Lean in government office environment

Below is an article written by Jenny Eliuk for the “Lean for your organization” contest. This article is special for me. I know how difficult it is to get something done from government institutions. This article is about implementing some simple concepts of lean in the government office environment. Some of the things done in this implementation were exiting. Educating the customer to make him prepared, using simple color codes to improve productivity and looking at the bigger picture when evaluating the results (taking the reduction of carbon emissions into consideration for an example) and emphasis given to make things simpler to make it efficient(I myself have written an article on this topic) are really impressive. This implementation is a great example of how some simple changes can make huge difference to the results. Below is the original article:

How I would use Lean to add value to my organization


As the new Development Review Coordinator for the Town of Vail, Colorado, I see many opportunities to apply Lean tools, strategies and values to reduce waste and increase effectiveness of our development review process. I am particularly excited about applying Lean to government, which has had very little exposure as an industry, yet will reap so many benefits I can hardly stand the anticipation. I aspire for the Town of Vail to become an industry leader and to set precedents applying Lean to government.

Our development review process is typical of most jurisdictions: land use applications precede building permit applications, and so on. Since I started in this position in May, some processes have stood out to me as areas for improvement. For example, we issue separate building, mechanical and plumbing permits for construction of a new house, even though we do the entire plan review for all systems when the building permit is applied for. This is a system developed many moons ago when unions were more heavily involved and each sub-contractor required their own permit. Nowadays, the general is responsible for the overall project, so there is no benefit to separate permits (note: separate electrical permits are required because they must be issued to a licensed electrician). It just adds a lot more paperwork, confusion, and trips by separate sub-contractors to our office. By issuing a combination building permit, we will be able to significantly reduce waste and increase ease and effectiveness of inspections on site (since the inspectors will have one comprehensive list on one permit). By reducing trips to our office by the subs, we actually will be reducing carbon emissions too.

As we know, small, continuous improvements over time can greatly impact an organization. One of the first things I did as Development Review Coordinator is organize all of our forms and handouts in a file cabinet at the front service counter, categorized, labeled and colour-coded. The previous system was some clear wall files randomly stocked, with only about one third of all handouts. Since nothing was labeled, if one became empty, it was anybody’s guess as to which form we should re-stock in that file. I also created brightly coloured kanban for each handout, so when we get to the last few, whoever comes upon the kanban takes it to our secretary who re-stocks the right item in the right quantity. This means we never run out of a handout, only to discover it as a customer is standing in front of us.

Standardized work is something we think of as internal, however providing checklists and informative guides to customers is just as important and effective. Our current building permit application packet has an incomplete and incorrect checklist that I find difficult to read, and provides no additional information an applicant really needs to know. Since it’s incorrect, it becomes difficult even for staff to know what the real requirements are, and to enforce them properly. Once I discovered the inaccuracies I began creating new submittal packets that are clear, correct, and informative. Both staff and customers will all be able to work from the same documents without confusion, and we’ll be better prepared to enforce requirements that we’re educating customers about up-front. No more surprises! I also expect to see a dramatic increase in the number of complete applications with quality plans that we can accept the first time they attempt to apply because we’ve explained everything in writing.

My exposure to Lean has been very limited and autodidactic. As part of a start-up modular housing manufacturer in Washington State, Lean and TPS were introduced to us, even if not actually demonstrated by leadership. The day I was laid off with half the office staff, “respect for people” didn’t seem to be at the top of the list as it was purported to us when hired. Regardless, my year in manufacturing and studying Toyota has been invaluable to my reintroduction to the public sector. I am enthusiastic to educate my co-workers while eliminating waste and frustration for us and our customers. My belief is that when you make things easier, you also make them more likely to be done correctly as you can concentrate on the real work versus the processing.

Jenny Eliuk
8/28/08

US auto industry, bailout, Toyota and lean manufacturing

US auto industry is going thru very tough times, especially with the rejection of $14 billion bailout package. Ford, GM and Chrysler, US auto manufacturing giants are among tremendous pressure. But the hit on Toyota is comparatively smaller, probably due to their lean manufacturing practices.

As usual tough times bring the best out of anything. There were some interesting topics coming up in the bailout negotiations. Lawmakers want the assurance this will not take place again in future and they want big three to consider building vehicles with higher fuel economy and environmentally friendly. This is ultimately good news for consumers and entire world. I think we are little too late even today.

If these giants fail and stop production, ripple effect will be massive. Job losses are among the most important effects. But how will Toyota respond to this? They have cleaner cars, less manufacturing wastes and they produce cars with higher fuel economy. Ideally they should be able to increase their market share further and become more and more profitable. Isn’t that simple economics. But some have other ideas.

