A Look Behind Arvada’s Process Improvement Plan
Read how the City of Arvada successfully implemented major process improvements, changing actions and mindsets, in less than three years.
Many local governments use process improvement programs to effectively implement meaningful change. These programs aren’t easy to do, but are incredibly worthwhile. To learn more about how a city might tackle process improvement, we sat down with the City of Arvada to ask about their experiences.
Arvada has been engaged in a Journey to Excellence performance improvement program since 2013, which takes a systematic approach to increasing operational efficiency, cost savings, transparency, and service levels. In short, performance management helps cities function at their highest levels.
By 2016, Arvada was ready to launch into process improvement, which goes hand in hand with the Journey to Excellence. “Process improvement is a natural progression of performance management,” notes Kelley Hartman, Innovation and Performance Manager for the City of Arvada. “You start by figuring out where to find your data. Then you record and analyze it. Once you have gathered enough information, you can use the data to make changes. It took us three years before we were ready to start process improvement events.”
Arvada selected employees from five different departments, all recognized as natural change agents, to form the team that leads the city’s process improvement plans.
3 Examples Of Process Improvement Events
Process improvement programs can be incredibly intensive and difficult because you’re attempting to change actions and mindsets to achieve the best results. All the hard work can pay off big, though. Here are three examples of the City of Arvada’s process improvement events, including some remarkable results:
1. Passport Process
The City Manager’s office in Arvada was overwhelmed with the volume of passport requests. In 2015, the city processed 3,600 passports; in 2016, that number almost doubled, with 6,300 passports processed. Staff weren’t able to complete daily tasks, City Hall’s 3rd floor lobby was continually congested, and business was being disrupted by this sole service—this was a clear opportunity for process improvement.
After analyzing the situation and data, the process improvement team dove in and made these changes:
- Relocated passport requests to the 1st floor for easier access while also providing a larger waiting area.
- Revamped the check-in process by having customers verify all documentation is present and ready, which has sped up the queues.
- Created an “agent of the day” post where one employee is designated as the passport agent for each day, so other staff can focus on their work and customers know exactly who to see.
- Set up a passport hotline for customers to call for recorded general information or speak to a live person for specific questions.
- Offered better payment options by working with the city’s finance office to provide money orders on-site.
With this process improvement event, Arvada was able to significantly improve customer experience and increase capacity. The results were so positive that the city was able to hire a full-time employee to manage passport services.
“We often say that small changes make a huge difference,” notes Barb Morger, Administrative Analyst in the City Manager’s Office. “The passport initiative is a perfect example of that.”
2. Procurement Process
While the passport process involved one team within the City Manager’s office, this next example was a city-wide effort. Every department in the City of Arvada uses procurement, so it was essential to eliminate the difficulties staff were experiencing around the purchasing process.
The process improvement team—including key stakeholders in the process, such as internal customers—started by mapping the procurement steps. They found it took a whopping 60 steps and 3.5 months (108 days) to request, get approval, order, and receive an item. The extensive amount of time required for procurement was largely due to a low spending limit—any purchase over $50,000 had to be approved by the City Council. After mapping, the process improvement team investigated how many times the City Council had denied procurement requests over the previous five years. The answer? Zero.
Armed with that information, as well as research on how other municipalities manage procurement, the process improvement team gained approval from the City Council to increase the spending limit to $150,000. Additionally, the team implemented an electronic submission and signature system for vendors.
The results of this process improvement event have been impressive. The procurement process has been reduced to 1.8 months—a person will now receive a purchase in less than two months, instead of having to wait nearly four months. The process improvement team is in the midst of requesting another spending limit increase to $250,000 to condense the procurement timeline even further.
“By using data to request changes like spending limit increases,” says Hartman, “we’ve been able to move away from anecdotal arguments and give the City Council clear proof that we can accomplish our goals.”
3. Police Fleet Maintenance & Acquisition Process
This process improvement event also spanned multiple departments. The case for change was that Arvada’s police department did not have an efficient, centralized way to manage fleet maintenance. This led to extended downtime of vehicles, which limited the police department’s ability to cover patrol areas.
Before improving their maintenance processes, each police sector would simply add marks to a whiteboard when a vehicle needed maintenance. One employee at each sector was responsible for monitoring the board, identifying the vehicle’s specific issue, and then determining where it should go for maintenance (for example, whether it needed a mechanic for engine repair or IT for computer issues). Over recent years, the situation worsened—technology advances made the computer issues more difficult to categorize and the city’s police force grew, straining fleet resources even more.
The two-day process improvement event included about 20 people from the various affected work systems, such as police, utilities, fleet, finance, etc. The major changes that resulted from this effort include:
- Streamlined communications by designating one person as the single point of contact in the police department for the entire fleet process.
- Simplified the service request process for officers by making it a single electronic step (versus three).
