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Rapid Improvement Event Example: New Business Licensing For The City of SeaTac -

The City of SeaTac is blazing a trail for all cities in the U.S.A with their Align and Improve initiative. This city-wide initiative is focused on creating better strategic alignment throughout the City of SeaTac and launching process improvement efforts in city processes.

With facilitation help from Tracy O’Rourke, the team completed a Process Walk and a Rapid Improvement Event on the Business License Process. Thanks to the efforts of a wonderful team, the City of Sea-Tac improved their New Business Licensing Process cycle time from 7 weeks to 12 days!

the City of Sea-Tac improved their New Business Licensing Process cycle time from 7 weeks to 12 days!

What is a Process Walk?

A Process Walk, (also known as going to “Gemba” in Japanese means go to where the work occurs), is when a team of people that work in the process, walk the process together. Process Walks help the team gain a better understanding of the whole process versus just their piece of the process. A Process Walk can take anywhere from 3-5 days to complete. Usually a current state process map with a list of one hundred or more discoveries, opportunities, and potential solutions is a key output. After a Process Walk is conducted, the team selects the best process opportunities for a Rapid Improvement Event.

What Is a Rapid Improvement Event?

A Rapid Improvement Event (RIE), also known as a Kaizen Event, involves key process participants focused on solving a process improvement opportunity. The best opportunities for an RIE are usually discovered during the Process Walk. Many of the same team members from the Process Walk will likely participate with a few additions.

Here is a summary of the steps the New Business License Team took to improve the process:

  1. Plan The Process Walk: Understand the high level steps of the process, determine who will participate in the Process Walk
  2. Perform The Process Walk: Walk the process by going to where the work occurs
  3. Build Profound Knowledge Of The Whole Process: Share observations, key learnings and sharing potential quick hits
  4. Collaborate And Decide what will be worked on during the Rapid Improvement Event
  5. Schedule And Conduct the Rapid Improvement Event with key participants

Improvement Steps To Improve The New Business License Process For The City Of SeaTac

Here is how those steps played out with the SeaTac team:

1. Plan the Process Walk

Here’s a photo of our Core Team for the New Business License Process:

Business Licensing Team - City of Sea-Tac
Top Row: Kristi Rowland, Al Torrico, Jeff Robinson, Ruth Black, Trace Justice, Soraya Lowry.
Bottom Row: Barbara Canfield, Jamie Kerin, Annette Louie, Gwen Voelpel


Our Interviewees for our Process Walk felt safe from blame and were open, honest. They handled the walk great! Thank you to:

  1. Jamie Karin
  2. Ruth Black
  3. Sandy Nielson
  4. Al Torrico
  5. Jon Napier
  6. Trace Justice
  7. Annette Louie
  8. Barb Canfield
  9. Bart Perman

As you can see, many of those interviewed were part of the entire Process Walk! This is very important, because everyone can see the whole process.

2. Perform The Process Walk Of The New Business License Process

For the Business Licensing Process, the team went to where the work occurs. This enabled the team to:

  • Listen, learn, and collaborate with the process subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Build profound knowledge of the whole current state of the process instead of just pieces of the process
  • Confirm and bust assumptions about the processes
  • Identify some quick wins

The SeaTac team also set some Ground Rules:

  1. It’s about the process, not the people.
  2. Operate in a blame-free environment.
  3. Finger-pointing has no place.
  4. No silent objectors; don’t leave in silent disagreement.
  5. Seek the wisdom of ten, rather than the knowledge of one.
  6. Involve and collaborate with front line to explore and make process changes.
  7. Be a student of the process, we are here to learn.
  8. No side conversations.

Upon completing the Process Walk, the team had a better understanding of:

  1. The end-to-end process
  2. What happens to the thing (application)
  3. How departments interact
  4. The major pain points within the process

3. Build Profound Knowledge Of The New Business License Process

Process Walk for Business Licensing for the City of Sea-Tac
A total of 96 observations were collected and 44 potential solutions were generated

Nobody on the team had ever walked the entire process as a customer from start to finish. So, the team thought that the process walk was very eye-opening. A total of 96 observations were collected and 44 possible solutions! Since the Process Walk is conducted in a blame-free environment, team members felt safe to bring up process issues without risk of being blamed for how the process was designed. The nature of the Process Walk usually brings teams together through positive collaboration.

The nature of the Process Walk usually brings teams together through positive collaboration.

