LA County Registrar/Recorder County Clerk is improving the flow of Election Day. Watch this 30 minute success story on how Matt Newhouse reduced waste to speed up troubleshooting during elections.
LA County has a squad of Election Day Troubleshooters who are at-the-ready to open polling areas if anyone gets sick, supply precincts with ballots if they run short, fill-in for no-shows and generally keep democracy functioning. But in reality, they were spending too much time in their cars navigating between precincts and not enough time helping voters. Many of these volunteers were part of the training team working for the Registrar-Recorder County Clerk so when Staff Development Specialist Matt Newhouse initiated an “Idea Board” they were ready with suggestions.
The first Idea Board submission was titled “Troubleshooter Maps” and it went to the heart of the problem. Each Troubleshooter was responsible for an area containing up to 130 precincts. In between requests they visited their polling areas but that posed a dilemma. They were each given a “Green Book” containing a numbered list of all the precincts (not just for their area), and the addresses of each one. But they had no idea how far away the precincts were from each other or what constituted the “middle” of their assigned area. They wanted to stay ready to respond to emergencies.
Since Matt was responsible for educating all the Troubleshooters, he saw an opportunity for a Lean Six Sigma project.
Matt’s team wanted to get a baseline of how the Troubleshooters serviced their assigned areas. To understand their “As Is” process, the team conducted a survey asking, “If not dispatched on assignment, how do you choose the next polling place to visit?” And the results were illuminating:
Randomly selecting a precinct, which accounted for 30%, was no better than visiting them in numerical sequence, which accounted for 19%. The precinct numbers were not in geographical order. The fact that 24% were creating their own maps probably helped, but the areas were so large, they could only make limited maps, and if they were dispatched out of their area, the maps became useless.
In order to understand the amount of travel involved in canvassing the polling places, Matt and his team measured 25 of the 50 Troubleshooters to assess a typical amount of travel by car. They created a Spaghetti Map of their routes and discovered that, on average, they were traveling 20 miles each and spending 46 minutes in their vehicles. In the example below, the driver got lucky and randomly found 2 precincts sitting next to other precincts.
As Is “Spaghetti Map” of TroubleShooter Driving Patterns
The result was a waste of time driving, sitting in traffic and thumbing through Green Books; a waste of gas; and a waste of intellectual capital since the drivers were of no use to voters while they were on LA freeways. When considering the entire squad of 50 Troubleshooters, they were driving a total of 1,760 miles during an election. That would be like driving from Redding, California to Seattle and immediately turning around to drive right back to Redding. Enough!
The TroubleShooters who suggested the idea collaborated with Matt’s team to come up with a color-coded area map for each Troubleshooter. The colored areas turned the maps into visual workspaces that cut down on the “Where’s Waldo” aspect of searching for precincts. The maps made it easy to find the center of each assigned area and they listed only their polling areas right on the map. Their struggles leafing through the previous Green Book led them to 5S each person’s precinct list and remove all the unnecessary precincts.
The New Color-Coded Troubleshooter Maps
They initially developed maps with paper instead of a digital versions, since paper doesn’t crash, run out of batteries, or loose connections. They highlighted all the areas that contained multiple precincts so they could make the most of each trip. Drivers were able to write notes directly on their maps, “must return with supplies,” etc. The resulting Spaghetti Map of a typical election day looked more like the one below:
Improved Spaghetti Maps of Troubleshooter Driving Routes
The new maps helped drop the average travel time from 46 minutes down to 10 minutes per Troubleshooter. Multiplied by the squad of 50 Troubleshooters, they eliminated 30 hours behind the wheel. Which means 30 hours dedicated to responding to dispatchers and helping out at the polls. Using their power for good!
Matt, the team and the Troubleshooters were energized and proud. They agreed to start working on a smartphone app to help the drivers even more. Matt learned that taking ideas from the Idea Board—and taking the first one submitted— built immediate buy-in and excitement. Working with the people affected by the process resulted in better solutions and using the data to educate others about the need for improvement was crucial. For his next project he’s looking for processes with lots of hand-offs and he’s ready and armed with critical tools like the 5 Whys. Onward!