- Created digital vehicle status boards networked to TVs in all police sectors. The board shows which vehicles are available and which are in maintenance, including the reason and estimated length of service.
Here’s what it looks like when a process improvement event pays off: In the same year, the data gathered justified the need for Arvada to hire a full-time fleet technician, and purchase 16 additional police cars.
Tracking & Measuring Data
While no two process improvement events are the same, Arvada has a standardized format for collecting data before, during, and after an event. The process improvement team starts by creating the event in ClearPoint, using a pre-established format that includes things like resource needs, current metrics, milestones, and a Gantt chart. Then, the team schedules process walks with key employees who work directly with the process from the affected work system(s). This helps the team gain an understanding of the process through the lens of the customer.
During the process improvement event, a team member enters all data and notes into in real time. There is clarity (and documentation) on why change is needed and how it will be measured. The process improvement team creates action items with timelines and owners, and execution moves along smoothly.
After the process improvement event completes, the group meets monthly to update action items and share progress. Again, all status updates are made in real time in and communication is contained within the system as well. The process improvement team can send email reminders and alerts , even to partner agencies outside of Arvada’s internal departments.
“The critical component of process improvements is to have a systematic approach and a tool like ClearPoint so you can capture everything in real-time,” notes Hartman. “And you’re creating a standard and repeatable process that’s easy to use for all events. That’s what’s made us successful.”
As of this year, Arvada has begun gathering follow-up data on process improvement events after their completion to track long-term progress. The data gathered six or 12 months after an event ensures there’s a continual cycle of learning and improvement.
The process improvement team also used data to gain buy-in for its efforts overall. The team keeps a project inventory, which includes tracking hard and soft dollars that are reported to city leadership. Two years of largely positive results from process improvement has earned unequivocal support across the city, and the team received a budget for the first time in 2019. Arvada’s Organizational and Service Effectiveness Work System Business Plan now has a performance measure dedicated to process improvement—the goal is to save the city $1 million in 2019.
Is your city’s strategy missing things like process improvement measures? Read these key elements of a strategic plan.
Top Process Improvement Successes
In less than three years, Arvada has made some powerful changes via process improvement events. Hartman and Morger shared a few of the most positive results of their efforts:
- Created a new (and much needed) position. Morger was unofficially acting as the coordinator and facilitator for all the process improvement team’s events and logistics since its formation. The benefits became clear and her promotion and new position became official in 2018, ensuring the team will continue to operate smoothly.
- Launched a series of process improvement courses. Arvada’s process improvement classes are hosted in person and open to internal employees, partner agencies, and other municipalities.
- Developed community partnerships. Arvada has partnered with the county animal shelter to provide ongoing, hands-on experience using process improvement tools during events as part of its course curriculum.
- Gained city-wide support and excitement for process improvement. Buy-in from city leaders and employees has increased with each successful event. The police fleet maintenance initiative was particularly influential because it involved people from many different work systems, who presented results to the city council as a unified group.
Process Improvement Lessons Learned
Arvada’s positive results and successes didn’t come without challenges, and the process improvement team is the first to admit they had some missteps. Here are some of the lessons learned in their journey to date:
- Have an owner for every process improvement event. It’s critical to identify a dedicated owner prior to the launch of an event. If a work group cannot name an owner, it’s an indication that commitment to making changes may be lacking.
- Ensure the majority of the work group is ready for change. If the group doesn’t understand the need to update processes or isn’t making time to initiate the effort, those are signs they’re not ready. If this is the case, work on change management before jumping into a process improvement event.
- Build relationships with the groups undergoing a process improvement. Part of preparing people for change is winning their trust. Arvada’s process improvement team does that by emphasizing their roles as facilitators (not owners or bosses) and showing that an investment in process improvement empowers all employees to create meaningful change for citizens and make their jobs easier.
- Assemble a diverse process improvement team. It’s important to have a blend of personalities and skills to successfully run events across a municipality. When you pull team members from different work systems versus just within one group, you have a wider pool of expertise and a broader base of support.Note: The City of Arvada’s process improvement team is an ideal example of this diversity. The team includes a revenue manager, utilities customer information manager, deputy city attorney, IT business analyst, victim and family advocate, administrative analyst, parks and urban design manager, and more.
Advice For Other Cities On Process Improvement
Thinking of implementing process improvement in your city? Learn from the experience of others—here are words of wisdom from Hartman and Morger:
Hartman: “From the top down, our city supports process improvement and invests in our team that’s managing the events. If you don’t have leadership support—from the City Manager to work system supervisors—it’s going to be difficult to get a program up and running.”
Morger: “Process improvement is a culture shift that takes time. Once people understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, they’ll be willing to invest effort in making changes. Be patient and continue to march forward with your events and building relationships, because it’s well worth it.”
Hartman: “Have fun! Make the process lighthearted and create an environment where people want to engage and work hard. Word will spread that it’s a fun experience, making it even easier for you to do more process improvement events.”