King County Retirement & Benefit Services is paving the way for process improvement in Government. Watch this 30 minute success story to learn how Kimberly Fleming is identifying and eliminating waste in a process to deliver more value – faster!
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Success Story Transcript
Tracy: Hello and welcome to our project presentation webinar sponsored by GoLeanSixSigma.com.
Improving Position Eligibility by Identifying & Eliminating Waste
We are going to be sharing a very successful project that was done in King County. And the project name is Improving Position Eligibility By Identifying & Eliminating Waste.
About Our Presenter
And we have our presenter today, Kimberly Fleming. She is with the Retirement Team at King County, which is in the State of Washington. Isn’t that a lovely picture of Kimberly?
How are you today?
Tracy: So how long have you been in government, Kimberly?
Kimberly: Seventeen years.
Tracy: Seventeen years.
Kimberly: Yes, I have.
Tracy: And have you always worked in finance and business operations for King County?
Kimberly: No. I actually have only worked for King County for about five years. I worked for the State Department Retirement System to Washington State for ten.
Tracy: Ten years.
Kimberly: And I worked in licensing prior to that for a few years.
Tracy: Great. And how often have you been – how much have you been involved in process improvement with some of your processes and over the years?
Kimberly: On and off, over the years, little things, small changes. Nothing quite on the scale where there’s a lot of focus and so much potential, so much management and so much more on your side forcing this now.
Tracy: Oh good.
Kimberly: So it’s kind of exciting.
Tracy: So you’re saying that that has a big – huge shift, a big shift in maybe the activity of process improvement, how supportive leaders are.
Kimberly: Yeah. And just the ability to bring forth something and say, “Hey, I want to do this.” And they’re on board.
Tracy: Awesome. Well great. I can’t wait to hear about your project. So let’s go ahead and get started.
Kimberly: Fantastic. In certain type of law, you have different types of positions and somebody has to make the eligibility determination if it’s applicable to the PERS, Public Employees Retirement System, or law enforcement or public safety. It’s different retirement system. Each system has its own rules and regulations. So this process is for the Public Employees Retirement System eligibility.
Tracy: So we are checking eligibility for an employee to see if they can participate in a retirement program.
Tracy: Nice. OK. Good. That helps. Thank you.
Kimberly: So one of the things we were told was to look at the value stream, find something that has one or more of the 8 wastes and try and serve project to eliminate some of it. So I had to remind myself what the 8 wastes were. And I love that acronym, the DOWNTIME. So that’s always fun.
Tracy: That keeps it easy to remember, right?
Kimberly: It does and it’s more fun to share it with other people who are learning this alongside you.
Kimberly: So the position eligibility worksheet is this ugly thing here. And it’s busy. It’s a lot of information. We create this for each new position, for any position that has a change to it. And it’s for all types of positions, so PERS service, short-term, TLTs. And it was the first thing that popped in my mind when we talk about waste.
Tracy: Interesting. Well, can you go back to that for just a moment? Is that just one sheet though?
Tracy: Well, that’s actually surprising in itself that I’ve been working in a lot of government processes and when they have to fill out a form, it’s like five pages, six pages long. So thankfully it’s only one sheet but you still see waste. Is that right?
Kimberly: Yes. Well, when I first got here, it was two sheets.
Kimberly: And so I did a mini improvement project and create it to one sheet.
Kimberly: But there’s still a lot of waste in it.
Pain Points = Waste
Kimberly: So I saw a lot still. So some of the pain points or the pieces of waste that I noticed were that this form is being emailed back and forth to an HR in my unit, employees signed the form. It gets scanned and printed a lot. And then there is this big bottleneck. So I see transportation, motion, over-processing, and waiting are the waste that really stood out in this form and process for me.
Tracy: Did you see this originally or did you kind of know that they existed or did it really come to fruition in terms of seeing the waste when you were really targeting to look for it?
Kimberly: I knew there was a lot of waste in it initially. I didn’t actually have titles to put with at all. I wasn’t that specific until I actually sat down and try to meet them. And I’m like, “Wow! There’s a lot more than I realized.”
Kimberly: Even though I knew there was a lot. So I started with do I want to improve just the form because I own it or do I want to look the whole process? And how big of a change, do I want just a single point problem or do I want to look the entire stream? How much impact can they make?
Tracy: Yeah, those are good scooping questions.
Kimberly: Definitely needed it. And so first step, I just looked at the framework of the requirements like what am I actually required by law to do? It’s our responsibility to make the determination. We have to document it and keep it and we provide information from request. And that was it. That’s all the requirement there is.
