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Government has its own set of challenges with quickly applying process improvement and seeing improvement results. This 15 minute video shows how a government section used a Process Walk as an approach to understand the process.

The process walk was facilitated by Tracy O’Rourke to create a safe environment promoting process focus instead of people blaming.

The team was able to work together to understand the process challenges and work to significantly reduce lead time in the bid solicitation process.

Video Transcript

Tracy O’Rourke: In the next few minutes, we’ll share an example of a process walk for an improvement project done at King County. You will understand why process walks are so important and learn best practices that will help you ensure your next process walk is a success.

A Process Walk is when a group of people that work in the process walk the entire process together to build profound knowledge of the current process.

Tracy O’Rourke: So process walk is one of the most important tools anybody could actually use in the Lean process improvement toolkit because it helps people see the process, it helps people really understand and build profound knowledge of the current state of the process, and most of the time, people are just operating and improving without really knowing what the process is. So when you bring people together to do a process walk and they actually get to see the process all together at the same time a shared understanding, that is really powerful.

Ken Guy, King County Division Director: When I go by and walk some of the process walks, I feel this energy coming from the group and I think that that’s really valuable because it’s sort of like if you were – one person was in a room and you really weren’t walking around or the seen the process, it wouldn’t be as interesting and you wouldn’t see that sort of vibrancy among people in the group. So it really makes I think a big difference where everybody is sort of walking the process together.

The Bid Solicitation Process at King County is taking too long. Let’s take a look at the process and do a Process Walk.

Kara Cuzzetto, King County Continuous Improvement Manager: So the first step of the process walk is really to gather the folks together that are going to be part of that walk and to set the expectations of what the process walk will look like, who will participate, what their roles will be of the different participants, and really to start establishing that safe environment where we’re not going to come in and place blame. It’s really about what’s going on in the process and not concentrate on what the people are doing in the process so much.

Start establishing that safe environment where we’re not going to come in and place blame. It’s really about what’s going on in the process and not concentrate on what the people are doing in the process.

So really creating that safe environment and then from the leadership perspective, setting the stage for them that this is not their time to go in and problem solve or to blame or to – it’s really to see what’s actually happening and not have a reaction like, “Huh! That’s what you’re doing?” I mean that’s really bad, right?

So we want to be able to set the stage and get people – set the expectations so that we walk through the process walk and get what we need.

And so the next stage of the process walk is actually going out and observe the process. And it’s really important to have the people that do the work, perform the process in the process walk and keep the audience to a minimum so that they don’t feel like they’re in a fishbowl. But really again, creating that safe environment and actually walking the process from step 1 to step 2 to step 3 because sometimes what we try to do is, “Oh, we’ll culminate time schedules and we’ll look at step 4 and then we’ll go back to step 1 and then maybe go …” It’s really important to do it in the steps that the process happens in.

Tracy O’Rourke: Once the orientation is done and the process walk begins, you basically do all of the interviews as scheduled and you follow it in the order of the process. So, you are actually “the thing.” You’re the application. You are pretending you are “the thing” and you’re actually going and walking the process. And that’s really an important part of process walk is pretend you’re “the thing” and then walk the process in the order that “the thing,” whatever that is, application or permit or whatever it is, goes through the process. And there can be some really big learnings around that.

Process Step One

Tracy O’Rourke: Sometimes the biggest mistakes people make when they’re doing a process walk is that they actually break the process up and they have people interview separate pieces of the process. And that actually is not a good idea because it doesn’t build a shared understanding of the process. They have to go together. They have to see the process together. And if you break it up, people don’t have that experience. And that’s when people really see the ahas around what they need to change in the process and why they should change it.

If they all see it at the same time, you don’t have to implement change management to force people to change. They want to change on their own because they just saw it all together. So that’s really important.

Ken Guy: Because usually statements made like, “I never knew that,” or, “I didn’t know that these were steps that we could cut out of the process,” or, “These are forms that nobody was using.” So I think it’s I guess you could call it the ‘aha’ moments where people see something that even though they’ve been doing this process sometimes for 5 years or 10 years, now they’re seeing the process for the first time. And I think it’s really surreal to me. So I see a lot of people exclaim these ‘aha’ moments.

Even though they’ve been doing this process sometimes for 5 years or 10 years, now they’re seeing the process for the first time.

Process Step Two

Phillip Bailey, Administrative Specialist: We are the strategic partners and analytics team so we go to our share points, work order sites and it will look something like this with all the different requests. And right now, I’m working on an advertisement for an ITB that came from Robin Richards, and this is ammunition. And what I’m going to do is next open her F drive to open up the documents.

Ken Guy: I don’t think anybody has ever got in trouble for participating in process walk. But you do have to make it safe for people. And I think facilitating a process walk in the right way, making sure that people understand what a process walk is and that it’s about the process not the people then people start to feel safe about saying what they really think about the process and how it works or how it doesn’t work. But that safety is critical.

Process Step Three

Sandy Hanks: Yeah. So BDC Sales uses the service request system to – as a notification for when a customer has submitted an SOAW form. And that form triggers our analysis of their scope of work, what are they requesting and what type of request in terms of a contracting category. Is it for construction services? Is it architectural engineering, professional services or is it for goods and services?

And that’s important because it tells us what utilization strategy we may be able to apply depending on the pending source.

Kara Cuzzetto: And then the third is after the process walk is complete and we’ve gone through that walk is to come back in debrief. What did we see? What happened? What were our ‘aha’ moments? What do we want to take away from this experience, the action plan? Who is going to do what, when, and by what time and really setting the expectations of what process improvements are going to come out of that in the end?

