A well-balanced, full-bodied Lean success in Washington wine country: process improvement success at Walla Walla Treasurer’s Office

Nov 13, 2018

Small governments, big focus

The Performance Center's years of working with local governments all across Washington has given the Center an unprecedented understanding of the needs of local governments. Our targeted, customized approach to process improvement work not only helps local governments succeed in their chosen process, but gives them the depth of understanding they need to foster a Lean culture within. The work we did with the Walla Walla Treasurer's Office outlines this kind of specialized assistance that makes the Center's approach unique and effective.

The back story

County Treasurer Gordon Heimbigner was interested in making his office work more efficiently. Some of the processes they had, such as using manually created spreadsheets for journal entry and reporting, were time-intensive and cumbersome to the staff. Heimbigner (a former State Auditor's Office employee) learned of the Lean services offered through the Performance Center through State Treasurer Duane Davidson, who encouraged him to contact the Performance Center to help facilitate the Lean process improvements and culture changes needed in Walla Walla.

The five-person team at the Walla Walla County Treasurer's Office was open to change, and were already brainstorming creative ways to accommodate their increasing workload without extra help. They were excited at the prospect of getting expert help in making their workday run more smoothly and efficiently.

The work begins

Performance Center Lean Specialist Debra Hentz began her work with the County Treasurer by leading the group through a day of foundational Lean training, designed to give everyone a basic understanding and tools they would need to create success. From there, using the Performance Center's model of customized process improvement services, Hentz determined the County Treasurer's Office would most benefit from a three-day kaizen (or process improvement) event. Part of this customized approach and setting the foundation for success was to bring in other experts from the Performance Center, including a former auditor/financial management expert. This made sure the process improvements made would be in compliance with requirements as well as best practices in internal control principles.

The kaizen was aimed at mapping the County Treasurer's Office cash receipting and journal entry processes to determine if they could be made more accurate or simple through the use of computer software rather than hand-created spreadsheets. Heimbigner hoped the kaizen would teach and empower his staff to use their new Lean skills in many different ways in their jobs.

Eye-opening revelations

The kaizen event revealed many areas that would improve efficiency. Staff realized they were collecting and recording more information than they needed. They also identified the opportunity to collaborate with and train other County departments on how to accurately enter information into the computer software system, which would free up Treasurer's Office staff to better assist with more complex questions or issues.

Putting it all together

Mapping it out as a team gave the treasurer's office some impressive results. What was once an 11-step process done by a single staff member was reduced to four steps. This freed up considerable time and helped ease the burden on the small staff. Through the collaboration and training with other County departments on recording their own data into the computer system, the kaizen was able to dramatically reduce the number of “human errors” which bogged down the process, resulting in employee-reported increased job satisfaction and positive working relationships for all involved. Office employees embraced a culture of process improvement, and now seek out opportunities to improve their everyday work environments.

Making a lasting change

Taking three days out of an already very busy workplace can seem scary; people ask “can we 'afford‘ to take this time?” But what people are really asking is:

  • Will there be meaningful change?
  • Will we waste our time just to have things go back to the old way, or maybe even a worse way?

The professionals at the Performance Center understand these concerns, and want to design a process improvement event around you and your unique needs. We are experts in helping local governments in Washington improve the way they work — from the operations they perform to the culture in the office environment. If you are interested in learning more about how the Performance Center can help you take the next step in creating a better government, email us at performance@sao.wa.gov or call us at 360-725-5621.