At the time of this project, Chris Franco was a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, Army Veteran and Special Projects Coordinator at King County in the state of Washington.
His team at King County decided it was time to focus on improving a painful process for the customer: the Special District Fund Request Process. It was a great opportunity for improvement!
Chris’s challenge as the Project Leader was to reduce the Lead Time for their Special District Fund Request Process, a process that was taking longer than it should.
With his team skeptical about what changes to make in the process, Chris had some barriers to overcome.
To meet this challenge head-on, Chris and his team conducted a Process Walk. First, the team attended a Process Walk Orientation to ensure everyone had a clear understanding of the purpose of a Process Walk, then Chris created a SIPOC map of the as-is process to help plan the interviews for the Process Walk.
One of the ground rules for conducting a Process Walk is to focus on the process rather than the people working in it. This helped team members feel safe from blame. People working in the process are usually the biggest victims of poor process design, yet we blame them! Chris emphasized to the team that nobody would be blamed for how the process was designed today. Sharing this perspective helped Chris generate buy-in from his team and move past barriers.
In the end, completing the Process Walk only took two days and allowed the team to gain profound knowledge of the end-to-end process.
The team made some critical discoveries during their process walk:
- 9 step total in the process
- 50% of the time, the process was taking 8 day to complete
- The whole process only equates to two hours of actual work known as Process Time or “Touch Time”
- Under ideal conditions, the cycle time could be as short as 22 hours!
- No current customer target for process time
- Process completion time varied greatly, anywhere from 3 to 35 days or more
Their process was packed full of unnecessary reviews, and they found the biggest waste within their process was simply waiting!
Chris and his team were ultimately able to eliminate 5 steps within the process (55% reduction), the county saved $150 per Special District Fund Request, and no requests went over their new Lead Time target of 3 days!
The entire project only took them 2 days to complete, and the team had some valuable takeaways from their efforts:
- Process improvement is about the process – not people – so the team learned to let go of their fear for scrutiny
- Communication, collaboration, and their available Lean tools are powerful devices for achieving great results
- Process improvement can make life easier for everybody involved
- The team learned how to shape a process with their customers in mind
Since conducting this Process Walk, the team has completed 2 more and have scheduled a few more Process Walks to keep the momentum going and achieve their goal: to be the best run government in the nation.
Chris and his team are well on their way to achieving that goal. With several walks down, and more to come, we’re excited to see just how Lean processes can become at King County!
Success Story Transcript
Tracy: Hello and welcome to our first project presentation hosted by GoLeanSixSigma.com! My name is Tracy O’Rourke and I’m a Managing Partner and Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. We are very excited to have this offering for our learners because this is where the rubber meets the road! This is when we really talk about a project that has been implemented within an organization, particularly government, and we want to share those stories with you! So, this is going to be the start of a series we put on to talk about success stories in government. The one we’re going to be talking about today is King County Walking The Talk, and we have here today are our presenter, Chris Franco, who is a Special Projects Coordinator at King County, in the State of Washington. How’s it going Chris?
About Our Presenter
Chris: It’s going great and it’s a pleasure to be here and a pleasure to talk about our success story in our Lean journey. I’m new to the county and have been here for about a year. I’ve been an integral part of King County’s Lean journey from its inception to current day. A little bit of background about me, I hailed from the United States Army, where I served eight years. A little fun fact as courtesy of the Army, I was able to visit Australia, yet never land in the country.
Tracy: What? What is that? How did you do that?
Chris: We conducted an airborne operation to Australia and did a joint exercise there so it’s kind of a neat little story and experience that I take away from the Army. I’m glad to be here at King County, and to rapidly integrate into our process improvement journey.
Tracy: Yes, so you guys have been pretty active in your process improvement journey, is that correct?
Chris: We have in fact! It’s really gained a lot of steam in momentum working with with you and really the leadership throughout our division to try and build a more accountable division and government within King County. It is our ultimate goal of being the best run government in the nation, so we have a lot of work ahead of us and I’m very blessed to be a part of the journey.
It is our ultimate goal of being the best run government in the nation
Tracy: Yes, we’re really excited to hear about the project that you’ve actually done. You were the lead on this project and it’s really exciting to hear some of these success stories because we all know, you know especially, with the circus out there, presidential elections right now, it’s always good to hear about some good work happening in government. We’re really excited to hear about it! So tell us what was your project about?
Our Lean Journey: Process Walks
Chris: Our project is currently in King County, as I said King County in Washington. I’m happy to be part of the Finance and Business Operations Division (FBOD) here, so we’re all things finance and business within the county and in this case, this project, is focused on our special district fund request process – quite the mouthful!