Tracy O’Rourke: So after all the interviews are complete, we do a final debrief. And I really do like to ask people what they thought of doing the walk and I always hear people say, “That was worthwhile. That was really good use of our time and we’ve learned a lot. We learned stuff that we didn’t know before.” And that’s a really important part of the process walk.

I always hear people say, “That was worthwhile. That was really good use of our time and we’ve learned a lot. We learned stuff that we didn’t know before.” And that’s a really important part of the process walk.

So after we do the map, then we have people brainstorm by section what they are going to actually do to make changes based on what they saw. So we’re not forcing anybody to make changes that they’re not comfortable with. Each section is actually brainstorming improvements based on what they saw in the process walk.

And the wonderful thing is typically those improvements are just really trying to make the process better for everybody. They’re not necessarily focused only on that department’s productivity improvement. It’s focused on the entire process, which is great because often we see sometimes that people make improvements and they just improve it for their piece of the process but not the whole process and not the customer.

So as we brainstorm improvements, a big part of the next phase or next action would be to design a new process. So if people feel like they’re ready and that is something that they want to do, we will design a new process right then and there and then we’ll put together next steps and an action plan to see what they need to do to brainstorm those improvements.

So, there’s a lot of work being done. It’s not just walking the process. It’s also mapping the process. Interviewing customers is always a great thing to do also because often we really don’t know what customers want and we don’t really hear from them enough. And so sometimes interviewing the customers can be really helpful too.

Mary Rainey, Contract Specialist: And so for short-term solutions, Sandy and I discussed that we are going to provide access to all of our BDCC team members to be able to retrieve SOAWs. So we’re eliminating that step of waiting for an assigned staff member to review the SOAW.

So when a BDCC team member goes in on a routine basis to see which SOAWs have been submitted then that team member will know, “Oh, there is this category. I need to review that particular category.”

Eunjoo Greenhouse, King County Deputy Division Director: There were some percent of resistance to change especially people who have been owning the process for many, many, many years or decades in some cases. They get really married to the process and they have some emotional connection and ties on how it should be, right? But at the end of the process walk, I was actually surprised how even the people we thought might be difficult to change were still onboard and wanting to improve because everybody could see the pain that people are going through by their poor design of the process.

Sandy Hanks: We’re going to stand back and look at our process. Sometimes we’re so deeply engaged in it that it’s hard to take a moment and to look at it from a different perspective. And this process walk gave us input from a different perspective with colleagues who are working in the same division. We’re better informed about our colleagues or sometimes our customers as well and helping us to really give more thought about what we can do and again, how we package this work and handing it off.

We have identified some quick hits, some quick wins for us that I think as a manager, taps into the knowledge and expertise on our team and gets me out of the way. I mean we’ve got years of knowledge on our team that now I’m really tapping into.

Well, my experience participating in the process walk has been really enlightening. I think it has been very insightful to look closer at the work of teams where we have a hand off with them. Our work is helping to deliver a service to the customer. And oftentimes, we’re just looking at our case. It’s really helpful to learn more about what’s happening in that process in other work groups.

Eunjoo Greenhouse: So, what I walked away with the process walk, it felt like going through a group therapy. So a lot of people got to see the same process together and there was a lot of moments where people were saying things like, “Huh? You do what?” kind of thing. And also, felt like there was a good brainstorming and people are immediately going towards, naturally, we want to do problem solving, right? So there were a lot of great ideas that everybody could see. And it wasn’t something that was very difficult to get to. Everybody had immediately great ideas that were brainstormed. It wasn’t – it was so easy to get consensus because you are seeing the process together and so now putting everyone under the same cage and therefore your idea as one what we thought could be a potential solution. It wasn’t that far away from what other people thought would be a good idea to try out.

Doing the process walk itself, the day of the process walk a lot of fun. I think it was a great opportunity to bond with your co-workers that you don’t necessarily get to work with very closely oftentimes. It was a really good opportunity for team bonding as well as understanding each other’s process and getting to know people also. Personalities shine through as we’re doing discussions about what works and what doesn’t. So it was great.

It was a really good opportunity for team bonding as well as understanding each other’s process and getting to know people also.

Tracy O’Rourke: Doing process walks, facilitating process walks is actually one of my most favorite things to do because I see the power in process walks, how people react to it, the dynamics that changed, the relationships that get better because it’s just a very powerful tool if done well and if facilitated correctly. It really helps people move forward with process improvement, and that’s really exciting to me.

Sandy Hanks: I would say that if you hadn’t done a process walk that you should take the time to do it. It’s a great investment. It builds the strength of your team. It breaks down some of the communication barriers within your section, your division, your department and it allows you to see the work in a different way.

Project Results

Tracy O’Rourke: Process walks have a significant impact on projects. They create a shared experience of the current state process and make it much easier to get consensus and come up with ideas to improve the process. In this case as you can see, by comparing the pre-improvement lead time in blue to the post-improvement timeline in green, the cycle time for almost every step of the process was reduced after the project was completed.

Measurable results are very important for an improvement project. And this team delivered! The lead time went from 29.2 days to 13.4 days. Overall this means that there was a 54.1% decrease in overall lead time, 89.1% decrease in SOAW eval and review cycle time and a 46.3% decrease in review folder/creation cycle time.

It’s time for the team to celebrate for a job well done!

So now, you got an idea of what a process walk is, why they’re so important, and some best practices to help ensure your next process walk is a success.

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Process Walk Training
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For a better understanding of a Process Walk and an overview of Lean Six Sigma, check out our Process Walk Training!

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