These were some of the confirmed and busted assumptions about the New Business License Process:

  • Opportunities exist to save time and paper
  • Back ups exist and were identified in various steps
  • Cross-training needs to occur in various steps
  • Not utilizing the internal tracking system in all departments
  • Missing information on the forms that are needed
  • Superfluous information on forms need to be removed
  • Silos exist between and within departments
  • Business License code needs to be amended
  • Business License chapter is not consistently applied

More Assumptions Busted About The Business Licensing Process

  • Thought that the hold up was in the review process
  • Thought that fire needed to approve but only needs to be informed to place businesses in the inspection cycle
  • Team members thought they knew every step in the process
  • Some of what is written in business license code, police is not allowed to do by law (conflicting regulations)
  • The quantity of out-of-city business licenses versus in-city. There are more out-of-city licenses (more than 50%)
  • Requirements are the same for all types of license. Licenses have different requirements

One of the primary deliverables for any customer-facing process, is to understand the lead time. Generally, the lead time is measured from when the customer makes a request for something, until the “thing” is delivered to the customer.

In many administrative processes, in order to understand the lead time, it’s important to understand the “work” time versus the “wait time” in the process.

  • Work Time is also known as “touch time.” This is the actual time in the process that someone is handling the item.
  • Wait Time is the time that the “thing” is sitting in the process and waiting for someone to handle or process the “thing.”

Often in administrative processes, there is a lot of wait time, the “thing” is waiting to be worked on. This is what the team discovered about the Business License, too. The “thing,” or the business license was sitting in the process waiting to be worked on.

The graphic below shows the information collected during the Process Walk by the team:

Rapid Improvement Event - Current Process

The total work time was up to 180 minutes of work, but it was taking up to 7 weeks to perform the 180 minutes of work. This was an eye-opening discovery for the team. If the team could reduce the wait time in the process, they would speed up delivery to the customer!

4. Collaborate and decide what will be worked on:

The team was ready to make some changes to the process. So, the team decided that the goal of the Rapid Improvement Event would be to reduce the wait time in the process.

The City of SeaTac team collaborating and making decisions.

5. Schedule and Conduct the Rapid Improvement Event:

Armed with process knowledge from the Process Walk, the team identified many quick hits. A quick hit is typically defined as a change that involves 1-2 people and the communication required is not significant and does not affect a large group of people.

The City of SeaTac team conducting Process Walks.

Here were some of the Quick Hits identified to Reduce the Wait Time

Process Steps 2 & 4: 1-4 days of Wait Time:

  • Eliminate unnecessary hand-off to Permit Coordinator. Building and Planning can return it directly to Finance
  • Cashier scans in app and e-mails to the Permit Center
  • TRAKIT – Scan business license application (permit center)
  • Centralize queue/e-mail for business licenses accessible to all Permit Coordinators and assignment
  • Identify and train a back up for all functions of the process

Process Step 5: 1-4 weeks of Wait Time:

  • Don’t batch printing and mailing for new business licenses. Upon return of new business approval, (10% of apps), print and mail immediately

Pick one color for all copies of licenses each year

Improvement Opportunities Beyond Quick Hits

  • Streamline forms
    • Remove fire from approval process but inform them of new businesses
    • Reduce excess information being collected
    • Add important information needed
  • Determine what elements of the code would be targeted for amendment
  • Give Police and Finance access to TRAKIT
  • Explore option of TRAKIT business license module
  • Kiosk in lobby to complete application and submit
  • Let state of WA do licenses for out-of-city businesses
  • Create backup in necessary areas for business licensing

Future State Process Map

During the Rapid Improvement Event, the team built a future state map to:

  1. Make sure there was an agreement on how the new process would work
  2. Clarity around who did what
  3. Proof of the concept that the waiting would be reduced

Rapid Improvement Event - Business License Process for The City of Sea-Tac - Future State Map

The Business License Team was able to implement many of the changes within the next week. Mostly, because the employees that did the process were involved in changing the process! Improvement ideas were embraced and implemented fairly quickly and had an immediate impact on the cycle time. For new Business License customers, the lead time was reduced from 21 days to 5 days! Great job City of SeaTac team!

the employees that did the process were involved in changing the process!

This is just one example of the many process improvement efforts in government today. Process Improvement efforts are alive and flourishing in all levels of government including City, County, and State levels. The State of Washington in particular, is a pioneer with a statewide focus on Lean in Government. Their Results Washington initiative has kept a strong focus on applying Lean principles and concepts.

Would you like even greater detail on how to complete a Rapid Improvement Event? Register for Lean Training & Certification to learn how and start improving today.

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