Grand Canyon, an actual national treasure in your county.

Richard: That’s right.

Tracy: Wonderful. That’s exciting.

Richard: So at the county, we do all kind of processes. We do external processes and internal processes. External ones can be operating medical services, issuing building permits, dog licenses. But we also do a lot of internal processes such as just issuing paychecks and onboarding new employees. So my job is really try to make it as efficient as possible for all these processes.

So my job is really try to make it as efficient as possible for all these processes.

Tracy: Wonderful. And how long have you been doing this kind of work for the county?

Richard: Well, I’ve been with the county for about three years. But I’ve been in process improvement pretty much my whole career. I started in industrial engineering many years ago, came through the manufacturing area for most of my career, and most recently was with the Arizona Manufacturing Extension Partnership. It’s a quasi government-private industry where we try to – we’re consultants and we help small manufacturers improve their efficiency.

Tracy: Wonderful. So what kind of things have been happening in Coconino County related to process improvement these days, Richard?

Richard: Well, as I mentioned, there are all kinds of processes that we brought on. One of the things – one of the projects I did was our paychecks where it’s something that you issue 24 times a year. And yet, our process was taking over 22 steps just to issue one paycheck. We looked at it, redesigned it, and now we’re down to 9 steps for issuing paychecks. And the savings were probably $80,000, $90,000 per year in labor cost time.

Tracy: That’s impressive. Very nice. And did that take a long time to complete?

Richard: It did. It was probably a year-long process. None of these things are easy. Particularly when you’re playing with somebody’s paycheck, you have to get it right. You can’t get it wrong one bit at all.

Tracy: Yes. People are very sensitive about changes to how they get paid and when they get paid.

Richard: I don’t know why that is but yeah, we’ve heard that too.

Tracy: So you’ve had a lot of support from the county. Is that right?

Richard: Yeah, it’s step by step. There are certainly people who embraced it and realized it’s time for change. And there’s also the reality of life that there are a lot of people who have done this job for many years, decades, and when you come to them and say you want to improve the process, there’s that human nature resistance in saying, “Well, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I know what this process does. I really don’t need your help.” So many times, changing people’s behavior is much harder than changing the process.

Tracy: Yes, very true. OK, great. So, what I’m really excited to talk about, Richard, is that you have written a book called Streamline, A Business Novel: Your Path to Government Efficiency Starts Here. And I had the pleasure of reading it myself and this is like a story. It unfolds like a fable. And I really enjoyed it a lot.

And what I really like about it is the simplicity of some of the concepts and the application in a setting like that for a City Manager. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about your book?

Richard: Sure. Well, I started writing it because we started a lean government committee here at Coconino County and I started writing up how to do value stream mapping and process mapping. And it just slowly evolved into telling a story. And I found that when you tell a story, people can relate to that.

And all the examples that I used in the book are things that I did every day in my government job. So, they always kind of say life is stranger than fiction. So many times, I would observe things during the day and just remember as I’d go home at night time and write about it.

And again, my story is about a fictional City Manager, a Sam McConnell. He gets a poor performance review from the City Council because he can’t keep up with demand for services on a flat budget, which is very typical today. And he quickly realizes that it’s the processes he used that is holding him back and he gets together with Karen Spencer, who is a City employee, and she teaches him about Lean and Six Sigma and they go through the entire DMAIC exercise of redesigning the process for issuing building permits.

Tracy: So, I really liked the book. And my interest is how much – you kind of had sort of said that some of it is your real life experience. So again, like you said, writing about what you know, so did you actually improve a process very similar to that?

Richard: I did. I was the Project Manager for the building permits issuance for Coconino County. We went to a new software and before we put the new software in place, we did look at the underlying process. And very much of it is very similar. We were making the customer drive to two or three different locations, they had to fill out different applications, they were being sent by paper file from place to place.

So a lot of what I wrote about as I mentioned is just what happened in real life. And I think a lot of people who read the book would be able to relate to these stories.

Tracy: Definitely. So not everybody in process improvement actually does write a book but you did. What inspired you to actually write a book? Because to me, that’s not the biggest – that’s kind of a big stretch. Not everybody in process improvement says, “I’m going to write a book.” So what was it about – what inspired you?

Richard: Well, I think I just wanted to teach Lean and Six Sigma in common everyday language. It was fun to write, to show those examples. And it was almost like me giving or going through the entire process of what I did a year before for improving our issuing the building permits. But now, I wrote it as a fictional story.

And I think we all learned better from a story and the reader learns alongside the fictional characters. And the idea was that I made it so that you could read it and just immediately apply it to your position.

Tracy: Definitely. Yeah, I really got that. I really enjoyed your waste walk example where you had people do a waste walk and just walking through the steps and what people are seeing and the whole purpose is seeing with different eyes and really learning from that. I loved your example.

And I also really liked your analogy about the home renovation. So I know if I tried to repeat it, I probably wouldn’t do as good of a job as you. So could you explain that to our listeners about what you met with home renovation and how process improvement is very much like that?

