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State Office Aims to Cut Inefficiencies, Streamline Systems

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A handful of people say they’re helping the state of Ohio save more than $150 million a year by eliminating inefficiency. As Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, this group says it’s become part of a bigger movement in Ohio.

Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm

There’s a small office within the Ohio Department of Administrative Services known as LeanOhio. Its mission is to seek inefficiencies and waste within other departments in order to create a more effective, error-free system.

LeanOhio may not be making headlines on the daily, but ask any of the nine employees in the office and they’ll enthusiastically explain how they feel their methods are drastically improving state government.

You’ll hear terms like Six Sigma, Lean and Kaizen -- which are all schools of thought when it comes to streamlining and improving workflow.

Steve Wall is deputy director of DAS and oversees LeanOhio. As he explains it, a department such as transportation or taxation will request a week-long session where consultants will break down every aspect of the employees’ daily responsibilities or a certain procedure.

“It usually takes an entire wall or two just to lay out the entire process with Post-it notes," Wall said. "From where it has to backtrack to where it needs different levels of authorization to all the different things that have to get done and all the people who have to do it.”

By the time the LeanOhio team breaks down the process, these walls are plastered with different notes and lines connecting all the ideas to symbolize the flow of it all. Then they go to work to eliminate unneeded repetition and other steps.

As Wall explains, there can be a level of uncertainty at the beginning of the process where employees might be defensive about the current way things are done.

“We also work really hard to say ‘Look, folks, this is about fixing processes, not about fixing blame,’” Wall said.

That defensive attitude can also stem from fear that someone might be laid off.

“When you make a process that is more efficient—it doesn’t take as long and it doesn’t take as many people," Wall said. "And so we have ground rules right off the bat that say no one is going to lose their job but your jobs could change significantly.”

The Kaizen session might result in eliminating certain levels of authorization and duplicative forms, creating, according to Wall, a leaner system in the end.

For example, LeanOhio has been involved with coming up with a new application process for law enforcement offices. It’s resulted in more recruits are getting through the system faster.

It’s not just about improving efficiency. As Wall explains, it saves money -- a lot of money. According to LeanOhio data, the office saves about $157 million a year.

The General Assembly has thrown its support behind the idea and created a grant program so local government entities could also learn Six Sigma Lean techniques.

Racquel Graham is a systems improvement consultant who helps conduct these programs on the local level. She says this outreach can help cities and school boards avoid tough decisions like cuts and levies.

“If we can help them to be more efficient—absolutely—that’s part of the design is we all have to get smarter, including local government," Graham said. "And be and operate in a more efficient manner.”

With workplaces becoming more and more high tech, the world seems to be moving at a more frantic pace. Bill Demidovich, senior systems improvement consultant, acknowledges a culture change where people are trying to find ways of simplifying their lives and work.

“I’ve seen a shift just for over just the last year in particular with agencies who are really thinking through how do we become more effective and efficient," Demidovich said. "And we’re getting more and more requests for strategic planning, folks thinking about how we should be aligned, what is causing us the most angst so that we can streamline our operations and simplify them.”

Wall adds that the workplace is an ever-changing environment. When an employee reaches a certain level of normalcy in a routine, Wall suggests that’s the time to reevaluate and find ways to once again improve the system.

More than a dozen other states have similar programs but Ohio is the only state to include local governments in their scope.

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