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.