Success Story Transcript
Tracy: Hello and welcome to our Success Stories Webinar hosted by GoLeanSixSigma.com. My name is Tracy O’Rourke and I’m the Managing Partner and Executive Adviser at GoLeanSixSigma.com.
We are very excited to have this offering because it helps our learners really see how Lean Six Sigma can apply in real world application. This is where the rubber meets the road. And this is when we get to talk about projects in action. And we’ve got lots of examples.
Today, joining us today is Matt Newhouse from the County of Los Angeles, the Registrar-Recorder County Clerk. How are you today, Matt?
Matt: I’m doing good. Glad to be here.
Tracy: I’m glad that you’re here too. And you did a Green Belt project in improving some of the processes that happen on Election Day. Is that right?
Matt: Yeah, to assist with our troubleshooters on Election Day.
About Our Presenter
Tracy: Wonderful. Well, let’s first hear a little about you, if that’s OK, Matt. So you’re a Staff Development Specialist. So tell us a little bit about what you do.
Matt: Basically, I help put together the training for our volunteers at work on Election Day. So if you vote at a polling place, they probably came to a training class that I helped put together with my other – two other staff specialists I work with here.
Tracy: Nice. And how long have you worked for the county and for the Registrar-Recorder County Clerk?
Matt: I started in 2007 as a temporary employee and I’ve been a Staff Development Specialist for the last three years.
Tracy: Wonderful. And what do you do for fun, Matt? Is there anything interesting you want to share with our audience?
Matt: Sure. I like being in the mountains. I like skiing, hiking, camping. I think that’s a good place to get refreshed and that’s one of my favorite hobbies, being out there.
Tracy: Me too. I love being outdoors. I’m hoping to go to Olympic National Park soon.
Matt: That would be awesome.
Tracy: Yes. So how long have you been applying process improvement in the processes that you do?
Matt: So I got involved about a year and a half ago. It was when Alex who is one of the main organizers here at Registrar-Recorder started – we started going through some training and get some idea for meetings going in our section which was then about meetings that we have just to generate ideas for process improvements. So, about a year and a half I would say.
Tracy: Great. And how was your experience been with being involved?
Matt: It has been really cool. I really enjoyed it. It’s fun to just kind of work on improving things and it’s fun to try to get people involved and give people a voice, some of our temporary staff that work alongside us to give them a chance to contribute some ideas and hopefully, make some improvements that everybody are thankful for. It has been fun. I enjoyed being a part of it.
Tracy: That’s great. That’s good hear. It’s always nice to hear of people having good experiences with process improvement and hopefully improves or increases their desire to do more good.
Matt: Yeah, exactly.
Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Troubleshooter Maps Project
Tracy: So let’s hear a little bit about your project.
Matt: All right. So this was our Green Belt project. Myself and my team mate, Christine Juarez, did it together and we both got our Green Belt for it. And so, it’s a Troubleshooter Maps Project and you’ll see exactly what that entails as we go through it.
So first of all just kind of give you a little bit of background about our project, the idea board is one thing that I mentioned. I don’t know. Just to explain that in case it’s not obvious. But the way that our department kind of implements Lean Six Sigma is we have bi-weekly meetings in all the different section and they are called idea board meetings, and that’s just kind of a grassroots opportunity for our staff to post ideas on the board and every idea is heard and evaluated.
And so, our idea board got started in January of 2016. The very first idea that was put on the board was this idea. So shout out to Wayne Martin and Ritz Macias of our staff that put that idea on the board.
Matt: Yes. It was cool. I think just having the very first idea that got hung and how we get some traction really gave just some excitement to our board and helped it get some momentum going right away.
So we collaborated, got it implemented for the June 2016 Election, so everything for us in elections kind of goes in cycles. And so, we got it – basically, the summary of this would be that we kick off the board, put the idea in motion right away. So that’s a little backstory on how it came together.