Remember Toyota is mainly an automobile assembler. That is their main business. Parts for their vehicles are manufactured by various vendors all over the globe. Some of these vendors are suppliers for the big three US auto manufacturers as well. So if the big three fail, these vendors will have less orders and they will have to either downsize or probably closedown their operations. Meaning, Toyota will loose their reliable vendors (or partners in lean environment). Toyota need these vendors to operate in their just in time model. Supply chain is the main strength when it comes to operate in a JIT model. Any new comer will have to be adapted in to the lean culture over the time. This might directly impact their production.
It is interesting to see how Toyota, the legendary manufacturer is going to respond to this scenario. Their philosophy of working with few, reliable vendors are under a threat now. Will they change their concepts or will they look at this as learning and prepare for the future. Toyota and their lean manufacturing system (Toyota Production System) love challenges. We have to wait and see.

Being Religious with 5S and Standard Work

I got below article from Tuan Newlin for the “lean for your organization” contest. I was very impressed. When we talk about lean manufacturing and tools used with it like 5S we think about large factories offices etc. but we forget how much of time and effort these simple techniques can save in our day to day life. This implementation of 5S happens in a church to solve one of their day to day problems. Results are impressive. Thanks Tuan for sharing your story with us. Below is his article.

Working in children’s ministry at my church, Pine Hills Church , and seeing the waste that goes on behind the scenes made me want to act.

The areas of concern included storage, setup/breakdown procedures, and paperwork.

Our children’s ministry is held in our gym.

The storage room was filled, or at least looked filled, to capacity with who know what besides the sound, lighting and staging for our children’s program.

The procedure of setting up, tearing down and storage was different for each person and ran 60 minutes or more to set up and 45 minutes to break down.

Procedures for signing in, forms to fill out, security procedures and pick up were not documented and execution different each Sunday.

I sat down with the Youth Pastor and Coordinator and looked at the process. We came up with procedures, policies and paperwork that were thorough, flexible and clear. This led to reduced forms, consistent training, better security, and reduced floor space.

My next step was to tackle the storage area. The closet is a 20’ x 10’ room that was to be used for children’s ministry only. There were times that we could barely shut the doors after putting the equipment away.

Upon sorting, I found that it housed old props, broken toys, boxes of old costumes, and unused music equipment that were left over from when the gym was used temporarily for church service.

After 3 hours of sorting, setting in order and shinning, I set up a procedure to keep the closet maintained and created a layout of were all equipment is to be stored. I laid out a “red tag” area in one area of the closet for the youth pastor to decide disposition of the unused, broken or misc. stuff I found. I was able to free up 33% of the closet from these simple steps and should be 50% once the disposition of the “red tag” area is finished.

Lastly, the setup and teardown procedure needed organized. I asked the other helpers what are the minimal needs for setting up the audio/visual equipment? I then removed all the extra extension cords, audio wires, microphones and the like. I then made a procedure complete with a diagram of the gym. I organized the cords and cables together in a central location.

Through the application of lean principles we were able to achieve a reduction of setup time to 30 minutes (included putting up a stage), tear down of less than 20 minutes, storage room increase of 33%, an increase in training and execution proficiency, reduction in paperwork and overall consistency.

In a non-lean world

Hi after a sometime for all of lean manufacturing fans. I was watching what is happening around the world for past few weeks. Hundreds and thousands of job losses in places like City group, crashing stock markets, top automakers pleading for help and attacks in Mumbai, all are happening so fast. World is spinning in a different direction for the past few months. So being a lean thinker I couldn’t help me thinking these in lines of lean.

Open market economy is based on supply and demand and profits. Seems simple enough for me. But what is the demand and what is the supply we have to ask ourselves. Do we actually want things we bought? Or are we buying what media and marketers want? OK here is an example. Do you want a refrigerator? Of cause you do. But do you want to see flat paned LCD display with internet connection on the door of that? I don’t need it for sure. I have my laptop to connect to internet. I do not think you do either, unless media and ads forced you to do so. Here is the lesson, in an economy where the demand is the pull factor, if the demand itself is not real the entire economy will fail.

We take some critical factors of our day to day operation for granted. We think they are so obvious and we ignore them. In lean manufacturing all the steps and processes are equally important. You are looking for continuous improvement opportunities. So you are unable to take things for granted.

The next important lean lesson is that we must be flexible and highly responsive to the changing markets. If the markets are declining fast, we have to know that and we should be able to adapt to the situation fast. This will prevent organizations from sudden death since you have much more time in curing yourself.

Last learning I came through is kind of obvious. There are some factors out of your control. They might affect you bad, but you have very little options. Best you can do is to have a contingency plan.

We live in a tiny world. Your decision will affect me and my decision will affect you. In a manufacturing context you, your supplier, your customer and your surrounding all depends on each other. In lean manufacturing all of us are partners.