In this Success Story Snapshot, learn how Jim Shoemaker is helping make it easier for King County landlords to register as suppliers to veterans. Thanks to Lean Six Sigma and worthy efforts like this, process improvement is alive and well in the State of Washington!
One of our goals as a county is to help get veterans back on their feet and we realized our process was getting in the way. Imagine a veteran on the verge of eviction, waiting for critical rent payment. We required 18 pages of documentation to verify landlords, and then our staff had to process those 18 pages. Any missing information resulted in multiple delays. Vulnerable veterans submitted their 1-page intake form for assistance in minutes. But our delays in getting their landlords into the system became the straw that broke the camel’s back. We knew we could do better.
Government, much like business, is prone to separating departments into silos. Employees all strive to better serve the citizens of King County, but over time we lose sight of the parts we all play. By addressing this issue, we joined forces with Finance and the Veterans Program from the Department of Community and Human Services. On our side, we combined the Financial Analysts Team with Accounts Payable. The four separate groups started to learn from each other.
A Virtual Process Walk Uncovers Waste
Upon receipt of the supplier documentation, it took three and a half hours to process each record. One thing the Functional Analyst Team did was conduct a series of checks to verify the landlord:
- Was the property owned by the landlord?
- Did the property address on the lease match the W-9?
- Did the tenant name match the veterans name on the intake form?
Our team suspected they were duplicating these steps with the two Veterans Program Field Offices in North Seattle and Renton so we agreed to walk the process. A “Virtual” walk with 20 members of the different groups allowed us to avoid the additional waste of traffic and parking—which was a good thing. The exercise revealed we were all accessing and processing the same information. The Waste of Overprocessing!
What About Those 18 Pages?
Another discovery during the Process Walk was that on top of the required 18 pages, the Field Offices were generating an additional 15 to 20 pages of supporting documentation—that no one else ever saw! It wasn’t clear to the group that the initial 18 pages were truly necessary, never mind the extra 20. We also realized that we were all able to access the necessary documents from the central database. There was no need to forward anything. We were excited about the opportunity to jettison some of that waste.
The true purpose of the program was to make payments and provide assistance to the veterans, so our cross-functional groups made some simple but high-impact changes to better serve the veterans:
- Removed the time-consuming verification research
- Dropped the required documentation from 18 pages down to 2 pages
- Updated the new Standard Work for all the groups
- Reduced redundant steps in similar supplier-setup processes within the county
We reduced the time to process from 3.4 hours per record down to 1.5 hours—a 56% improvement. We reduced the setup time by two hours per service request for over 220 service requests per year. That’s a savings of 550 hours of wasted productivity for the Field Analyst Team alone. Our team presented the project success during our mini-seminar for Green Belts. These regular group presentations are a great way for us to share our learnings and best practices amongst our improvement teams.
Applying Lean Six Sigma and following the DMAIC process is a great way to combat the natural “silo thinking” that develops over time. Instead of working our own piece of the puzzle and then passing it to the next unit, we stop to consider the implications for the people downstream. DMAIC provides a path to consider the client or customer at the end of the funnel. Process Walks, measurement and analysis allow us to collaborate on the end goal of that process—to better serve citizens who use our services.
I hope to see us implement even more of our improvement ideas. Our individual team wasn’t in control of the entire process. We need to work harder to get buy-in from the other people involved in the process. We are working to improve the whole thing as a unit and not just one particular department. More to come!
Success Story Transcript
Tracy O’Rourke: 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 here 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 where we talk about real projects that have been implemented within organizations particularly government and we want to share these stories with you, the world.
Today, we’re highlighting a really exciting great project success story from King County specifically the Financial Business Operations Division. And that is going to be presented by Jim Shoemaker. How are you today, Jim?
Jim Shoemaker: I’m doing well. Thank you very much.
Tracy O’Rourke: Thanks for joining us today. I’m really excited for you to share your project. I’m going to tell you a little bit about Jim before we get started. Jim is a member of the functional analyst team in the procurement section of FBOD. The functional analyst team maintains some of the data’s records in the county, in the Financial Oracle E-business Suite and troubleshoots issues with the procurement value stream for other King County users.
They created a number of reports to monitor the overall status of the procurement process. Also, coming from an engineering background, Jim has always been interested in process and efficiency which is always near and dear to my heart. And he is a member of the FBOD Lean Community and he recently added to his toolkit his Green Belt certification. Congratulations.
Jim Shoemaker: Thank you very much, Tracy.
