We are nearing the completion of the first full year of our Lean Government initiative. I recently completed the accounting of our first three quarters of savings. At a glance, here are the key numbers:
We saved more than 17,000 hours of staff time annualized.
Four full-time positions have become vacant. Instead of filling the positions we eliminated the need and left them vacant.
We saved the equivalent of four other full-time positions. Since we are not laying people off, they are now focusing on duties that add value to the customer.
We have a budgetary savings of $247,000 annualized. $163,000 of the savings comes from the elimination of the full-time positions, and reduction in part-time hours. $84,000 of savings is due to not spending as much on material or equipment
What's Lean all about?
Lean is about identifying and reducing waste, by thinking about how we do our jobs while focusing on the customer's needs and eliminating waste. It is about many, small improvements that lead to an overall significant change for the better on how we operate. It is about using the intuition and common sense of the people who do the job to find ways to do it better.
We will become the top-ranked municipal government in Iowa by consistently delivering user-friendly, high quality services:
Within budget constraints.
To pleasantly surprised citizens.
By proud employees working in a great environment.
Why being and thinking Lean is so important now
The city of Fort Dodge is faced with a difficult challenge - operating expenses are growing faster than revenues. This trend has existed for many years and it is due mainly to artificially reduced tax values produced by the "roll back." My point is that the city's financial condition is structural and permanent unless something significant changes. It is not due to the recent economic downturn.
I don't want to sound too alarming. We are not in a financial crisis, and the city's overall financial condition is fairly strong as evidenced by the recent upgrade of our credit rating. However, we need to change our spending ways to maintain our strength. That's why we emphasize budget in our vision statement.
We also emphasize the citizen-customer in our vision. While we reduce costs, we will improve the service we provide our customers. As Fort Dodge competes globally for jobs, we need to make sure we are providing the best possible services to try to attract the jobs.
Our employees are also a very important part of our vision. Lean improvements won't be borne on the backs of our employees. Their intelligence and common sense is what will make us succeed. I recently had a meeting with a small group of employees who are our leaders in finding and implementing Lean improvements. They explained to me that the main reason they have led the way is because it has made their jobs better.
Do you know your city fills potholes within 1.13 days of receiving a request? I bet no other city in Iowa can claim that level of response. I bet few cities even track such data. We created a computerized tracking system for pot hole requests. Customers can now go online to www.fortdodgeiowa.org to report a pot hole. The request is then routed electronically to the Public Works Department. The person completing the request will receive a confirmation e-mail, and another e-mail when the pothole is filled. Citizens can still call in the request. The person answering the phone for the city will then enter it in the online tracking system. The online Action Center provides two key improvements. First, it allows customers to make requests 24/7 online. Second it channels the communication instantly and directly to the city employee responsible for getting the pot hole fixed, thus reducing response time.
City staff also improved the pot hole patching process. Now, there are not a whole lot of process improvements directly related to the act of filling a pot hole. It is fairly basic. You scoop the fill material out of the back of the truck. Put it in the hole. Then tamp it down. However, there are many less visible steps in the process where we were able to cut time out of the process. For example, the guys in Public Works created a hot box that rides on the back of the truck and uses exhaust to keep the material warm. Why? Because warm material is much easier to handle than cold material. Also, during busy pot hole filling periods, the guys break up into teams that focus on specific areas of town. This way they don't waste too much time driving around.
Continuing our focus on streets, we also improved our process of concrete patching through Lean techniques. We created a new method for replacing a concrete panel that is more efficient and "assembly line" like. Historically, we assigned a large group to a single project. Since only a couple steps require a lot of workers, this resulted in guys waiting around during the steps that require fewer workers.
Now, we schedule workers by process step so that we can optimize staffing for that particular step. Once that step is completed, the team can immediately move on to wherever they're needed next, thus eliminated is much of the waiting waste. We believe we can double the amount of concrete we can replace in a season with the same amount of staff time. We are off to a good start already this season.
Customer-oriented police services
We found that when we really focus our process on what the customer needs we can develop a service that is faster and less expensive. Seems basic, I know, but government has a tendency to get focused on rules, procedures and traditions, not the customer. There were a few services in which the Police Department completed a full paper report for someone who had a minor property damage or loss. The purpose of the report was solely to verify the loss for insurance purposes. We found that all the customer really needs is confirmation that they reported the loss. Under the old system, the customer came to the station, the officer completed a report, then the customer waited until the next day to get the written report, and we charged them $10. (We had about $60 worth of staff time in this process.) Now when the customer calls into Dispatch, the dispatcher takes the information (making it a permanent record in our computer data base) and provides the customer with a CAD Number to reference the report. The Cad Number is sufficient for their insurance recovery needs. So, we went from a service that took about a day and cost the customer $10, to a service that is instant and free.
Online processing of
Our Engineering Department implemented an online permitting process. The new process takes a contractor about 25 percent of the time to get a permit, and has eliminated 75 percent of the steps. There are improvements to quality in that all data is complete, traffic control is in place and license and insurance information is accurate. This also saves gas, paper, motion and waiting time. Again we focused on what the customer wants. In this case the contractor wants less time and hassle to get a permit so they spend more time on the jobs that make them money.
Online parks registration
The online registration option for Parks and Recreation summer activities reduced walk-in traffic for the mass registration by 90 percent. We needed fewer part-time employees to help with registration saving the city money. Customers no longer have to burn their gas to waste their time standing in line on a Saturday morning. They don't have to wait for normal office hours. They can do it from home or work online 24/7.
We have many other Lean improvements that I could highlight individually, but I don't have space. In summary, we have a positive start to our Lean journey. We have made permanent changes in the way we do things that will save our customers about a quarter of a million dollars annually.
We have a long way to go. In fact a Lean journey is never complete. We are changing the culture of the organization and that is as meaningful as the budgetary savings are at this point in the journey. For example, we are now measuring our outcomes to make sure we continue to improve efficiency. We focus our decisions on what the customer wants, not traditions and procedures. We try to get as many employees as possible to participate in improvement decisions because we realize that every employee can help us improve.
I look forward to sharing the results of the next leg of our journey with you.
David Fierke is city manager of Fort Dodge.