Matt: So basically, a troubleshooter, what is a troubleshooter out on Election Day? A troubleshooter is kind of the last line of defense. So they get a very large area. They could be working in an area that’s up to a 130 different precincts. A precinct is a polling place location. So they get a really large chunk of our LA County to kind of solve whatever problems that might come up.
And so on Election Day, the main role of a troubleshooter would be one, just to wait for a call and go solve the problem wherever they get dispatched. And the second thing would be while they’re waiting for those calls, just to make themselves useful and to visit precincts as they roam around.
Original Troubleshooter Supplies
So the original supplies that we were giving our troubleshooters were the two things you see here. And on the left, is just a list of the troubleshooter’s precincts. It’s just listed in precinct number. A precinct number is just at least to the troubleshooter, it’s kind of a random number because it doesn’t say anything too much about location or how close things are together. They see a list of their numbers.
And then on the right, they get a book, this green book and when you open it up, in the bottom picture, it’s kind of a like a phonebook. It’s just a listing of all the precincts with address information, co-worker information, things that they might need to help solve the problems.
So that’s what they get with their supplies. But there are some problems or limitations with what they were currently getting.
Tracy: So Matt, I have a question. What kinds of troubleshooting do troubleshooters shoot?
Matt: That’s a good question. So there are different layers of troubleshooting and there are also community volunteers that might service 10 to 15 precincts and they might solve problems with equipment or maybe broken supplies or volunteers that don’t show up or a big thing might be if one of our election volunteers, let’s say they get sick at the last minute and they can’t show up to open the polling place, our troubleshooters could come with an emergency set of supplies and get it up and running so people can vote while we get back up supplies in place again. So they kind of help just keep things moving. That’s an example of a big thing they might solve.
Tracy: So really like making sure that the flow still flows on Election Day on all of the polling areas. OK. Got it.
Matt: Exactly. So with these two supplies that I mentioned, there are a couple of limitations. So the two roles that I mentioned, one is that they wait for assignments. So with the current supplies since it’s just a listing of numbers, they don’t actually know where they are in that map. They might be on the edges. They might be in the middle. They don’t know. So they would instinctively think, “If I’m going to wait to solve the problem, I should wait near the middle so I can get to the edges as fast as possible.” But just with those numbers, they wouldn’t necessarily know where that would be.
And the second thing would just be visiting precincts while they’re waiting for an assignment to go solve. Since they don’t know where the precincts are in relation to each other, there can be a lot of back and forth just roaming through the area. And I’ll show you what that looks like in a minute.
Matt: One other problem that we discovered, we did a lot of things to gather our data. One of the things was survey with SurveyMonkey. And we basically ask a question of our troubleshooters which was essentially what’s your current process for visiting precincts since there are some limitations with the supplies? And so we ask them, “If you’re not dispatched in an assignment, how would you choose the next polling place to visit?”
There are a lot of variants as you can see from our chart, 30% just picked a random precinct number and drove there, 19% went in an order of a precinct numbers, and a lot of other things, we had 11% that I think just weren’t doing it because they knew it was inefficient. So there was a lot of room for improvement in this regard.
So this chart right here just to illustrate that a precinct number which is again, the number of a polling place, going in a precinct order to visit isn’t going to necessarily keep you in any kind of specific area. And the map that we are looking on the right at would be an area that’s pretty large. Southern California, it’s most of Pasadena. And this PowerPoint is just going to demonstrate an actual location. This was an actual troubleshooter area. It’s troubleshooter #6.
And for them to just take the very first 10 precincts that they had in order and visit them, this is what the motion would look like. So there’s #1, #2 is relatively close by. The third one is way across town, #4 would be way back up at the top. #5 is right next to #3.
So this is what a troubleshooter would be doing as they drive around waiting for a call is they would follow a path that looks just like that if they were going in precinct order, which again, our survey show that some of them did.
It was 7 stops to hit 10 polling places, and that’s because sometimes we have multiple polling places in one location. But this troubleshooter just going in order hits them kind of stumbles on them randomly so they randomly were able to minimize it to 7 stops but it was somewhat by coincidence.