Richard: Sure. Well, our main character, Sam McConnell, and his passion outside of his work is home renovation. And that’s also for me personally. And what I made the analogy is that many times homes started off very efficient when we first move into them but over 20, 30, 40 years, things changed. Plumbing breaks down. And it’s very similar to our process. That a process may start out very efficient but over time, different departments are involved or the needs of the customer changed.

And so, home renovation is almost like process improvement. When you go in there, you look at the house and say, “Well, the structure is good but we need to change the wiring, we need to put in a new window, and we need some new closets in here.”

And many times, when you look at a process, you could say, “Yeah, this process works but it just not efficient. There’s a lot of waste in it and you’re kind of taking an outsider’s viewpoint.” And when you do and when you renovate a house and when you renovate a process, you come up with an entirely new and improved facility to live in and process as well.

Tracy: What I really like about that analogy is that it’s not threatening. So, I’ve worked in government as well and I’ve helped a lot of agencies try to improve in government, and there’s so much opportunity and there’s a fine line between saying, “Let’s improve in making people feel comfortable because sometimes people go why?” Just like you said, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I think I know what I’m doing. Or this doesn’t – it’s not broken, why fix something that’s not broken.

So I really like the analogy of this renovation and it doesn’t feel as threatening to people and I think that is a great analogy that a lot of people could use to communicate what they’re trying to get accomplished.

Richard: Right. And the other thing I tried to communicate in the book is that you have to look at the process from the customer’s viewpoint. That I found before where I’m working many times, the processes were developed for the efficiency of the government itself and so then we were making the customer drive to two different locations and fill out several applications. And that’s really not being lean. You’re kind of being self-absorbed and you’re making it efficient for yourself but not for your end customer.

And so with Lean and Six Sigma, you’re really looking, what are their needs, what would they like, and then you design the process around their needs.

Tracy: I think that is a great point. And I see the same thing. I would have to say that one of the biggest challenges I have seen in government in applying process improvement is to really think about it from the customer perspective. A lot of processes that exist in government today are designed around stakeholders and stakeholder requirements and not necessarily customers and customer requirements, those people that actually use the process or have a service or a product coming out of a process.

So, I love the fact that you did iterate that because I think from our government’s perspective, it’s something that it could be very – if people were very thoughtful about it, it can really open people’s eyes.

Richard: Right.

Tracy: So you’ve been doing this now for about three years in government, what would you say some of the other challenges you’ve seen in applying process improvement in government?

Richard: Some of the processes improvement areas apply for manufacturing to service. I was actually quite surprised when I started this. Again, coming from the manufacturing area, I mean you still have inputs and outputs. You have repeatable processes. So I think a lot of what is done in the manufacturing sector or has been for many years now, many decades, can easily be applied to government. And you’ll also see that now because you have lean financial, lean healthcare, lean real estate, and all these industries that have picked up on lean.

But I think it’s just the acceptance for people that government does need to innovate. One thing I always remind people is that the federal government, our federal debt right now is $19 trillion. That alone should scare you enough to think that we need to change because the money is just not going to be there to operate like we did in the past.

And so, we have to embrace that we need to change. And Lean is one of the best ways to do that.

Tracy: Yes, definitely. And I would absolutely agree. A lot of times that I’ve been spending is in government too. And it’s really exciting. I really enjoy it because there is so much opportunity. And ultimately, I do feel like there is a bigger purpose. People are in government and working in government because there is a higher purpose. They want to make a difference. And that’s really exciting.

Richard: Right.

Tracy: So, for people in government who are embarking on process improvement or thinking about doing process improvement, do you have any advice for them in terms of starting this journey for someone in government?

Tracy: Yeah. I think just jump right in. There are so many areas to improve and start like anything else in life. Start small I would say. Look for a project that only involves one department so you don’t have any politics of several departments going in there. And look for something that’s just a big frustration for people when they’re working. And that’s usually not too hard to find. You can see from body language when you talk to somebody and they roll their eyes or they shudder when you talk about a particular process.

And I’d suggest, just jump right in and talk to the supervisor saying, “Hey, we’d like to just change this. It’s really just going to make it easier for people to get their work done.” And that’s also what I tell the benefit for the people who are on the frontline, “We’re not trying to make your job harder. We’re trying to make it easier. And you’re going to get the same thing accomplished. You’re just going to make it in a much more easier, faster method and you’re going to be more motivated to do your job.”

Tracy: So Richard, let me ask you a specific question too. Not everybody moves at the same rate. So you’ve got your early adopters and your trailblazers and then you’ve got the late adopters let’s say. And then you have people that well, some people would call them resistors. Let’s just say they’re very late to the table if at all, maybe in ten years.

So we’ve always said, run with the people that want to change. Start with the people that want to change and make some improvements there. And what are your suggestions around helping people want to embrace process improvement? Do you have any suggestions for people that are trying to get other people to want to make change happen?