Reducing Setup Time for Veterans Program Suppliers in Oracle EBS
Tracy O’Rourke: So Jim is going to go ahead and take us through his presentation of reducing setup time for the veterans program. So I’m really anxious to hear and I’m sure a lot of other people in our audience, our listener audience including veterans are going to be interested in your presentation.
Jim Shoemaker: Thank you. First, I thought I would start with a little bit of background about what the Veterans Program means at King County and where the function analyst team plays a part in that. And then dive into how we used the DMAIC and Lean toolkit to solve some of the issued with our process.
Tracy O’Rourke: Sounds great.
Jim Shoemaker: So, a little bit of background. The Veterans and Human Services Levy is a property tax levy that was passed originally in 2005 renewed in 2011. It has got three main goals. First, to prevent and reduce homeless among the citizens of the county, and also secondly, to reduce unnecessary criminal justice and emergency medical system involvement or those people, and then finally to target specifically veterans and vulnerable populations to help get them back on their feet.
In 2017, the levy will collect about $18 million, about half of that gets targeted towards the human services component of the program and then the other half of $9 million, goes towards the veterans program. Of that $9 million, there is a portion of that that’s actually direct assistance to veterans payments for like many things like one-time rental payments or housing payments to keep local veterans from becoming homeless, or providing them with job training assistance so they could find a productive work.
Tracy O’Rourke: That’s a wonderful and noble thing.
Jim Shoemaker: It is. It is a great program. In fact, it’s up for renewal this year on the county’s ballot. It made a prominent or had a prominent placement in the exec’s state of the county speech back in February so it’s currently a high visible program of the county.
So the function analyst team plays a small but critical role in the process of setting up the suppliers in this program. We maintain the supplier database in the county’s oracle EBS. And when setting up a new supplier, we check some data points to make sure that the county is doing business with the correct entity. And then we have the information to make the necessary reports to government and also federal and state level.
So we use a one-page form, the King County W-9. You can see it on the right hand side of the screen and it contains some blocks to collect things like the address, the contact name, the text ID number so we can verify that all that information is correct and verifiable.
And then one of the other things that we have been doing for the veterans program records was looking at some information that was provided by the Veterans Program Field Office with respect to like for rental, is the property owned by the landlords? We would go look at the county’s records database. Is the property address on the less, does that match the information on the substitute W-9, our data collection form. Does the tenant name match the client name on the Veteran Program intake form? So we are doing a lot of background check of records.
We came to believe that we’re making a duplication of a lot of checks that was being done at the field office by the Veterans Program staff. And that was slowing down the process of setting up the supplier records in the system.
And subsequently, the actual purpose of the system or the program is to make payment to the veterans or assist the veterans at some point down the line. Many of the veterans who are coming to the program, they are on their verge of eviction or they come to the program seeking assistance at the very last minute there. Time is a critical issue for them.
Tracy O’Rourke: And so, this duplication was creating more excessively timer cycle time.
Jim Shoemaker: It was. In fact, you can see here from the sign, there are the 8 wastes of Lean and we recognized that we were doing some over processing which was leading to excessive waiting time for the records to be set up.
…there are the 8 wastes of Lean and we recognized that we were doing some over processing which was leading to excessive waiting time for the records to be set up.
So we went in to make some measurements. There is roughly – DFA Team sets up about 200 supplier requests every year for the Veterans Program. And a typical request, service request, that they would put in to our work order system comes with 18 pages of ancillary documentation in addition to that single page when we saw earlier that we use. There are things like the lease agreement, the property record that the county had. So they were providing all this documentation. We would go in and verify that.
Tracy O’Rourke: Wow! 18 pages they have to provide.
Jim Shoemaker: And it would take roughly about three and a half hours to process each one of these records. There’s plenty of time from point to that. And at any point that there was a hiccup in any of that documentation, you would have to go back and request ancillary information for that.
So recognizing that we might be replicating work, we conducted two meetings in mid-2016, so about a year ago now, the first one was a preliminary discussion with a small group that confirmed that we did have this potential issue and then identifying the teams that are impacted by the overall process.
So the DCHS teams have two field offices, one in North Seattle, north of downtown, Belltown area and the other one is in Renton. And it was deemed too difficult to actually do a full-blown process while we visit those locations. It would have been logistically hard.
And so, we decided doing virtual process while shown in a large conference room in our building. We’re centrally located. We all talked about each one of our roles in the process and the steps. And we had some examples of some of the paperwork that we shuffle around to the system, both digitally and hard copy and some of the field office stuff.
Tracy O’Rourke: That’s a great solution for process walks when you can’t actually physically go to the place, having a virtual process walk.
Jim Shoemaker: They were seen on 20 people in a meeting. What the heck! Three of four vans, it would have been. Parking is a nightmare in Seattle.