Matt: So that was sort of the current state of how a troubleshooter might move around as they’re waiting to be dispatched.
Tracy: I see. Very nice visual.
Matt: Yeah. Hopefully, it helps kind of give a picture. So basically, just to summarize the problems that we were trying to address with this project was just one, all that motion, moving back and forth that you could see from the diagram.
Another one is just our troubleshooters are very knowledgeable staff. They’re some of the most knowledgeable people. A lot of them are trainers from the training section and very experienced people. So, in that current state, they’re spending a lot of time in their vehicle instead of actually in a polling place where they could be adding value with their expertise.
So, in that current state, they’re spending a lot of time in their vehicle instead of actually in a polling place where they could be adding value with their expertise.
And then the resources, just all that motion, turns into gas and time and wear and tear.
There are some prep times. Some of our troubleshooters started to try to make their own maps to try to alleviate some of that. And if they had a 130 polling places, they would only be able to make a limited map. And if they got dispatched out of their area, they’d be back to kind of go in that random, so all that prep time became waste.
And then without really knowing if they are middle of the area, they could be roaming out on the edge of Pasadena and not know it and then get called to other side and it would take long to get there.
Tracy: Yes, especially in LA.
Matt: Oh man! Yeah. Traffic is crazy here. And if they’re trying to go around in the morning, sometimes polling places are at schools, so you’re driving through school zones and stop signs and all that stuff.
So basically just to measure the data, we took 25 of our 50 troubleshooters and just plot it out where are the first 10 precincts in order if they were to follow that route. And the average distance for just per 10 precincts was 20.6 miles to hit the first 10 on the list.
Tracy: And that’s like 4 hours in LA of driving.
Matt: Oh man! Well, yeah. And the first two columns, it could be North County which is pretty spread out. So yeah, driving in LA is not for the fainted heart.
So just the impact, just to summarize some of the impact of that problem, 81% of our staff were spending some kind of time trying to make their own preparations to create some sort of map for themselves and that was about 2.2 hours of that, 64% of our staff spent at least half their day waiting for an assignment and basically what that means is that even in a busy election, they do still spend time roaming waiting for calls, which was kind of a surprise because when we did the data, because we thought in a busy election, they’d spend all their day just being dispatched but we found that almost everyone could benefit from this solution or at least some.
And then 64% had some sort of route that they had to do in the morning whether it was putting up a couple of polling place to change, change of address, signs, or something. So basically, everyone had some value they could get from having a map.
Tracy: OK, good.
Matt: So basically, the solution was this troubleshooter map. I note here on our slide it just says not included with this app. There’s an app that we’ve been working to help develop. Obviously, it might seems strange to develop a paper map in this digital age that we’re in but we are working on an app and we think it would make sense that down the road, some of the stuff that we generated with this Green Belt project will get incorporated into that digital solution.
But these are troubleshooters that do emergency work. So digital stuff can run out of batteries or you can drop it on the ground, it could shatter or whatever. So the paper map that we developed, I think that they will always get that as well as backup.
So basically, we developed that just shows a few things that are really important. It helps troubleshooters to see the center of their specific area. That green book that they were getting had all the polling places, not just theirs so they’d spend a lot of time thumbing through that giant book to find their information. And we printed the information that they need at the bottom of the map so that it becomes a quick reference tool for them. That’s the troubleshooter plan route.
Also, it highlights the neighborhood voting centers where you have multiple precincts in one stop so the troubleshooters can be more efficient with the route that they decided to take. And then people have the ability to just write notes right on the map and circle one say, “I need to come back here. I need to deliver one of these to this place,” or something like that.
Process of Developing the Map
So we did go through a process of developing the map. Like I said, this was an idea that was posted to our idea board so we really tried to involve our group in it and get their input. So we spent time talking about how big of a piece of paper would you want to have driving in your car? How much street detail is helpful and when does it become distracting? What are the things that would be useful in the key at the bottom so you can just use this map as quick reference?
