How the waste was gone – Web exclusive from Industrial Engineer magazine

In the February 2015 of Industrial Engineer magazine, the Case Study article looks at lean Six Sigma applications undertaken by the city government in Houston, Texas. Below is a list of project summaries about many of the city of Houston’s completed lean Six Sigma projects.

Completed projects

Houston Permitting Center: Eliminated over 140 hours of wasted time per month in the cashiering office at the Houston Permitting Center by removing unnecessary requirements in the cash tender process, creating standard work and implementing 5S.

Houston Permitting Center: Increased new and renewal fire alarm permit volume by 49% through tougher compliance and improved mailing and invoicing process. Reduced processing time by 86 percent.

Administrative and Regulatory Affairs: Reduced overall cycle time for ARA commercial permitting by half while simultaneously increasing permit volume by identifying non-compliant businesses. Set up a kanban system for permit processing, automated work assignment and used visual controls to manage workflow.

Administrative and Regulatory Affairs: Used Lean Six Sigma design techniques to reorganize the taxi cab permitting process reducing end-to-end cycle time from a month to 5 days on average.

Municipal Courts: Increased court collections rates by over 10 percent, a net annual increase of more than $1 million through better compliance reporting and payment processes. Began tracking performance of internal collections agents and required customers on deferred payment options to go through a more formal application process and provide a higher down-payment amount. Installed court kiosks for easy payment, reducing the queue at peak times.

Health and Human Services: Increased pollution complaint response capacity; Team assigned geographical areas and optimized routing, eliminated wasteful paperwork for investigators, and created standard work for investigation reports increasing their capacity to accept and respond to complaints.

Finance: Closed over 100 legacy grants valued at more than $173 million and created a future-state process to close grants upon completion resulting in more accurate financials.

Fleet Management Department: Improved Fleet’s receiving process, reducing processing time from 110 days on average to less than three days, improving customer relations and internal controls, and resulting in the reassignment of four FTEs. Estimated savings = $260,000

Fleet Management Department: Automated Fleet’s internal control process for NAPA invoices resulting in the reassignment of 3 FTEs to other functions. Estimated savings = $195,000 per annum foregoing additional FTEs.

Mayor’s Office: The Mayor’s Correspondence Office and 311 systems group redesigned the Lagan report for MYR-type Service Requests. Estimated time savings = 0.5 days per month from automating the report.

Current Projects

Human Resources: A Green Belt team is working with the Human Resources department to reduce the average time to hire from 60 days to four weeks or less. By using Lean and Six Sigma methodologies the team intends to eliminate waste, streamline sub-processes and export best practices to client departments.

Houston Permitting Center: A Green Belt team is improving the overall efficiency, and establishing a formalized customer service check-in process on floors 1-4 at the Houston Permitting Center (HPC) in order to reduce average customer wait time by 10 percent to 15 percent. So far, the team has implemented electronic plan review calendars, made ergonomic improvements to the building layout and standardized storage/presentation/location of documents required by City for various permitting processes.

Finance: A Green Belt team is looking at the time to fully onboard new-hires or re-hires in Finance. In the past, onboarding has taken anywhere between 8-24 days. This has translated into increased wait times and underutilized human talent. For this project, fully on boarded has been defined as having access to all software/hardware necessary to perform one’s job functions successfully. This project has two phases the first, is in-processing. The team will be mapping the current in-processing process, identifying waste and making necessary improvements. The second phase will be looking at a new-hire or re-hire’s first day of work to ensure productivity on day one. This includes software/hardware, parking access, badging/security access, and a new employee guidebook to outline general information, trainings and forms that need to be submitted within the next 30 days.

Finance: A project team developed an Executive Insight Reporting system intended to provide city Executive with insight into cost savings opportunities. The report tracks cell phones with no-use or overages, printing costs at a machine-level, position vacancies that could be eliminated or consolidated, missed early payment discounts, and non-standard IT equipment purchases just to name a few. In the first two months, action taken from this report has generated more than $280,000 in annual savings and we’re targeting $5 million in savings by fiscal year-end.

Administrative and Regulatory Affairs: A Green Belt Team working within Administrative and Regulatory Affairs Parking Management on new hire Parking Compliance Officer (PCO) training. It is currently taking an average of 45 days for new hire PCO’s to complete training and begin working independently. The Green Belt Team is looking at ways to streamline training leveraging current technologies (LMS).

