PIEworks: Process Improvement, Innovation & Engagement

An internal innovation team consisting of cross-functional staff dedicated to improving how the City

ARTICLE | Apr 22, 2019
by Kyle Kridler, Economic Development Administrator for the City of Dublin, OH

“The only thing that is constant is change.”

We’ve all probably heard this quote a thousand times, but I’ll be the first to admit that I had no idea of its origin.  My initial guess was that perhaps a more contemporary business leader like Drucker or Jobs penned this line. Then after five seconds of pondering, I did what anyone under the age of 90 does and entered these words into Google and my answer appeared.  Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 500 BCE).  I was WAY off.

This brief exercise brought to light a couple of thoughts.  First, change is not a novel idea (see 500 BCE).  It must have always caused mankind angst otherwise Heraclitus’ words would not have withstood the test of time. Second, the fact that by entering seven words into a search engine on my iPhone resulted in the exact piece of information that I requested further upheld this idea.  What would have taken a healthy amount of time and effort not so long ago, is today solved with a few keystrokes.  The world is changing, what some would argue, at an exponential rate.  Which begs the question, how can organizations overcome the resistance to change and furthermore, encourage it?

Exploring LEAN & Process Improvement

Back in 2016, the State of Ohio began a program called LeanOhio.  Under Governor Kasich’s administration, there was a push to eliminate waste from government and rethink existing processes.  As a part of this program, public employees from around the State could leverage the Local Government Innovation Fund to partake in a weeklong course known as LEAN Ohio Bootcamp.  During this five-day course, students learned the basics of Lean such as SIPOC, Pareto Principle, 5S, Poke-Yoka, Process Mapping and more.  The City of Dublin found value in this training and hosted an event at a local venue with 13 additional staff members to learn the fundamentals of Lean.

With these newly acquired concepts, unlike other trainings, it was time to put the learned skills into practice.  The City hired Tracy Owens of 3 Point Consulting, who had led the LeanOhio Bootcamp for Dublin employees, to tackle the Building Permit Review process.  For organizations looking for a good place to start, I would highly recommend evaluating this process first.  Through our first ever kaizen event (Japanese phrase meaning “change for better”) Tracy and Dublin staff evaluated the current building permit review process and ultimately agreed to an improved process.  For those who have been a part of a kaizen event, you’d know that it requires an investment of time and employee resources to pull off.  This particular undertaking involved 18 staff members and six outside customers familiar with our permitting process.  Over two full work days, with a week in between, the group defined critical success factors, mapped the current process, updated intake processes, retooled forms, created morning scrum/triage meetings and agreed to the newly created process.  Having this many people in a room walking through each step in a complex process can be painstaking, especially with Engineers (sorry, I had to).  But the results spoke for themselves and having a Director of Building Standards that was completely bought into the new way of conducting the review process made it a success.

Investing in Staff

After the team was able to “get a run on the board”, interest grew to begin evaluating what other processes around the organization could use evaluation.  At the same time, City Leadership had expressed interest in building expertise among staff in alignment with our Strategic Focus Area of being a Smart-Customer Focused Government.  Which means that “the City is a high-performing organization that is accountable and responsive to the needs and desires of the community and continuously improving on its best-in-class services”.  Through the direction of the City Manager’s Office, applications were submitted and seven employees were selected to begin training toward Six Sigma Black Belt certification.  As a part of this undertaking, the City brought on Tracy in a contractual capacity to lead the training and mentor these future “process ninjas” in an effort to lead their own projects throughout the organization.

PIEworks and Improvement Culture

After an “enjoyable” four hour exam, these newly christened Black Belts were ready to begin facilitating process improvement projects back in the organization.  What started as the Dublin Black Belts evolved into what is known today as PIEworks.  PIEworks would be a better representation of the mission of this group which focuses on Process improvement, Innovation and Engagement.  It also didn’t hurt that the team often bonded over pizza.

Members of PIEworks meet on a monthly basis to discuss current projects, potential projects, continue training and discuss ways to overcome challenges.  Each PIEworker must lead at minimum two projects or facilitations each year per the team’s charter.

Since the first cohort of Six Sigma Black Belts, the City has graduated two additional Black Belts and another seven employees that are currently undergoing the training.  In addition to the Black Belt certified employees, Dublin has trained 10 Six Sigma Green Belts and 30 Yellow Belt staff members. 

Always focused on building team skills, recently PIEworkers completed a 2-day ToP Facilitation Course to aid in their engagement efforts.  In 2019, the team will continue to build on their process improvement, innovation and engagement skills with additional training and development specific to each of those three areas.

The idea is to create an organization-wide culture that encourages process improvement and has the foundational knowledge and tools to facilitate such changes.  It’s been a great experience seeing the results of staff coming together to rethink processes and programs throughout the City.

For more information, contact Kyle Kridler, Economic Development Administrator for City of Dublin, Ohio, at kkridler@dublin.oh.us or 614-410-4429.

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