So we went through a process even though it might seem like just a map. We did go through a few things. And the colorful zones that you see on there, I would not bore you with the details but basically without those, trying to find something on here when there are 130 pens was kind of like Where’s Waldo? So we create a little bit of a system to kind of find stuff faster. So that’s what the colors are on that.
So we create a little bit of a system to kind of find stuff faster.
Tracy: Very nice.
Matt: Yup. So the benefits, so just to compare and contrast, so on the left is the original process that I showed you before where there these 10 precincts and just the back and forth motion going through Pasadena. And that added up to 19 miles. And according to Google Maps, the drive time was 46 minutes.
And just to show the value of being able to accomplish the exact same thing but going on a sequence that makes more sense just by reordering it. Visually using the map, you could literally accomplish the exact same goal in 8 miles in 22 minutes.
Visually using the map, you could literally accomplish the exact same goal in 8 miles in 22 minutes.
Matt: But the real true new process was to have troubleshooters use the map, go someplace that’s centrally located and also target those neighborhood voting centers on the map so that you can be more efficient with each stop.
So this is a real example in Pasadena where somebody could have picked a much tighter route, targeted more NVCs and now with the new process in exact same location, they could accomplish the same goal and take it from 19 drive miles to 2.7 and 46 minutes of drive time down to 10 minutes.
Matt: So that’s all from just being able to visually use the tool that we give them.
Tracy: That’s great.
Matt: Yeah. So, when we just average out our across the whole county all of our troubleshooters, the average time just to visit 10 precincts was a significant change. It went down 39 minutes. It was about 77% savings in time to accomplish the same goal. And then the distance went from 20.6 miles down to 3 on average for just 10 precincts, so a savings of 17.6 miles per 10 precincts, so 83% savings.
And then when we decided to multiply that out just to get a feel for in a big election, we might have 50 troubleshooters and we could reasonably say that they could probably visit about 20 precincts as they roam and wait for calls. So when we add it all up, that would add up to a savings of 1,760 miles.
So basically, the waste that we saved would be the same as taking one of our troubleshooters on election morning and saying, “Today, we want you to drive to Seattle and then when you get there, turn around and get back to Redding.”
Matt: So that’s the mileage that we’re saving to accomplish the same objective basically.
Tracy: I really like the example of having to drive to Seattle. That’s pretty funny. You’re going to let King County borrow your person.
Matt: Basically. And that’s basically what would happen. So kind of just to summarize, so we had a lot of savings in motion. So our staff could easily see the stops that they want to hit. They’re close together, 83% savings in a number of – in distance, savings in fuel and wear and tear.
A lot of time saved, all those miles and minutes, those troubleshooters could now be in a precinct answering questions, solving problems rather than driving in their cart to get to that precinct.
And then all that prep time is eliminated that was spent making their own maps and then the response time goes up because a troubleshooter can wait in the middle of their area and get to the edges much quicker.
Where Do We See This Going in the Future?
Matt: So that was basically it. And then we got some feedback along the way and just one thing that we might incorporate is rather than a precinct number which is a long number switching to serial numbers which is shorter.
And then that smartphone app that we talked about, we think it makes plenty of sense to eventually incorporate all of this into a digital solution that the troubleshooter could carry with them.
And then keep getting feedback from our idea board team because it was a grassroots project, so just trying to keep incorporating a new feedback that they have about other things that could be useful on that map.
Tracy: Yeah. Wonderful. I really like this presentation on your project because first of all, it came from an idea board. It came from an employee. And it’s simple. It’s not a complicated solution or even problem but it does go to show you that reducing waste can make a really big difference. And I love highlighting simple easy projects that is just really – putting some labor into rearranging and organizing the information better so that you can reduce waste.
It’s not a complicated solution or even problem but it does go to show you that reducing waste can make a really big difference.
Did you guys also calculate in terms of dollars how much gas was saved? One of the other things you had mentioned is in the measure – the information that they are given, they have this big list. It’s not just their precincts. Are you still handing those out? I was wondering if that was something like a paper savings as well.
