Neill Public Library in Pullman improves services to patrons

May 28, 2019

Their experiences highlight Lean as a journey rather than a destination, all with the public good in mind


Pullman, WA:
Neill Public Library is a central gathering place where residents socialize, explore,
discover and connect with the world around them.

Pullman city leadership
wanted to instill a culture of process improvement by using the Lean method in
city operations. The library, meanwhile, already had started to work on
improving customer experience. Library staff weren't familiar with Lean,
though, making the library a natural place for a pilot project.

The Center for Government Innovation at the Office of the
Washington State Auditor has years of experience customizing process improvements
for local governments in Washington at no extra cost. Pullman city leaders and
the library asked the Center to assist.

Lean projects are especially effective when multiple
departments are involved, so the library focused on its material processing;
from a customer's request for an item to delivering that item. The goals of
this project were to increase staff understanding of material processing, to
build whole team knowledge of Lean to support future projects, and to shorten the
overall materials process. The Lean Project team was comprised of front-line
staff because they have hands-on expertise. Together with a Lean expert from
the Center, the team met for five business days to create a process map
detailing every step, from the request for an item to the availability of the
item to patrons. By building the cross-department process map, the team was
able to identify redundancies and propose solutions.

Some “easy wins” were identified that could be implemented
right away. A form called “the red tag” was just such an example. The tag is a
small red sheet of paper used by library staff to know which materials on back
shelves were specifically requested and had a due date versus other materials
that were simply additions to the library's collection. The team made several
changes to the red tag: they organized the list, made it more complete, and
eliminated some information on the tag which allowed them to shrink the tag's
physical size. They also decided not to reuse the tags, which eliminated some confusion
incurred by staff when they reprocessed the tags for another use. Everyone on
the Lean Team needed to use the red tag for their job, and everyone wanted
something changed about it. Each member of the group ended up happy with the changes
made to the red tag. Additionally, the team began using a white board to post
the arrival date of large materials shipments so staff could better anticipate
and manage workflow. Both changes decreased employee stress and resulted in
better overall time management.

The Lean Project team considered a wide range of possibilities
to improve their process, then worked with library management to try out the ideas.
While not every idea was a success, staff said they found their first Lean experience
to be very valuable. Increased knowledge of other departments' processes
informed their own processes. Ultimately the project team was able to decrease
the materials processing time from sometimes a month or more to two weeks or
less. Staff felt empowered to take calculated risks, fail without the risk of
punishment, and implement useful change. They learned new skills for Leaning
their individual jobs, and management at the Neill Public Library said operations
in general are more efficient thanks to the valuable skills staff learned from
the Center.

Neill Public Library isn't slowing down now that they've improved
a process using Lean — if anything, their success has energized them and opened
up a world of possibility for how to expand their organizational capacity to further
improve their service. Library staff said they remain committed to innovation
through iteration to make their library the best that it can be for the
residents of Pullman.