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The Unflinching Secret to Accomplishing More in Government: Process Improvement

Like a shrewd magician, Brian Elms seems to possess the ability to find time and efficiencies that weren’t apparent before. But instead of allowing you to wade in a sea of competent mysteriousness, he pulls back the curtain and explains his time-saving methodology in plain English. And he uses his powers to help government organizations figure out how to enhance service delivery without increasing their costs or sacrificing quality.

Brian is the author of Peak Performance and an Urban Leadership Fellow at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He served as the director of Peak Academy and analytics for the city and county of Denver for more than five years. He specializes in government innovation and process improvement, providing management expertise to government agencies, elected officials, and nonprofits.

Brian is also the CEO and founder of Change Agents Training, which focuses on creating employee-driven innovation programs around the country. He is currently working with more than a dozen governments to launch programs and establish meaningful innovation programs that improve the lives of employees and their clients.

Brian cuts to the heart of the matter to reveal a simple truth, one that almost feels too obvious, but is profound nonetheless: It takes time to make time. And making the time to create time is the true innovator’s paradox. But you’ll always have too much work in your office unless you find time to innovate your way out of it. Brian explains that you must take a step back, look at your processes, and think through how to make them better.

The old adage asks you to choose between doing things fast or good, but the world of process improvement believes in the viability of having both. You do have to slow things down at first to accomplish this, but the ultimate result? Fast and good, otherwise known as efficient.

Eliminate D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E.

Instead of allowing yourself to think about the inefficiencies of other departments or other people, hone-in on wastefulness in areas that you control.

Using the acronym downtime, look for opportunities for positive change.

Scrutinize a process to uncover areas for improvement. You won’t be able to transform a service in one day, but if you’re careful, you’ll be able to make things a little better every day.

D. Defects. Rework caused by errors or poor quality control
O. Overproduction. Pushing work downstream before the next person is ready; Producing unnecessary reports; Entering repetitive information.
W. Waiting. Waiting for info, resources, or approvals; Dependency on others to complete tasks; System response or downtime.
N. Non-utilized. human talent and/or things. Poor use of team members’ skills and time; Poor use of tech (hardware & software).
T. Transportation. Out-of-date email distribution lists; Unorganized workspaces; Multiple handoffs.
I. Inventory. Extra office supplies or other necessary items; Files awaiting task completion; Full inboxes (paper and/or electronic).
M. Motion. Unnecessary data entry or movement between areas; Searching for work documents or other supplies; Hand delivering paperwork to other departments.
E. Excessive Processing. Completing tasks in parallel rather than in sequential order.

Case Study: Identifying (and Rectifying) Downtime in a Criminal Records Office

Brian worked with Monica and Marisol, clerks who work in a criminal records office. They used three-ring binders to store alphabetized restraining orders. When a deputy or a member of law enforcement requested a copy of a restraining order, Monica or Marisol would walk over to the binder to retrieve the record, then make a copy of it, and either hand deliver the copy to the requestor, or scan and email it to them. Due to understandable wear and tear, the restraining orders started to fall apart in the binder. Sometimes the papers got out of sequence, making the records difficult to find.

This one process example was ladened with instances of downtime waste. The three-ring binder system itself was an example of inventory waste (1). The initial call from dispatch to request a copy of a restraining order was an example of excessive processing (2). Walking to the binder and making copies of the restraining orders demonstrated motion waste (3), transportation waste (4), and finally overprocessing (5) when the copies were handed off to the requestor. The requestors — in the meantime — personified waiting waste (6) as they stood by, waiting for their request to be fulfilled. Monica and Marisol were also waiting, essentially, as they searched for the right restraining order (7). And the wear and tear of the binder and the tendency for paper to get out of alphabetical order presented defects waste (8). The entire fulfilment process was also an example of non-used talent (9), because Monica and Marisol — college graduates — could have been better utilized as professionals. There was also a non-used thing (10) that could serve as a better home for the restraining orders.

To eliminate these instances of downtime and improve the process, Monica and Marisol moved their restraining orders into a digital database their organization already utilized called Laserfiche. Now, when restraining orders are requested, Marisol and Monica locate the record in the digital database (without having to leave their desks) and email it to the requestor in mere moments.

This elimination of waste gave Monica and Marisol 25% of their time back to focus on other aspects of their roles.

And now deputies and other members of law enforcement have the power and access to retrieve the restraining orders themselves. The outcome is the same, but the process is quicker, easier, and neater.

The Art of Finding Time

In our case study, Brian helped Monica and Marisol “find time” in their restraining order process by first identifying instances of waste. To find waste, they took three or four days to carefully map out each step in their process. In their case — and many others — technology can help eliminate waste and create a more efficient organization. As the world becomes increasingly digitally inclined, units of government are being asked to move away from ‘the way we’ve always done it’ and move into a new digital era. The age of Amazonification of all services — including those provided by government — is here.

Before you can determine where you want to go, you first must understand where you are. Start by seeking to understand customer behavior. What are they doing? Take note of common questions or process breakdowns in person, on the phone, and online. Look at the analytics for your website. Where are people spending the most time? The information-gathering and benchmarking will likely take some time, depending on the types of services your organization offers. But ultimately, it’ll help you better understand the customer experience, which is paramount. Then you can brainstorm together and discuss opportunities for improvement and modernization.

Granicus can help.

We partner with units of government to help them meet the modern expectations of today’s consumer.

  • Community engagement. Our citizen engagement tools focus on partnering with residents to have a say in the decisions that affect them and provide more equity in the process.
  • Digital communications. Our marketing and communications solutions include email, web, and text, so you can meet your residents where they are. Not everybody has a desktop computer at home. Roughly 70% of residents use their smartphones to access government services, which is why we make sure our solutions are optimized for mobile devices.
  • Digital forms and services. Our digital forms and services solutions help governments go fully digital with an online form builder that modernizes the customer experience with a staff interface that streamlines workflows and eliminates the headaches that come with PDFs and simple online forms.
  • Meetings and agenda management. Our meetings and agenda management solution enables transparency and self-service. With it, residents can access agendas and public meetings themselves, resulting in a reduction in the number of times they need to call, email, or walk-in, which benefits residents and government employees alike.

These solutions help to transform a four-hour trip to the DMV into 20 minutes of self-service on a government website. That’s where we’re headed. We’re on a mission to redeem government, and we’re well on our way. We helped Grand Rapids, Michigan reduce walk-in traffic by 79%. Maricopa County, Arizona also used self-service technology to reduce staff intervention by 65%.

If you would like to learn more about how to find — and remedy — inefficiencies in your own work, watch this free webinar now.