Chris: An integral part of how we fund a lot of these special districts throughout the county, whether it’s our fire departments, our schools, our water supply, what have you, we had learned that there was a great deal of pain in dealing with this process and that it was something that we should probably take the time to look at and figure out how we can collectively improve it using our Lean tools and all the great things we have learned along our journey.
Tracy: Yes. Good. So tell us a little bit about how that went for you…
Chris: Okay well just a quick overview of what we’re going to be talking about about our project in our journey here. Just give it a quick background of our journey itself on the role of our Green Belt program and the projects they’re in and then how we built the business case for this particular process…We use the Process Walk to actually institute the improvements and we’ll talk a bit about that and then ultimately, most excitingly, the results and what’s coming in the future.
Chris: So our background, like I said before, King County has embarked on its Lean journey with a goal of becoming the best run government in the nation so we’ve got a lot to go and we have a great focus to make that happen. The Finance and Business Operations Division has been working intimately with Integris and a lot of our continuous improvement people within the county to build a cohort of Green Belts that are also using GoLeanSixSigma.com to really enhance their tools to really make tangible process improvement changes. As a Green Belt within that cohort this challenge with taking a look at some of our core processes within our division, in this case on that special district fund request process I mentioned, and then before embarking on that project we learned the value in utilizing process walks as a tool to really implement the changes that need.
Selecting a Process to Walk
Chris: So, as we got to the point where we were going to take a look at what we want to focus on, we really wanted to make sure that you’re doing something worthwhile and that our efforts in conducting a process walk were ultimately worth it. So first we wanted to identify a process that created some problems and some pain. In this case, things that were historically painful for our customers and our employees and also something more importantly that we can amend and actually shape without having to run on outside agencies.
We wanted to identify a process that created some problems and some pain
Tracy: Yeah that’s true, I mean there’s so many processes that people sometimes get caught up in and it can affect and so something that you can actually control and have an impact on is really important and I know that’s sometimes a hard thing for people to find.
Chris: Absolutely. Very much so. We get a little ambitious at times and fortunately in this case we were able to find something that we could indeed impact and control and the impact here was indeed significant to our customers and the people working in this process so we figured this would be a phenomenal opportunity to improve.
Green Belt Project Barriers
Chris: There’s our special district fund request process. However, as I’m sure with any project, we come into contact with some barriers or issues. In this case when presenting the issue to our group we met some active skepticism and resistance. One of the process owners involved in this process was actually quoted with saying, “No one cares about this process so why would we waste our time?”
Chris: Which obviously is something that we move beyond but definitely something that’s generally prevalent in a lot of these efforts.
Tracy: Now, did she really feel like nobody cared or was she really more concerned about people you know picking at her process? Which one do you think it is?
Chris: I think more so the latter of the two. I think there’s a lot of ownership in particular with the process and people are uncomfortable with people taking an outside look or deep dive into what is it they do. I’m sure there could have been some reasons to think that no one genuinely cared about this because it’s been going on for so long and it hasn’t been given any attention, but I do think that one of the scary aspects of doing a process walk is that people are looking at what you do.
People are uncomfortable with people taking an outside look or deep dive into what is it they do.
Chris: We’re trying to really work to eliminate that here because we’re really looking at the process and not the people involved.
Tracy: Yes, that’s good and I think that that’s kind of what happened! People really got it, it seemed like people really got it with this process walk.
Tracy: Okay what else? What are some of the other barriers you had?
Chris: Some of the other barriers are fairly connected here. Really, we just own different stages in our walks and in our understanding of Lean terminology tools and the development within our respective units and this particular process touched a lot of different sections and departments throughout King County. We’re all at a very different point in our journey so that was an interesting thing to work through.
Gathering the Data
Chris: Alright so now we had narrowed down what we wanted to focus on, it’s time to gather the data and really build a business case. In this case, we took a look at that special district fund request process and found a number of things that were really interesting. Mainly, one, that there was significant variation to filling customer requests. We’ll talk a bit more about that when I show you the data, that there had also been a great deal of process silos. When this project, this process rather, was put together years ago when we implemented Oracle, everyone was just doing their own thing and there was no real coordination. That became really evident and looking at data and that and kind of hand-in-hand here that little or no shared understanding of the actual end-to-end process. Who does what? What’s going on prior to my part? And so on, so forth. And finally there was no target time to fulfill customer requests. Our customers that were wanting to make these requests had no idea of what they should expect and we had no goal end in mind.
Tracy: Right. You know it’s very common, I have found in working not just in government but a lot of places, that understanding the end-to-end process is not the norm. I mean most people understand their piece of the process and they might even measure that very well but they don’t measure, necessarily, the end-to-end process or even the customer experience.