Tracy: Were you surprised about that?
Kimberly: Not surprised, just try to how I was going to tie this in with the changes and to see who would allow such a large change because scoop-wise, I didn’t tackle just the form. I went for the entire process with this framework in mind.
Roles & Goals
So then I have to sit back and look at the responsibility of my team and my HR partners who were also my customers. And how could I streamline this process to meet both the need to improve its value to both parties. Because what I really don’t want to do is push the work up or down the line. I didn’t want to make it harder on somebody else just to make it easier on my team.
Tracy: That’s awesome. We see that a lot. I mean we do see a lot of people that they make it better for themselves or their department and then they end up not actually improving the process, just pushing the work to somebody else.
Kimberly: Which if you do that, people aren’t as engaged in your process.
Tracy: There’s no new improvement very much, right?
Tracy: They’re like, “Well, that worked great for you but not for us.”
Kimberly: Yeah. So I try to avoid that.
Kimberly: So I created my SIPOC to kind of map out everything because this is my first “major” project. And what I noticed was that on the process, there are a lot of steps when I actually put them all down on to paper. So I created a second one adding the value-add. If it had value or not, which steps are really key?
So all of the yellow that you see there is non-value.
Tracy: Right. And non-value-add for those of us that don’t know what that means, it just means that it doesn’t really add value to the customers, maybe an unnecessary step or they may not see that step as really important. And so what they say is – Deming actually says that 90% of all processes are non-value-add.
Current State Flow
Kimberly: So if we remove all of the yellow non-value-add in this, we will be removing 70% of the steps, so not quite 90 but we got to 70. And we had mapped out the current state and here is kind of how it flows. The Department HR and then me, I’m the one who is – the only one in the county who would do all these steps. So, I found a big problem with me.
Kimberly: I was the bottleneck, which is kind of sad but I knew I was because I was the only one who was receiving this. So if I’m on vacation, they sit.
Remove the Bottleneck!
Kimberly: And that’s not fair to the customer or my partners. So I wanted to do that at least is remove the bottleneck. I wanted to do – it doesn’t take me very long, a couple of minutes each one. But when I’m not around, that stacks up. And it will also give others an opportunity to grow their skills and learning something new and it will free me up for other tasks because what we really want to do is build a team and not an ego. So this was definitely something we wanted to push for is more people knowing information and building this as a team.
So I did do some statistics.
Review 18 Months of PEWS
We reviewed 18 months of position eligibility worksheets for King County. We found that 6,473 actually should have had PEWS done. However, only 15% of that actually did.
Tracy: Interesting. And PEW is the actual form.
Kimberly: That’s the ugly form I showed in the beginning, yes. So things are getting missed. We know this is not an optimal process. So what we wanted to do is we’re not pointing fingers because this is not what we’re trying to do. By sharing this information and reviewing this information, we just wanted everyone to know that hey, this process is not optimal. There are some things we can all do better.
And the HR when I shared this with them, they were very happy that that was the focus. And it’s not like, it’s not you, it’s not me. It’s this process. Let’s work on this together.
Tracy: What was the impact if it’s not being done?
Kimberly: We would usually find the information late and that means somebody would have to pay arrears or additional monies back to a certain date. So it’s a real detriment to our employees when they’re not found in a timely fashion. They have to pay contributions on their earnings and that can stack up over time.
Tracy: And especially at Christmastime, they’re not going to be happy about that.
Kimberly: No. They’re not usually happy at any time of the year but Christmas is definitely not a good time.
Tracy: Definitely worse.
Kimberly: Definitely worse, yes.
Things That Are Working
Kimberly: So things that are working is we were running some queries and some processes to try and catch things. And we found that we’re catching the majority of the position. So overall, not a lot less getting missed but there were still a few things.
So what else can we do to catch the rest of them? What process can we change on our side to catch those few out there? And why are we still using the paper form? That was one of my big questions as I was going through all of this. Why are we still doing it?
So here’s that current state that I showed you earlier. So by leveraging technology, taking up the form, we reduced it to a few steps.
Tracy: This is the new process.
Kimberly: This is the new process. This is our steps. HR is still creating a position in the system like they always did. We did not touch what they do. We didn’t tell them they had to do anything differently. What we told them is you don’t have to do the Position Eligibility Worksheet. Everything we have is in our system of record, which is our online system.
So, we’re really making them do additional work for no value. And that’s what we’re trying to get away from.
Tracy: So you basically – I mean the goal was – you basically recognized that with the technology, it’s already in the system so why are we having people fill this out still?
Tracy: So the hard part would be to get people to stop doing it.
