City of Novi Community Development Department: Reinventing Process & Operations in a Redesigned Environment

ARTICLE | Apr 12, 2016

The City of Novi has steadily gained in population since its incorporation in 1969. The 2015-estimated population of nearly 60,000 represents a 7.2% increase since the 2010 census. As with any growth, this brings challenges. One such challenge for the City of Novi was the efficiency and functionality of the space the Community Development Department occupies at the Civic Center.

Since opening in 1987, the Community Development offices had only limited cosmetic updates to meet increasing work and staffing demands warranted by population and commercial/industrial growth. There were multiple discussions over several years amongst administrative employees on how to improve and enhance delivery of services. Suggestions ranged from workflow adjustments, reassignments, hiring additional staff, to renovating the space. After careful consideration, the result was to undertake a complete renovation of the department, from process to functionality.

The Community Development Department consists of 23 full-time employees under the disciplines of Planning, Building, Code Assistance, and Clerical support. The Community Development Department is extremely busy with a wide range of functions from direct contacts with developers, architects, engineers, consultants, trade workers, business owners, to residents requesting a permit for a deck installation or inspection, to reporting an ordinance violation. In 2015 alone, the Community Development Department completed 102 new or revised site plan approvals and issued 743 permits for single-family alternations or new homes. The 3,700 square foot renovation was a large project to undertake.

Where to begin?

To get a perspective of what floor plan designs were being utilized in new and innovative ways, a team of employees visited several businesses in southeast Michigan to see first-hand examples of space organization. The site visits generated enthusiastic discussions on the creative use of space and the manner in which an open and modern environment might be created. The initial step was to identify the scope of the project and its cost. The concept of renovating the Community Development Department for maximum workflow efficiency, sustained customer service delivery, and creating an environment conducive to collaboration was taking shape. Near the end of the process, administration engaged its Architectural Consultant to finalize a design plan and provide bid cost estimates.

The final design is an open, natural light-filled plan with easy flow and connectivity between work areas. It further consists of an employee break room, common space, use of recyclable carpeting, LED lighting, enhanced technology, and a white noise element. The design has collaboration and openness fully in mind, creating synergy between people and space, and brings employees out of a private, cubicle-enclosed setting, into an inviting, dynamic, and active environment.

The project was broken down into the following areas:

  • Relook at workflow and technology impacts on all disciplines
  • Finalize design floor plan and secure funding
  • Purge or retain documents for future scanning
  • Award contract for demolition and furniture & fixture replacement
  • Temporary relocation of employees
  • Demolition
  • Construction
  • Installation of furniture & fixtures
  • Move into renovated space.

 

An early challenge was the lack of appropriate funding.  However, City Council was supportive of the project and worked over a year to allocate initial funding to make this capital improvement a reality.  Once these funds were secured, the Project Team held multiple open dialogue sessions with employees to hear concerns, suggestions, discuss workflow, process improvement ideas, demonstrate technology solutions, as well as gather input on furniture styles and colors.

Impending change is often paired with the uncertainty of the unknown. For example, early on we realized it would be the responsibility of administration to adequately communicate to frontline employees the benefits of the open design, and subsequently address any of their concerns. The effect of the new design will not only change how employees interact with the public, but also how they communicate with each other—fundamentally changing the workplace culture.

The City of Novi Community Development Department is leading the way implementing an open floor plan and allowing for more collaboration space and better use of technology. As part of the renovation, the counter physically separating frontline customer service representatives from the public was removed and replaced with a modern glass wall entry, which is much more welcoming. This entry provides the public access to a reception-style area where they consult with a customer service representative at their workstation or can be seated in a comfortable setting until the next representative is available. With any change, there are challenges to “the way we have always done it.” Removing the four-foot barrier between the City customer service representatives and our customers was such a hurdle. Even before the renovation started, our team went through training which focused on tools such as defusing potential escalating situations. 

One significant area of improvement was in the area of technology. In preparation for a new document management phase, employees immediately began the task of reviewing hard copy documents.  The retention review will have a positive impact on the scale and cost of the document management phase.  The document management phase will also allow for digital submission of plans, provide the ability to instantly share, as well as eliminate the need for multiple hard copies. Plans can be displayed on large monitors in multiple designated collaboration areas for easy viewing between staff or in partnership with consultants. Finally, in the atrium area just outside the department a touchscreen kiosk was installed, providing another layer of enhanced customer service for those wishing to electronically schedule an inspection or to apply for a permit.

The Community Development Department employees were re-located within the Civic Center to provide uninterrupted service to customers.  A high degree of coordination was required to move the staff, desks, phones, and computers.  The relocation lasted approximately seven weeks during renovation. The finished product is a state-of-the-art space (as shown in the before and after photos).

Our advice to a municipality interested in undergoing a similar transformation is simple: keep your employees fully engaged in the process.  We made every effort to hear concerns and comments, and as early in the process as possible. Any change of this magnitude will always include uncertainty within the organization, which, if ignored, can create an environment for distrust and ultimately resistance to change.  Going the extra mile in listening to employees, and actually taking action to resolve concerns will greatly pay off in the end. Our final design is not only a product based on the input of professional consultants, but our employees as well. 

The multidiscipline Project Team consisted of Charles Boulard, Community Development Director, (cboulard@cityofnovi.org), Brandon McCullough, Facilities Management Manager, (bmccullough@cityofnovi.org), and Robert Petty, Chief Information Officer, (rpetty@cityofnovi.org).  The Project Team expanded and contracted as we leveraged the talents within our organization.  Multiple departments contributed to the overall success of the project. 

If you have any questions about the process review/improvements, design or construction phases please feel free to reach out to any member of the Project Team.  For all other inquires please contact Victor Cardenas, Assistant City Manager, (vcardenas@cityofnovi.org).

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