Tracy: So I think it was great that that you were able to at least find something that could do something to measure that.
Special District Data
Chris: Well certainly. Speaking of measuring something, we’ve gathered some data. In this case, you can see in business days, how long it took to fulfill all our customers request. Most of the time I would say we were able to accomplish this within three business days however due to a number of outliers and that significant variation that really caused us to focus on this process we had an average completion time of 35 business days. Clearly we had some room for improvement. So after looking at this data, we realized that well we’re really accomplishing this in three days on average. That should really be our our target and we should be doing this in no more than three days. We can be consistent in that and ensure that our customers understand what they can expect us.
Tracy: So it’s obvious in this data that the mean is really skewed because of these outliers that are happening out here. Some of these 50, 55, 60 days or more…but I think what’s interesting is the median which is the 50th percentile is still way above the target. It’s eight days and that tells us that at least fifty percent of the the time it’s taking longer than eight days. I think it’s great that you have the mean and the median to show that because I think it would be easy for someone looking at this process or this data to say well “Of course it’s because of these outliers” but that’s not really what’s happening.
Chris: Right, exactly, right. Clearly something was awry.
Coordinating the Process Walk
Chris: So it came time to finally do something with that data. We built the case and we got some buy-in and we figured it was time to actually coordinate the process walk. In this case we had to first identify who really was involved – all the owners, the stakeholders, and what was the current state of the process flow in that. That really helped generate that SIPOC on that project charter to communicate that. Next we acquired support from our management, fortunately we’re all in this together on our Lean journey, so that was easy. Although it may be challenging for others, it’s absolutely key. We then communicated with everybody to include our stakeholders and our owners to let them know that this was gonna happen and that we really needed them to be involved because it is really important that everybody involved in this process can really share in the experience and understand the end-to-end process. Then we went on to determining when we’re going to conduct this and it was actually beneficial to talk to all the process owners to really figure out how long it was gonna take them to talk through what it is that they do and let that drive how much time we had to dedicate to this. Publish that timeline and then ultimately and really importantly in this case, we conducted a Process Walk orientation because this was the first time our organization was going to conduct a process walk to implement change.
We conducted a Process Walk orientation because this was the first time our organization was going to conduct a Process Walk to implement change.
Tracy: Yes and I think that was really key. I know that there is a lot of resistance at the beginning and having a third-party facilitator probably helped a little bit right?
Tracy: Because they knew that there was no personal agenda per se except to improve the process of course. Right? Because that was a personal agenda for sure. I think that was helpful and it did seem like people were not, you know I think what’s interesting about these process walks is often we do get people sort of pointing the finger a little bit but everyone that did the Process Walk seemed to do a really good job of just looking at the process and not necessarily focusing on the people which I thought was great.
Chris: I think that was the key to the success in this and I really think that a lot of people were excited about the Process Walk mainly because that fear was eliminated that we had talked about earlier – about people really looking at what they’re doing and being a bit skeptical about how hard they’re working perhaps. In this case that wasn’t what we were looking for. We were simply looking at, “Does this process makes sense?” and they saw that. They were able to really recognize the value in removing the people and the drama, if you will, away from the process itself.
Chris: We ended up doing this in really two days and I mentioned in that orientation and just like Tracy is saying, we really made an effort to to talk about what is a Process Walk and that we’re looking at the process not people. We were going to share some of that common language and tools and the things that we would be looking for the following day when we actually conduct the Process Walk. Which took seven hours to include our breaks and our lunch time, but well worth it. We went through and we interviewed everybody provided adequate time to break that up and interview and debrief what we had seen without really taxing everybody too much.
Tracy: Right. It wasn’t months.
Chris: Exactly! Which is funny because most of the time it seems that we extend improvement efforts out over weeks or months and gain no traction when we have those one hour meetings here and there as opposed to just taking the time to sit together walk through it, talk through it, and improve the process in one go. As you will see later we tend to make up for the time associated with these Process Walks instantly and labor costs were cut alone.
Tracy: Right. Yes. True.
The Shared Experience
Chris: Some of the things that we took away in this case was really the shared experience of the Process Walk and how beneficial that was. Everyone really did have a voice and we all learned together. As a part of this process, a lot of people in the county were diverse. We have a lot of introverts and we have a lot of extroverts. I think the way that we were able to execute this Process Walk helped everybody involved and in this case we were able to capture via sticky notes all the “AHA’s,” observations, questions and quick hits that were observed during the Process Walk so everyone can share their information and provide input without the fear of public speaking if they’re not comfortable with doing so.