Administrative and Regulatory Affiars: The Asset Disposition Office collects and auctions end-of-life property for the City, such as: fleet vehicles, surplus property, and scrap metal. However, the process for submitting end-of-life surplus property is unknown, or survives through institutional knowledge. Performance Improvement has partnered with Asset Disposition to increase knowledge about the process, streamline the collection process, and realize increased revenue through auction.

General Services: The General Services Department currently maintains a program through which departments and divisions can request minor commercial alterations for their office space. The Minor Projects Office has recently merged several groups under its authority, and this merger has created some confusion over what role each group will play in the CRTI process. Performance Improvement has partnered with Minor Projects to help refine Standard Operating Procedures within the division and identify potential cost savings where appropriate.

Solid Waste: The Westpark Consumer Recycling Center is a drive-through facility where 11,000 citizens drop off their recyclables each month. The Westpark facility recently witnessed a tremendous increase in the volume of material processed due to the closings of the Center Street and West University Recycling Centers. Wait lines for vehicles stretch down Westpark Drive and this has the potential to be a traffic problem in the near future. Performance Improvement has partnered with Solid Waste Management to conduct a time-motion study of the recycling process and reduce throughput times.

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The Human Scale of IT

The documentary “The Human Scale” included an interesting tidbit: Building roads can lead to more car traffic, but the converse was true – adding pedestrian space leads to more pedestrians in place of cars. The fact remained that people will go the most convenient route available, preferring the simplest, fastest and most social solutions.

How do the lessons of architectural design and civil planning for humans relate to IT?

• People will follow current paths and processes and fight to retain them, because they are familiar, unless they see a significant improvement in performance or service.
• Tech support needs to be socially supportive, not just technically adept. Your customer service satisfactions will improve if you include courtesy, compassion, consideration and kindness with IT services.
• Always map your existing flows before you try to design new ones; you’ll risk destroying the common spaces and working processes if you blindly bulldoze the functional but less than ideal in the pursuit of perfection.
• Humans will reach out to other humans for help before they’re rely on an AI, unless the AI does it right and quickly.
• Flustered users will prefer to talk to a sympathetic and helpful human, and they’ll love the option to call someone directly once they discover such a route, regardless of formal process.
• Nostalgia for the way it used to be will remain years after you make the change.
• If you change the layout without giving users a map, they will hate it.
• If you create traffic jams (insufficient support during rollouts, insufficient ways to reach tech support when problems arise), you’ll generate disdain – and people driving on the sidewalks to get around the traffic jam.
• If you create a new route that proves popular, you’ll face resistance to removing it even if it was intended to be temporary.
• Casual and intermittent contacts are what lead to the creation of friendships and social connections in the real world, and they are what lead to significant innovation and knowledge transfer in the professional and online worlds. Facilitate knowledge transfer and interaction through your online forums, data repositories and so forth as much as possible.
• Heavily used paths are the most important ones to maintain, even if they aren’t as glamorous as the perfect process or those used by the elite users.
• Don’t make major changes to communication routes, networks and other systems without consulting with your users unless the alternative is a total shut down, which you know they’ll hate. For example, many developing nations are pushing development of roads and cars, ignoring the fact that many people use bikes and rickshaws; then they complain about traffic congestion and ignore the needs of those left behind because they can’t travel across 8 lane highways safely.
• Develop multi-use platforms where you can easily support many people instead of federated systems that fragment data and complicate support.

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ESTIEM Vision Grenoble & Lyon – “Food Markets”

Dear readers,

The next Vision in the series ‘food from Soil to Shelf’ took place in Lyon and Grenoble. The topic of this seminar was ‘Food markets’, with as focus points local markets and labelisation.

On arrival day, we had a city tour in Grenoble and got to enjoy this lovely city that feels more like a village. We got to know each other and started the week of easy.

The first working day was Monday, where we had an interesting conference organised for all students in Grenoble and the ESTIEMers. The topics ranged from labelisation research, pooling strategies, all the way to the stimulation of local food markets. After that, we had a round-table, where we were allowed to ask all sorts of questions, mainly focused on the interaction between the very different field we had seen (the topics were provided by researchers, companies and government, so there were a lot of different perspectives).

The round table

Tuesday was the day in the theme of research. We got a lecture from an Italian researcher who is currently doing work on labelisation, with as big picture question: How do we feed the population in a sustainable way. It turns out that labelisation can actually be part of the solution! In the afternoon, we participated in a workshop about the research. In this way, we did not only learn a lot about the topic of labelisation and the effects it has on consumer decisions, but also about how research is being conducted.

