Helping Public-Sector Agencies to Be More Efficient and Effective

Case studies in saving taxpayer dollars with lean Six Sigma

Ryan E. Day

February 5, 2020

Lean: an employee-championed method of waste reduction. Six Sigma: a robust method of defect reduction. Embracing both methods provides organizations with multiple tools for continuous improvement. Developed for manufacturing, lean Six Sigma has now been recognized by government agencies as a practical way to realize their outcome goals.

Improving response time for client services

Expediency is always crucial to the well-being of government services clients. California’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and Washington state’s King County Treasury Operations are two organizations that were motivated to explore more efficient processes to reduce response times for client services.

The improvements these teams sought to bring about would require changes in the way things were done, but change is not always easy, and the way forward can be elusive. New ways of doing things require new methods. For organizations as large and complex as these government agencies to effect positive change, robust tools are needed.

Both organizations chose lean Six Sigma tools to accomplish their goals.

King County Treasury

The King County Treasury had an issue with overdue tax payments. Payment deadline notices were being mailed, but due to outdated information in the county system, many taxpayers weren’t receiving these notices. The resulting delinquencies translated into higher penalties for the property owners, and irate complaints to the treasury office. These were stressful situations for both client and county employees.

“Our data showed that [undelivered notices] contributed to taxpayer dissatisfaction,” says Laura Wilson, fiscal specialist with the property tax office. “Taxpayers ended up paying later and had larger delinquency fees. We knew this because we received telephone calls from our taxpayers. They wanted to know, ‘If our tax notice was returned undeliverable by the mail, why didn’t you take that extra step [of reaching out to us]?’ We heard this over and over. It was a major driver in our initiative.”

King County Treasury Operations is a group within the Financial Business Operation Division (FBOD). GoLeanSixSigma.com has provided lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt and Green Belt training specifically to FBOD employees. Their training approach focuses heavily on live time with the instructor to participate in hands-on application of the concepts. For the application portion of the training, the King County Treasury Operations chose to develop a project with a stated goal to “increase the number of notices delivered to intended taxpayers by 50 percent.”

Lean Six Sigma tools the team learned and utilized included:
• Voice of the customer (VOC)
• Suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers (SIPOC)
• Fishbone diagram
• Root cause analysis
• Solution selection matrix

The discovery process of the project revealed two uncomfortable facts: One, taxpayers who did not receive their notice letter paid an average of $409 in late fees. Some notifications were years overdue with taxpayers in danger of foreclosure—without even knowing it. And two, there was no follow-up process to ensure that returned notices would eventually reach taxpayers.

Using lean Six Sigma tools, the treasury team identified two key improvements for their tax-collection workflow. First, the revenue collections department would forward any returned mail (tax notices) to treasury. Second, treasury customer service would research returned notices, update address information in their system, reissue the notices, and track them to ensure they got delivered.

“We created standard work for a new process as well as a package of training and communication for our customer service staff,” explains Ana Shcoenecker, real property administrator for the property tax office. “We also enabled staff to conduct online research [to follow up with returned notices].”

The project resulted in an average reduction of $253 in interest and penalties paid in 2018 compared to 2016, netting a 62-percent improvement. Other benefits included taxes being paid an average 2.5 months faster than they were in 2016, and 83 percent of parcels being paid and current by November of 2018.

Of equal value in the whole equation is the reduction in angry taxpayers and stress on county employees.

“We feel like we made a big impact on the taxpayer side without adding too much burden to our employees. The fact that we [receive very few] of those frustrated phone calls anymore confirms that our project made a difference.”
—Ana Shcoenecker, real property administrator for the property tax office

California Office of Emergency Services

With a population of nearly 40 million people, California consists of 163,000+ square miles of real estate prone to earthquakes and wildfires. The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) is familiar with high volumes of relief-aid recipients, including services for victims of crime.

Providing services to crime victims in a timely manner involves an award and subaward two-step. The initial grant funding is already in place, but the last leg of the process—the subaward—must pass through approval before the recipient—the crime victim—is actually provided any funds.

The Cal OES team was unwilling to accept certain aspects of their grant subawards process; specifically, the median processing time for approval was 261 days, often resulting in the need for extensions or a total deobligation of funds. A goal was set to reduce processing time by 50 percent so that recipients are identified for funding within 130 days.

The Cal OES chose to take advantage of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) lean Six Sigma training program to kick-start their process-time reduction initiative.

Their training included the use of several trusted Six Sigma tools, including:
• Mood’s median test
• Pareto chart
• Regression analysis
• Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA)
• Analysis of variance (ANOVA)
• 5 Whys
• Customer survey

To accomplish their goals, the team identified their baseline capabilities and worked out an initial process map. Newly minted Six Sigma tools were then applied to discover process bottlenecks, determine root causes of those bottlenecks, and contrive techniques to address them.

Multiple improvement points were identified, including:
• Eliminate nonvalue-added steps from process
• Create templates for all documents within the process
• Lock RFP template to only allow necessary input
• Create checklists for all complex parts of the process
• Create shared location for all templates and checklists
• Train general staff on new procedures
• Cross-train staff to continue processing when specialist is absent
• Use stand-up meetings for simultaneous review

In true lean fashion, the project included a DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) plan in which an auditor is responsible for quarterly review of key performance indicators such as:
• Sign-in sheets for stand-up meetings
• New templates are being used
• New checklists are being used
• Personnel have been cross-trained on RFP and EFR processes
• Shared drive location for templates/checklists is maintained
• A3 form is current

The project was a thorough success and resulted in faster approval times, better customer satisfaction, and improved staff morale. Financial rewards included an estimated annual savings of more than $700,000.

Conclusion

In both cases, the methodology and tools developed to improve manufacturing processes crossed over very neatly to the public sector. Applying lean Six Sigma concepts to any organization can help to reduce waste, boost morale, and save money.

About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20-lb tabby cat at his side.

Comments

Inaccuracy in the population of California

Hi,

Very good article.

Just a minor comment: the article says "With a population of more than 3 million people". California population is many times this number.

Thank you

Eunice

Thank you for the compliment

Thank you for the compliment and fact catch Eunice. (Maybe I was thinking of the 3 million people downtown during Christmas shopping!)