We were able to capture via sticky notes all the “AHA’s,” observations, questions and quick hits that were observed during the Process Walk
Tracy: Right. Yes. Good. And you can see that with all these post-its that there were certainly lots of them!
Chris: That there were!
The Process Walk
Chris: And finally we really want to take a look at the structure of this wonderful process we’ve been talking about when we had taken a look at it we had realized that this is a 9-step process and in ideal conditions we found that really this process, that was taking 50-percent of the time eight days to accomplish, really only equated to two hours of genuine work or touch time. And again, under ideal conditions, the cycle time was really closer to 22 hours and that obviously was spread out over several business days. Less than ten percent was actually work!
Less than ten percent was actually work!
Tracy: Wow that’s mind-blowing! I mean I think people were like what?! It’s eight days but only two hours of work?!
Tracy: I think that’s kind of, “the okay this has to be a better way.”
Chris: Right. I think it is the biggest “Ah, what are we doing wrong?” Like, “what kind of waste is here?” and ultimately found it was waiting. A lot of waiting. We had created this process four years ago when we introduced Oracle and how to do it quickly so there was very little thought. We just introduced a bunch of review steps and ultimately found that we can get rid of five of these steps so working with the fund accountant initially, the supervisor review, and all the way out to investment review, systems review…all these things were absolutely unnecessary! We were able to break it down to four steps.
Chris: With a little caveat here, identifying the opportunity in the future to reduce this down even further to two steps! With cross-training with one of our partners in the department, we were able to immediately eliminate five-steps and reduce the actual work time even down to 90 minutes and the cycle time down to eight hours. So, one business day which absolutely meets our target!
Tracy: And that was in one day? You did it in just one day in a Process Walk?
Chris: One day. Like I said, it was well worth the seven hours spent with all those folks involved in the process and in their labor process. Taking a look at this in a quantifiable way made it well worth it instantly.
It was well worth the seven hours spent with all those folks involved in the process
Tracy: Right and I think what you said is really key. We tend to say, “Let’s have a weekly meeting for an hour.” If you spent instead eight hours in a room in one day and if you just broke that out to a one-hour meeting a week that would be eight weeks later!
Tracy: Now eight weeks have gone by and maybe, you might, actually come to a resolution.
Tracy: You might.
Chris: All in all I think this was an amazing experience with a great way to really showcase the great things that can be done if we collaborate, communicate, and use the tools we’ve been given. In our journey to do something tangible and to create genuine improvements for our customers and our employees, some of the biggest takeaways we have from this that we all now shared understanding of the process and the pain points. We really kind of get a better respect for one another and the process itself and have been able to really shape the future of our processes with our customer in mind- ultimately trying to get that target time and figure out how we can make it better for them. Lastly, we’re all now way better able to identify the waste in other processes which is really going to lead the rest of our journey into new and uncharted regions.
We really kind of get a better respect for one another and the process itself and have been able to really shape the future of our processes with our customer in mind
Our Results Since July 2016
Chris: And here’s the fun part! Our results! Since enacting these changes, we had conducted this Process Walk back in June of this year, and since July 1st up until the current day we’ve had zero request over our target time. We’ve saved at least eighteen hundred dollars through the amount of requests that we have fulfilled. We’ve conducted another two Process Walks and are now scheduling Process Walks once a month.
Tracy: Wow! So you actually delivered results, you saved money, and you’re actually applying the learning.
Chris: Exactly right.
Tracy: That’s pretty awesome.
Chris: We have more folks that are on board and wanting to conduct these Process Walks that are wanting to help lead these efforts and take the initiative to find things that could use a little tender loving care to conduct a Process Walk within.
Tracy: That’s very exciting.
The Journey Continues
Chris: Absolutely! Finally, I think our journey is really, although we’ve made some progress, I think we’ve got a long way to go and quite a few other adventures await us. Here’s some of the things that we were able to capture from some other participants in our in our Process Walk. We had someone say “That was most helpful thing we’ve done since I’ve been in King County.” I think this really resonated with me and the team. This was actually an individual who was more apt to question what we were doing and was then an absolute believer by the time we walked out of this. This person is now an advocate for more of these Processes Walks to take place and assist us in really advancing our journey.
That was most helpful thing we’ve done since I’ve been in King County.
Tracy: And how long has this person been at the county?
Chris: Gosh, this person has been at the county for at least 20 years.
Tracy: 20 years and this is the most helpful thing she’s done since she’s been at the county? Wow!
Chris: That’s right.
Tracy: That’s great.
Chris: More to come.