The outcome of the process, we identified the replicated steps. There were some recognition that the documents that were created by the field offices, that they need before to other groups in DCHS which was a shock and used to the field office. Nobody told them we didn’t need them because they haven’t – in addition to the 18 pages, they sent us another 15 or 20 pages of supporting documents that they create in their office and they didn’t even forward any of that to anybody.
And then finally, the DCH staff has access to a centralized database where they can store documents that they can scan. And anybody who needs access to our record with respect to – one of these veterans or public clients can see what the latest copy and most complete set of forms and information.
Finally, as a test run, we implemented – in 2017, we stopped verifying all the supplemental information that the Veterans Program Office provided to us in service request system. And so for the 200 supplier requests, we went from 18 pages of documentation to only 2 pages of documentation.
Tracy O’Rourke: That’s a huge improvement.
Jim Shoemaker: Yes. The only thing now they send us is their client intake form so we can verify that we’re setting it up correctly and then the King County W-9 that has our information requirement to setup the business.
And then we went from three and a half hours to one and a half hours of processing time.
Tracy O’Rourke: Wow! That’s great.
Jim Shoemaker: So a significant reduction in what it took to get these things set up.
Tracy O’Rourke: And what I really like about this project so far is that it really has an impact on the veteran. I mean that’s less paperwork for them, less filing of information, less waiting. It really does affect the client in this case or the customer, being the veterans. Is that right?
Jim Shoemaker: Well, actually now the client, the only form the client ever filled out was the intake form with the social worker in the front end. They filled out that one page document at field office. Then from the time that field social worker or the field office saw the client until we got the service request to set the record up in the system, there is a lot of background research that was done by their admin team to create all these other documents that they had then forwarded out to us.
Tracy O’Rourke: I see. OK. Good.
Jim Shoemaker: Yeah. So the veteran themselves were only involved with that single form on the front end for the most part.
Tracy O’Rourke: OK. Good. So it was really the people in the process that are in the pain.
So it was really the people in the process that are in the pain.
Jim Shoemaker: Yeah.
Tracy O’Rourke: And you were reducing the pain for those people.
Jim Shoemaker: Yes.
Tracy O’Rourke: Good. OK. And that saves time and money.
Jim Shoemaker: Yeah. And so we realized, scaling that two hours per service request over the 220 service requests a year, factoring in the salary for the staff who were involved in the setting the records up in the Oracle system, it’s about $25,000 of savings in our staff time. That’s just for our DFA Team itself.
Tracy O’Rourke: Wow! Yeah. Not including everybody else.
Jim Shoemaker: And it has been always exactly a year now since we stopped doing that. So 25,000 bucks was chopped off.
Tracy O’Rourke: Right. Wonderful.
Jim Shoemaker: So, the final step in the Lean process is to actually do that check where you control – where you look at making sure that you’re doing what you said you’ve been doing. You’re getting the results back. And so, we took the initial reduction number and reduced steps and replicated steps and we eliminated all those. We updated all of our standard work to reflect that information.
We created the process control chart, which we can see that – I mean ignoring all the complexity of the real thing as on the chart on the left showing us that yes, the system is working as we expect it to. The process is in control. There is a red band there. That’s the upper control limit.
All those individual points that are above the control limit are all due to some special cause where there was a problem with the paperwork that’s given to us by the field office because maybe the tax ID number that was supplied on the W-9 that they got from say, the apartment landlord was maybe the wrong tax ID number and so they have to go back and ask for an updated form, that kind of thing.
Or maybe the address that was provided wasn’t an actual verifiable mailing address. That’s one of the things we do to check to make sure that the mailing address that we’re given is one the Post Office can deliver it to.
Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. OK. Good. So all of those special causes.
Jim Shoemaker: All those special causes are due to those problems like that. But there are – actually, there are 16 points that are above the red line in this image, and two of them are due to – are not due to special causes. There are on days in which either one of our staff is absent or we had a heavy workload from the previous day that flowed over. And so, one the service requests was 3 minutes over our red line trigger and the other one was 10 minutes over the red line trigger. So I think we’re doing pretty good.
Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah, that’s not bad. Good.
Jim Shoemaker: And then finally, the thing to do is tell all the people and use the kind of knowledge you gained from this process and apply it to another area. So we are able to take this supplier setup process, thus reducing the redundant steps and apply them to some other processes where we do supplier setup for other groups in the county and eliminate some of those steps. And so, we recognized and used this same concept and moving it forward.
And then finally, the thing to do is tell all the people and use the kind of knowledge you gained from this process and apply it to another area.
