A few years ago, someone walking into a Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles office would face a 40-minute wait when renewing his or her driver’s license or getting new plates.
Today, that same visitor comes and goes in half the time. While that’s an impressive accomplishment, the organization’s eventual goal is a mere 15 minutes, one that — using technology and lean methodologies — certainly is within reach, says Lauren Larson, deputy director for operations at the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and the state’s chief operating officer.
The improvements that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) have made are part of a broader program that Gov. John Hickenlooper introduced when he took office in 2011. Hickenlooper wanted state employees to learn lean methodologies and make the government more “efficient, effective and elegant.”
They did, and it’s working. Through the Lean Program Office in the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, Colorado has realized significant costs savings and improved citizen experiences.
The Skinny on Lean Methodologies
Lean methodologies gained adoption in manufacturing in the late 1980s and ’90s for their ability to help organizations maximize customer value while minimizing waste, according to the Lean Enterprise Institute.
Today, the practice is seeing more widespread government use as agencies and public entities look for ways to do more with less for constituents who are accustomed to instant gratification, says Harry Kenworthy, principal and manager at QPIC, a Marlborough, Conn.-based lean consulting firm.
“Lean really took off after the great recession of 2007 to 2009,” he says, adding that technology has ensured strong lean practices become even stronger.
CDOT has experienced that boost in many recent projects. For instance, the agency used a combination of lean methods and technology to improve its overweight/oversize permit process. Back in 2011, CDOT faced many customer complaints from truckers and companies in need of an overweight/oversize permit. The problem: Permitting was slow, and the permits that were eventually written were often rife with major errors, says Gary Vansuch, CDOT’s director of process improvement.
Cashing In on Automated Processes
To get started, a cross-disciplinary team, which included Vansuch, held a rapid improvement event and examined the permit process, step by step. During that time, they realized that it required permit requestors to go through duplicate actions. They also found that permits issued had a major error rate of about 6 percent.
“The complaints we heard were that the permit process took too long and that — once it was done — truckers who had problems couldn’t get through to us to fix them, especially after 5 p.m. That’s serious because a trucker needs to make sure they didn’t accidentally get put under a bridge their truck can’t fit under,” Vansuch says.
Taking the shortened, streamlined lean permitting process and automating it, CDOT created the Colorado Oversize Overweight Permitting and Routing system (COOPR), which brought permitting to an online portal and gave some truckers the ability to request and print permits without hands-on intervention from CDOT permit technicians. COOPR integrates Intergraph Restriction Manager, a database of route restrictions, with other state data resources, including maps and regulations.
Before the program was implemented, Colorado issued 50,000 oversize/overweight permits per year. Today, it writes 60,000 and has increased DOT income by $300,000. More importantly for the end users, however, is the fact that time-to-permit was reduced by up to 80 percent, and 50 percent of all permits are now completely self-issued. That frees up CDOT employees for other duties such as keeping maps up-to-date and working with the public to enhance safety, Vansuch says.
“We’ve automated the entire process. A trucker can log in, ask for a permit and our permit writers can even work from home and help them 24/7,” he explains. “While lean helped us identify the right process by flowcharting and tearing everything apart, it was the addition of technology that made it successful.”
Tapping In to Tech to Boost Processes
Technology is also changing the way the lean events and processes are planned and executed. For instance, while lean methodology has its roots in paper and pencil — lean practitioners create flowcharts, brainstorm and map on paper — more organizations are tapping technology to bolster basic lean processes. Marcia Tope, lean enterprise administrator for the State of Iowa, says cloud-based resources have helped government agencies work with partners as well as constituents on lean projects. The state just started using Google’s G Suite, which has assisted sharing information across improvement teams, explains Tope.
“We had a barrier,” she says. “If a customer was on the team they couldn’t get access to documents. Now they can. The shared editing is really easy and applicable in a lean event, allowing more people to be involved.”
Use of Google Hangouts with video conferencing is being piloted by Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources to allow staffers in field offices across the state, as well as customers, to be included in improvement activities while saving on travel time and expenses.
In the Pacific Northwest, Results Washington, an organization created to make Washington state’s government and agencies more effective, uses software to help drive lean-based discussions of policy strategies. “Data drives the conversation. If you came to a meeting you’d see a large, square table and data screens in front of everyone,” says Rich Roesler, director for Results Washington. “The real secret sauce in lean is collaboration. We needed better data visualization.”
“The real backbone of multi-agency efforts, I would argue, is pairing data and drill-downs with a regular cadence of roundtable meetings, where normally siloed agencies, local partners, and customers or clients come together to discuss what’s working, what’s not, and how to improve,” he says.
Until a few years ago, Washington state had used a customized version of Microsoft’s SharePoint for document management. That, however, was a less than perfect solution because the team didn’t maintain a SharePoint expert on staff and it couldn’t find someone to hire and take care of regular updates. In 2013, the organization moved to a SaaS-based data platform and cloud application. Today, the state uses a variety of offerings, including Tableau software for tracking data as well as disseminating information to constituents.
“Now, we’re using dashboards to create reports and share data, text, charts and graphs with the public. Before, we could share things, but it was in PDF format. Now, we not only let the public see but also download the data,” says Pam Pannkuk, senior performance advisor at Results Washington. Software, servers and processors may be changing the way projects are completed, but no matter the goal, it’s important to keep the core of lean processes in mind. When it’s not, the outcomes may not turn out as planned, says QPIC’s Kenworthy.
Take the time to talk to everyone who touches a process, find the problems and waste, and then tackle a solution. Once the right way to do something is understood, the technology that can be used to support it and improve the outcome will become clear, he says.