Kimberly: That actually is the hard part. People – I started this project in May and when I went out to the department and I was talking to them about the choice or the options and things we could be changing and I said, “Well, this is where I’d like to go, is just do away with it completely.”
And one of their questions was like, “Well, when did you see that happening?” And I said, “Well, October.” And they’re like, “Oh, next year?” I’m like, “No, of this year.” And they’re like, “No, government doesn’t work that fast.” I said, “But it can. We can do this.” And we did implement it in October and I’m still getting some departments sending me PEWs because they just – that was just too quick for them I think.
Tracy: No, no, I’m just going to double check, make sure everything is OK. Here is the form as a backup.
Kimberly: Right. Like it’s all in the system, we don’t need this anymore.
What Does This All Mean?
So, what does it all mean to them? They no longer have to create, send, print, or have signed forms. These PEW forms are no longer required. All they had to do now in place of all that other work is run a query that we created for them. Run the query. It shows the eligibility termination and that’s what they use for their hire letters to let them know, let their employees know. And so, that was – it saves us a ton of filing because we get all of these paper forms.
So our next steps, we created a query for them to run, which is done. We created inquiry for us trying to catch all of those little ones that we’re missing, all those positions that are strange, that are – we just didn’t catch. So we changed that. We’re running that process now.
We created a guide for the HR staff. That’s one of the customer requirements. It’s like why can’t we know more about this? Like of course, you can know about it if you really want to know and here’s the guide.
And then on-going communication, check and acting on the process to see if there are things that we could do better or change for them.
There will be hiccups, sure. This is a process. We’re changing things. We haven’t come across any quite yet so that’s pretty exciting. We’re in November and there supposed to be problems.
Kimberly: Just reiterating to them that we are here for them so if they have any questions or concerns, let us know. That’s what we’re still here for. And we still need a retirement status forms which is required by law.
Be the Best… Live in a Constant State of Awesome!
But yeah, it’s a huge success as far as saving time for departments and us. Yeah, we’ve shortened filing crazy. We don’t need to hire letters or Position Eligibility Worksheet forms anymore. So it saved us and them all the way around.
Tracy: Very good. So it saved time in terms of filling out the form, processing the form, filing forms. Wow!
Kimberly: Yeah. And we don’t – if we don’t have to file the form, there’s a 60-year retention on everything retirement related in the State of Washington for the public employees. So if we can have them on record, we don’t have to archive either for 60 years. We’re totally removing that requirement because we have them on system of record.
Tracy: So not only are you saving time but think about all those files that are saving records for 60 years and now, there’s just less stuff that has to be filed which means less space.
Kimberly: Yeah. And we can always pull queries to say, OK, here are all these positions that were created and its length of time. And we have that as a backup.
Tracy: That’s great. So live in a constant state of awesome. Tell us about that.
Kimberly: Oh, that’s my tagline. There’s a lot of talk about people who are like, “Oh yeah, we’re just going to make this better and we’re going to be done. It’s going to be a win. And then that’s it.”
But what I try to get my team to do is like, “No, live in constant state of awesome.” Process improvement changes things, questions things. Be the best that you can be. I know that retirement is not very fun or sexy but people are relying on us. This is how they’re going to get pensions if we do our job well. The better we do our jobs, maybe the higher the pension because their information is more accurate.
Tracy: Right. Yes. So was this a good experience for you? I guess I should go to the next thing, which is questions. So Kimberly, so I have a couple of questions for you about the project. So what was your experience like with this project? Was it a good experience? Was it not so good? How would you characterize doing this project?
Kimberly: For me, it was really – it was fun. I enjoyed the digging and trying to find out what I can and can’t do. I like having that framework to work in. I like being able to find things that actually had a big impact because it’s only one form. It’s one process. But it’s throughout the entire King County. We have 14,000 employees. And essentially a PEW should have been done for every single position and every new one every transitionary position and everything.
So it has a huge impact throughout the county. So that was exciting when I realized that I could touch that.
Tracy: You could have an effect on – huge effect on all employees at King County.
Tracy: Yeah, that’s great.
Kimberly: It was all our HR Department.
Tracy: Well, I think the fact that you – what you talked about specifically, we find that happens a lot in government which is people don’t understand what the requirement is. So there is some sort of stakeholder requirement or compliance or code that people have to make sure gets followed in government. That’s great. We want to be respectful of that and follow it.
But what I find is a lot of people don’t understand exactly what it is and then to identify what it is and then design a better process for the customer and meeting stakeholder’s requirements is always kind of an aha that people have with process improvement.
So what would you say was your biggest challenge with this project?