Richard: You bring up a great point, is look for those people who are receptive to the change. You’ll be hitting your head against the wall if you try to go to somebody who have been doing the process for 20 years and doesn’t want to change. Find the person who is new to the department. I hate to say but sometimes the younger people are just more willing to change because they may have come from private industry or they may have seen how it’s done differently in other organizations and they’re willing to say, “Yes, I would like to change this.”

So, align yourself with those people. And then also, communicate. Once you have a success, put it in your newsletter. Make a storyboard. Do whatever you can to let other people know that hey, this process really did work. And word of mouth helps that quite a bit too. We found with some of our processes that when we’ve changed it, people would talk to their co-workers and next thing you know, they are calling us two weeks later saying, “Hey, can you help us do the same thing you did over to that department?”

Tracy: Yes, that’s great. So, I agree with you. The younger people or I guess newer people, so newer people in general are probably more open to process improvement mostly because, well, a lot of people in government, they may have had their same job for 20 years. They designed the process, right? They designed that process and now you’re calling their baby ugly? So they – I could see why it might be a struggle for people who have created a process and now people are saying, “Hey, it needs to change.” So I agree.

So what do you guys do to celebrate success in your organization?

Richard: Well, we have a Lean Government Committee. We meet once a week. And we also started an ideas program where people can suggest ideas for improvement. And they do get their rewards for that whether it would be movie tickets or even some time off. But we involve the people who made the suggestion. So it’s not just the drop box where they give a suggestion and then say, “OK, someone else fix it.” We make sure that they’re involved in solution because we consider them subject matter experts.

And then we try to publicize that in our newsletters. I mean every government organization has internal newsletters on weekly or monthly. And we try to highlight those.

And we also have people again, just talk to their co-workers and show the success that we’ve had.

At Coconino County, we’ve done a few 5S, which is more of an organization of a physical location. And those are very visible because you can get into office rooms, storage rooms, or copy rooms and they just – our collection spot for trash, and when you fix it up, people say, “Wow! This is great. This is wonderful.”

And again, we’ve had people come to us and say, “Can you do that same thing for our department?”

Tracy: Very nice. Wonderful. So, what’s next for you? Do you have plans to write another book?

Richard: I would like to. Actually, if you read the book, you’ll see that I’ve kind of left it open for part two. This is kind of putting Lean throughout the entire organization where right now, I put it into just one department. And so, part two would be implementing it county-wide.

And also some of the problems that we’ve talked about, the resistance that you have and how to overcome that resistance, how to get people on board, which is not as much as the tools whereas this first book was a tool, but now it’s the philosophy of how you get that change embed in the organization.

Tracy: Wonderful. I really do – as I finished your book, I really thought this is a really great book especially for people and I run into this quite a bit where they still don’t really see how process improvement can work in government. So I really like it because it does walk through some very simple examples and a great case study really of process improvement success.

So, I really would promote it heavily to anyone that has people that they feel like they just don’t get it because I think you’ve done a great job of simplifying how this can apply and you also talked about some processes that I think a lot of people have all over the world permitting. I mean every county does permitting. So I think that’s wonderful that you have that example as well.

So I guess we’re out of time and they run out of tea. So we should probably wrap this up. So I guess my last question would be how do people get a hold of you, Richard?

Richard: Well, the best way is the book has a website called So I’ll spell that. It’s S-T-R-E-A-M-L-I-N-E G-O-V-T.COM. And if you go there, you’ll see about the book. You have links to purchase it in print or as an ebook version. And you can also – the viewer can download free a chapter so if you want to see what a chapter is like. No email required. You can just download. I think it’s three different chapters that I put on the book. And I also listed it for contacting me. And also, topics discussed. So there’s a good forum for discussing Lean and Six Sigma in government.

Tracy: I also noticed that you also – since it’s fairly new, you just kind of went to publishing and it’s just now readily available for the book. You have asked for some success stories. Where might someone go to share success story with you on government? Is that also the website?

Richard: Yeah, also at the website. There is a link there where it just says, I think it says, “Contact Richard.” And again, I’m just trying to promote a dialogue of success stories that you’ve had for Lean and Six Sigma and just trying to get that ball rolling.

Tracy: Wonderful. Well, thanks for having a cup of tea with me today, Richard. I really appreciate it. I want to thank you so much for sharing your insights and for telling us a little bit about your book. I also want to thank the listeners for chiming in today and for listening with us and to your story. So thank you so much, Richard.

Richard: Thanks, Tracy. Thanks for this opportunity.

Tracy: OK. So that concludes our podcast today. Don’t forget to subscribe to us on and go to iTunes and log on to the podcast and give us some feedback. We’d love to hear it. Thank you for joining us today. See you next time.

Outro: Thank you for joining us for Just-In-Time Café. Visit to share your feedback or listen to more podcasts. Also, please subscribe to Just-In-Time Café on iTunes.

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.
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