Matt: Yeah, that’s a good question. We still hand it out because since the troubleshooter is the last line of defense, there’s always a chance that they could get called out of their normal area to help with something else. But now, all the time spent kind of thumbing through it, it’s just a quick reference on the map and that green book is just something they have that they don’t really use unless something really bizarre comes up.
Matt: So you have to print it but yeah, we could have definitely calculated a lot of other things as far as the mileage and the dollars saved just with the cents per mile of driving around town.
Tracy: Yeah. I think – I know that when I work with Green Belts, often, they’re struggling with how to measure something. And it sounds to me like not only did you measure motion reduction and time savings but I think there are a couple of others that are impactful that if you wanted to quantify, it would be interesting to see.
Matt: Yeah, definitely.
Tracy: Great. Well, let’s see here. So question, so let me ask you, what do you think was the biggest challenge with this project that you guys encountered or when were either implementing it or maybe getting support to do it? Do have you any challenges?
Matt: Yeah. I think one thing that we really underestimated at the beginning that became a learning thing for us for sure was just that the trainers are a lot of times, our staff as trainers are used as troubleshooters on Election Day. But they’re the end users of this map but in training, we didn’t actually own all that data so we really had to work with other sections to try to get these tools. So we had to work with our GIS section and our poll section.
So if it was a process that we kind of owned at the beginning, it would have been easier to tweak it. But we really had to kind of get buy-in from other people and work really hard to collaborate and help people see the need for the change.
And so, that was something that just making it happen basically took a little bit of work since we didn’t own all of it at the beginning.
Tracy: Right. And I do have to say, that is one of the biggest challenges most groups or sections or departments have is getting others to see that there’s a collaboration that’s required and that there’s buy-in and what the problem really is and how they’re going to go about solving it. So yeah, that makes sense.
Tracy: So now that you’ve gone through your first Green Belt project, do you have any suggestions for a new Green Belt in terms of approaching a project or the type of project or any recommendations from a project perspective?
Matt: Well, I mean one thing that did help us is just we started with an idea from our data board so there was a certain level of support for that idea already. And we knew maybe it wasn’t the most complex one but it did get some momentum. Just I think when you’re trying to get people excited about Lean Six Sigma in general, if you can get a win even if it’s a small win, to just show people, “Hey, this can really make a big difference for you.” I think that’s something. So our trainers that were the ones doing all that driving back and forth throughout the city just say, “Oh man, it’s nice to minimize some of this.” So maybe that’s one thing.
Just I think when you’re trying to get people excited about Lean Six Sigma in general, if you can get a win even if it’s a small win, to just show people, “Hey, this can really make a big difference for you.” I think that’s something.
If I were to do it again, looking for other projects maybe with a lot of hand-offs and different things that maybe we could apply some of the other Lean Six Sigma tools too, I would have – that would probably be my next project, just the tackle something like that.
Tracy: Right. Yes. Good. So does going through DMAIC make you look at things differently?
Matt: Yeah, definitely. I think it helps a lot just to have a framework to solve problems and to tackle the questions and some of the 5 Whys and some of the things too that we learned I think have really helped a lot.
Tracy: Wonderful. That’s great to hear. I know that’s what my favorite part is when I’m training people and then they say, “You know, I look at things very differently.” Even in their personal lives in terms of reducing ways or implementing some of the tools. So it’s good to hear.
Lean Six Sigma Success Stories
Tracy: So this has really been a success story. We call these All Lean Six Sigma Success Stories. We try to share as many as possible because I think it’s really nice to hear some of the examples of people applying these tools into their real world. We’ve got examples in elections. We have examples from IT, from marketing, from HR, in government, in private sector, in education.
And so, I really want to thank you Matt for sharing your story and your project. And I really – I think our audience can really benefit from looking at how simple this is and how impactful it can be.
And I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today. And 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.
And if you want more information, you can contact us and there are lots of other webinars, podcasts, and presentations on our websites for you to explore.
So thank you, Matt. Thank you so much.
Matt: Thank you.
Tracy: And thanks everyone for joining us today. Have a great day. We’ll see you next time.