And then finally, during our Green Belt Report-Out, this project was done to – for me, it was part of my Green Belt process. And so, in the vain that the knowledge you learned isn’t very helpful unless you tell other people about that information and how that’s used. We held a little mini seminar where invited other people in the county to come listen to the Green Belt as talk about their various projects. And so, we did do that.
Tracy O’Rourke: Well, I think what I can appreciate about the Green Belt Report is because I went and I got to see everybody’s presentation and I remember you talking about your project, Jim, but I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the project until you started sharing it. And it was one of the most impactful projects in that room. So, kudos to you in putting this project together and getting your Green Belt certification on this effort. So I think that’s great.
Jim Shoemaker: Thank you very much.
Q & A
Tracy O’Rourke: So, I have a few questions for you if that’s OK.
Jim Shoemaker: Yes.
Tracy O’Rourke: So, is there anything that you feel like now looking back that you would have done differently as part of the Green Belt project?
Jim Shoemaker: Collecting the information, the measuring information and qualifying information before the project and to see what the status of the process was before we implement or even consider any ideas. I think that would have been a good thing to have done. I did go back and reconstruct some historical data that we had available to us to see how the process changed and impacted the process.
Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah, yeah.
Jim Shoemaker: There have been other ideas to collect as much of that information as possible before we actually change the process.
Tracy O’Rourke: Right. Yeah. So you knew what’s painful and it was anecdotal at that point and then the data – collecting the data would have been good. Yes. And that’s typically you know why the measure phase is early in the process. So I can appreciate that.
Do you have any advice for any Green Belts that might be embarking on a project in government?
Jim Shoemaker: Well, staying organized, of course, critical. Communicating with the other stakeholders and individuals in the project, that’s the real challenge I think. So in government we tend to have this silo thinking process where my staff works on a piece of the puzzle and we pass it downstream to the next unit and who works on that piece of the puzzle and we’re not involved anymore because we continued our task.
And really, what you do has implications for the people downstream and eventually whoever the client or customer is at the funnel and end goal of that process and those people are all citizens and humans down there consuming our products.
Tracy O’Rourke: Good. OK. Any challenge that you may have had as part of this project that you might have in terms of maybe avoiding those challenges in the future for other Green Belts? Any advice or challenges that you want to share?
Jim Shoemaker: I guess the other – the one challenge we had was the other issues that we identified, the problems with the process that we saw from the client intake at the veterans’ field office until the final check is issued to pay whoever the suppliers are entered into the system at the downstream end.
We didn’t get to implement first tasks probably improvements that we identified as potentials because – and again, I think it’s somewhat goes to that silo thinking of government because as a team, our individual team wasn’t in control of the entire process. And so, you really have to get buy-out from the other individuals involved in the process that they recognized that yeah, we were looking to improve the whole thing as a unit and not just one particular department.
Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. So I think what I’m hearing you say is you were able to implement all the solutions or most of the solutions in your area but when it came to other areas, there may not have been as much of implementation in those particular areas. So you could have saved even more.
Jim Shoemaker: I think so, yes.
Tracy O’Rourke: Right. That’s good to know. And I think that is going to be a challenge for many projects that involved groups, of course, different functions. So thanks for that. I think it’s always – it’s interesting. And I think that’s why we always tell people for Green Belt is to try to focus on the areas you can control because you never really know what will happen. So if you completely base your project on someone else implementing, it may never have gotten a result. So I think that’s an important lesson.
Jim Shoemaker: Yeah. I’m working on another project right now. And one of the issues we have is everyone seems to have a different idea of what the actual problem is.
And one of the issues we have is everyone seems to have a different idea of what the actual problem is.
Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. Yes. And so, I think yes, as part of Define, getting agreement on the problem is a big deal. So, how has Green Belt training or process improvement work change the way you look at things?
Jim Shoemaker: Well, it certainly made me think more holistically in general about processes and how they work. I mean I’ve already started to have that viewpoint but it has helped reinforce that.
Lean Six Sigma Success Stories
Tracy O’Rourke: Good. Well, I really appreciate you coming and sharing your project presentation with me and our learners at GoLeanSixSigma.com. Thank you so much, Jim.
Jim Shoemaker: It was my pleasure.
Tracy O’Rourke: And if you have any questions about any of these success stories especially this one, please we’ve got lots of stories out there so you’re welcome to peruse them on our website. And if you have questions for Jim or about this series, send us an email at [email protected].
Don’t forget to go to our website to look at all of the free stuff we have on there. We’ve got free tools, free templates, free webinars, free podcasts, and lots of other stuff. So, I wanted to say thank you once again. Have a great day and thanks for joining us. Bye-bye for now.