Kimberly: Getting the HR – so we’re very large. And there are a lot of HR offices in there and the seven departments we have. Getting them to see that change was possible, that was a huge struggle. For one, nobody likes change. I think they were coming from like, what are you going to make me do now?
Kimberly: And it’s like that’s not my goal because my focus was what can I take away from you? What’s your responsibility? What’s my responsibility? Let’s kind of make a line so we’re not blurring it and maybe make it – save you some time. What if that’s not something you should be doing? Let’s take that away from you. Let’s get the responsibility for this back on to my team. And maybe save some time and energy in the process.
Kimberly: So that was hard because we’re sending out a survey and I said, “Well, what would you like to see changed in this process?” They’re like, “It’s fine. Don’t touch it.” Are you sure? Because again, they didn’t know what the change would be. You start monkeying with this over the process. They’re not sure how that’s going to impact them.
Tracy: Yes, exactly. So people are a little bit afraid that a new process, you monkey with it. It’s going to create more work, more rework. They’re shutting the new process.
Kimberly: Another form.
Tracy: Another form that you have to be forced to fill out. So I could see where a lot of change in the past may have made people a little gun shy.
Tracy: So tell me – you mentioned at the beginning of this that the leadership – your leadership team now, Ken Guy and Eunjoo Greenhouse and Mary Beth Short, what are – you had mentioned that it’s sort of more promoted now to do processing where you feel more support. How do you feel that?
Kimberly: Well, when I went and asked everybody like, “Hey, we’re going to start a lean community so everyone can learn best practices and try to make a positive change in King County. Is everyone interested?” And I was like, “Wow! That sounds interesting.” So when I volunteered, they’re like, “Oh, that’s great.” And I’m like – OK, so it was like the first positive thing like, “Oh, you’re interested. This is fantastic.” I’m like, “OK.”
And then the next thing is like we started learning all of these – the DMAIC and all of these process improvement things. And we actually got a hands-on and start working in them. And they’re more – you could bring stuff to them and they’re more apt to work with you on a process and not just – because usually, historically, it’s top-down management and just do this, fix this, do this.
Tracy: Implement this.
Kimberly: Yeah. Change this process. But never like a true look at the process to find out, we’ll, how can we change it for the better? It’s always so siloed. So they’re really trying to break out of that silo and say, “How can we improve this through the value stream and not just for retirement. How can we approve this for the value stream and not just HR? How can we benefit everybody for this?” And they’re really pushing that.
So it has been great to have that openness and that willingness to see things differently.
Kimberly: Even if you fail or fall back a little. They’re like, “That’s OK. Let’s try this again. Let’s go in this direction.”
Kimberly: It’s really around even – instead of the implement this, go do this. They’re like, “Hey, explore.”
Tracy: See what you can do. Let’s use the tools.
Kimberly: Take a look at this. And when I presented it to my supervisor and to my manager, I said, “This is what I found. This is what I want to do.” They’re like, “That sounds fantastic.” I’m like, “Yeah, I think so too.” There was absolutely no negativity. They’re like well – they ask you clarifying questions and I answered but it was never, “Oh, that’s not going to work.”
Kimberly: It was like, “Try it! Go for it. Move for it.”
Tracy: That’s wonderful.
Kimberly: It was great.
Tracy: Yeah, that’s nice. So what advice might you have for another employee in government who might be starting a process improvement project or effort? Do you have any advice for them in terms of success with it?
Kimberly: Well, I would definitely start with the requirements. What do you actually required to do? Because especially in government and over time, we do so many CYA things or we’re going to make sure that never happens again things and it just piles on all those unnecessary steps or processes that could be really streamlined. It could be really quick and easy if we take out all of that stuff that we built into ourselves.
I would definitely say start there because when you’re focused on what you’re actually required to do, you have a whole new process you could be working in. You could have a whole new direction that something could be taken instead of, “Well, we’ve always done it this way.”
Tracy: Good. OK. Wonderful. Well, I think we are out of time now. So, I just want to say thanks for everyone for tuning in to our project presentation webinar. I hope you thought that the project was insightful and that you got some learnings out of applying this in an HR function or retirement function, which really I mean all kind of agencies have this kind of an application. So it’s great to hear about a project that can have such wide spread application in terms of other places.
And I want to thank Kimberly Fleming for joining us and her willingness to share her project and some of the successes. So thank you, Kimberly, for joining us.
Kimberly: Thank you for having me.
Tracy: You’re welcome. So we’ll see you next time.
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Thank you, Kimberly.
Tracy: Have a great day, everybody.