The workshop

Wednesday started off with a very interesting lecture by the director of the ‘Min’ of Lyon. The Min facilitates the relationship between local agricultural supplier and supermarkets, this stimulates the local market. After this, we went hiking to the Bastille. This building is located on the mountain next to Grenoble, the walk there was very interesting. Of course, walking with ESTIEMers is always fun and I can guarantee that we sang a lot of songs on the way (climbing sunshine mountain). The part of the event in Grenoble was closed off with a laser gaming session in the evening. Even though my team didn’t do so well, we had a blast!

The view from the Bastille

On Thursday, we travelled from Grenoble to Lyon. After the train ride of a little over 1 hour, we arrived safely and started to enjoy the city. There was no academic part planned this day because Lyon is a huge city and we got the opportunity to really see it and enjoy a long city tour. Aside from the city tour, we also had a nice French crash course, where we learned some basics of the French language. For dinner we had a fête de crêpe (pancake party).

Another very educational day was waiting for us in the form of Friday. We started by playing a supply chain management game called the ‘beer game’. This game taught us about the bullwhip effect and all the causes and implications. Then we went to the Leclerc warehouse for a company visit. We had lectures about the company, its structure and many other topics. Then we went into the warehouse, were we received a tour with explanations about all the processes. The best part was that we could ask as many questions as we could think of, this way we were really able to learn everything that we wanted.

The beer game

Even though it was very cold, we went out to the park on Saturday to have a game session. During this session, we got enigmas (riddles) that led us to the next location, where we got the next enigma, kind of like in ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Again, my group didn’t do so well (I’m starting to wonder why), but we had loads of fun running around trying to solve the questions. After this, we had to warm up a bit during lunch at the university, after which we got a oenology (wine-tasting) lesson. In just a few hours we became experts in tasting fancy wines and matching them with the proper food. This was perfect since we had the gala dinner right after.

The gala dinner

During the evenings throughout the whole week we had some fun activities. We’ve seen bars, clubs, and lots of kebab places in both Grenoble and Lyon. We also had some other evening activities like the international night, where we got to taste each other’s local foods and drinks. At the end of the week, there was la fête de la lumières in Lyon. During this annual light festival, the whole city is lit up by several projects. Walking around the city will provide you views of beautiful lightshows, enormous discoballs, and much more; a very unique experience for all the participants.

La fête de la lumières

On Sunday it was time to leave. Sad about the departure, but incredibly satisfied with the week, I went home and took some time to recover from Vision Food Markets.

Sebastian Hummel, Eindhoven

You need Vision to see!

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New Year’s Resolutions for a System Administrator

Here is a list of resolutions that many system administrators should put on their personal and professional New Year’s resolutions.

Document Everything that Needs to Be, But Not Much More

There should never be a question as to which user group someone goes into or the proper process for doing something routine or essential. Document everything that is routinely done and those actions that are critical to business operations, such as user audits, deactivating system administrators upon retirement and handling exceptions on the security logs.
Conversely, you probably don’t need to document all the details in the status meetings that endlessly hash the same project ideas.

Maintain Everything that Needs to Be

Maintain the documentation you create or it becomes almost as bad as a lack of documentation. However, maintenance as a responsibility extends to hardware and software as well.

Stay Informed within Informed Limits

Find the balance between updates and overload. Constant notices and pop-ups interfere with productivity and drain users emotionally. Don’t give someone a notice unless they really need to know. Likewise, system administrators need to know about potential security breaches, major system upgrades schedules and admin level tasks. However, they don’t need a notice of every document that has been changed.
Another version of this is maintaining the 10,000 foot view level of potential changes until it actually approaches affecting your work. For example, knowing that Apple has rolled out Swift to replace Objective C is useful for iOS developers, and it allows them to plan to integrate Swift into future software development projects and eventually learn it. However, they don’t need to follow the twists and turns of the evolution of the language until it is solidified sufficiently for someone to learn it without seeing that knowledge obsoleted by the next version of the language.

Focus on Finishing Projects

Too many work groups end up with too many irons in the fire because they start projects before finishing the prior ones. Unless you’ve found a security threat like Shellshock or active hacker controlled malware on your network, focus on finishing some of the project’s you’ve been working on. This may be software upgrades, security changes, configuration documentation or a dozen other things. Focus on finishing these projects before you start the next one. What if you can’t get it finished in a reasonable amount of time or may never finish it? Learn to let go of the project, with a quick tie up and documentation of what didn’t go right for later lessons learned discussions. If nothing else, you’ll free up ten minutes at every other status meeting for the rest of the year because you won’t have to argue about why it isn’t done yet. And you’ll free up time and resources to work on actual priorities.