Tracy: And then we have one [quote] from Minna.
Chris: Yeah, “I can’t wait to do another Process Walk!” which is the more common thing if you will. We’re actually conducting one at the end of September on another key process the county is involved with on the finance side again.
Project Presentation Webinars Lean Six Sigma Success Stories
Tracy: Wow, that’s great. So I’ll just share that this is one of our project presentation webinars and we’re going to start doing these once a month and Chris you are our first person to give us this presentation. We really appreciate it and in hearing your story and in hearing you talk about your presentation, I’m really excited to even hear more success stories in government! Maybe even from you again? Woo-hoo, wouldn’t that be fun?
Chris: It sure would be.
Tracy: So, so a couple of questions just because sometimes people have questions especially people that might be new to implementing processes so what would, what would be a suggestion in terms of you know if your were a first time person who’s never done a process walk before what kind of advice would you have?
Chris: Definitely conduct a Process Walk orientation for everybody that’s involved. I think painting a shared picture of what a Process Walk is and what it can do really helped set the foundation for what it is you’re going to talk about and some of the ground rules to include you know, respecting what people are saying, not interrupting, and that we’re really looking at the process and not the people. This really helps ease into the Process Walk itself and ensures that everybody feels comfortable with what they’re going to share. I would also say that it’s really important to just communicate with everybody involved and let them know that it’s just a wonderful opportunity and a tool to really make everyone’s lives better that’s involved because clearly we wouldn’t be focusing on these things if they weren’t painful to some extent, either for us or our customers, so really collaborating with everybody that’s involved in that process. I would recommend if possible to gain customer input and feedback on that process to really help justify what it is that you’re doing and really shape or guide, and make some of the problem points in areas for opportunity improvement.
I think painting a shared picture of what a Process Walk is and what it can do really helped set the foundation for what it is you’re going to talk about
Tracy: Right, yes that’s a great point. Why do you think involving the customer would be important?
Chris: Customers are really the ones at the bottom of the stream and the ones that are most affected by this process. They’re going to have the most insightful information on how painful or how wonderful the process is and they’re ultimately the ones that have to deal with the service of the goods that we’re providing. Their voices, in my opinion, are the most valuable voice in this process.
Tracy: Yeah, good. So now that the project is really sort of at the end, did you find it was hard to implement some of the solutions after the process walk? Or tell us a little bit about how that went after the process walk was done.
Chris: Different. I would say it was really successful and that we were rapidly able to integrate but it was different for people. There was this process that had been in place for years and even after you agree to change the process, breaking the old habits of maybe sending this this request form to somebody who was initially involved but no longer needed is just habit. So it was great in that we were able to introduce it right away and see the results immediately but there were a couple instances where we had to break some old habits and just kinda remind you, “Oh you don’t need to do that, it’s OK.” We’re going to move forward with this new process and I think it’s something just have to watch out for and be patient about us people are likely literally breaking habits that have been in place for years.
Tracy: So, tell us also, do you have any advice for applying process improvement in government? You know government is a special place and it’s got certain challenges. Is there anything that you could provide in terms of you know you were successful with this presentation and this project in government…What would be your advice for someone starting out and who may be new to process improvement? Maybe new to applying it in government?
Chris: Ironically enough, sharing success stories. I think, is incredibly fitting because it shows that our efforts are worth it and that this isn’t just something else to do. This isn’t more work, this is valuable, and this is a part of the way we should be thinking moving forward. I think it’s a lot easier to grasp that and appreciate that if we’re really doing our diligence to share our success stories and let people know that it is well worth the effort and you just gotta do it! I mean, it’s just something that we have to do together and I think the more people that are able to experience this, then the more people are excited about it and the more people that get involved in this process. Thus, building capacity when you have a larger organization like King County, the 13th largest county in the nation. We really have to work to build capacity and I think sharing our success stories and getting other people on board and excited about doing this work is just going to continue to grow almost exponentially.
I think sharing our success stories and getting other people on board and excited about doing this work is just going to continue to grow almost exponentially
Tracy: Well great! That is just ammunition for us to keep going.
Chris: That’s right.
Thank you for joining us!
Tracy: Okay, well I really appreciate you joining us today, Chris. Thank you so much for joining us to do this presentation and your willingness to share it with others, especially in government. We just really appreciate it.
Chris: It’s been a pleasure to be here and I look forward to many more success stories!
Tracy: Great! For all of you that have signed into and listened to the recording, we thank you for joining us as well! If you have any questions about this presentation or about how to apply Lean Six Sigma, just contact us and don’t forget to download any free tools and templates on our website, too! Have a great day! Thanks for joining us!