How Do Nine People Handle Thousands of Transactions?

Documenting Standard Work in FBOD

King County manages over 5,000 contracts. Every year, business information for over 12,000 suppliers needs to be entered or changed in the county’s financial system. In addition, there are 2,000 new inventory items added annually and over 1,200 requests for services or to waive standard procurement procedures. Each of these tasks can require painstaking, multi-step processes. On top of this workload, the county receives frequent requests from auditors for everything from access to electronic records to screen captures.

Every single one of these procurement transactions and audit requests gets processed by a nine-member team in the County’s Finance and Business Operations Division (FBOD). For these nine people, the development of detailed standard work documentation has meant that they no longer have to keep the sequences and requirements for these thousands of transactions in their heads, alleviating much potential for confusion, frustration, and error.

standard_work_book

Few of the team’s thousands of transactions are simple. The standard work binder is thick with detailed step-by-step processes and explanatory screenshots.

“Four years ago, I was trying to find all the steps that each transaction required,” explains Janice Page, the supervisor for Procurement Central Services. “I needed to know what all the staff members did, in case someone came to me and said, ‘This isn’t working.’ Some things were written down and some weren’t.”

When FBOD got serious about Lean in 2013, the procurement team gathered all the notes on processes that had been written down into a shared online repository. As employees encountered processes not yet in the folder, they would jot down the notes and add it to the documentation. “Every new task we’d come to,” says Alice Phoenix, one of the team leads, “we would document quickly; then, as time allowed, we’d polish it and make it easier for others to follow.”

This piecemeal approach to documenting the standard work was more manageable (and less maddening) than if the team had tried to write out every work process from scratch all at once. As time went on, they set up a physical binder version to accompany the shared intranet folder.

Developing the documentation over time also made the standardization less of a headache. As the team members spotted steps in a process they didn’t agree with, or when they thought of better ways to do the work, they’d suggest an edit. The team discussed the options and decided in quick informal huddles. “We all sit right in the same cluster and we ‘prairie dog,’” says Jeremy Zimmerman, another administrative lead on the team.

prairie_dog

Team members pop up for one of their “prairie dog” discussions.

These conversations and huddles are necessary to develop standard work. They’ve also brought the team together by forcing each of them to consider that “the way I’ve always done it” might not be the best way to do the work. Before standard work, says Zimmerman, “Everyone had their own way of doing it and they thought everyone else was doing it the same way.”

Tracing each step and the reason for it has helped the team get a better idea of why they do certain tasks that seemed perfunctory or unimportant before—or, as Phoenix puts it, “It seemed like a waste of time.” Now that they understand the purpose behind the tasks, team members try to improve the process instead of grudging it.

The standard work has also helped new employees become productive team members sooner. In the past, without documented standard work to guide them, new employees would have to learn each process from their own notes after one-on-one training. This training process was time consuming and inefficient, with new employees continually tapping the veterans on the shoulder such that everyone became less productive. Now new employees are not only able to get up to speed faster on their own, but they are also tasked with improving the standard work as they learn—after all, the team surmises, people seeing the job with fresh eyes might best be able to spot things that don’t work well or that could work better.

Developing Standard Work with Stakeholders and Business Partners

While FBOD teams have been developing some standard work, their interdependence with other agencies and business partners means that they can’t standardize everything without some buy-in. FBOD deputy director Carol Basile explains, “When everyone does things differently, costs go up. We could provide more to our clients for less cost if we standardized our work.”

The great variety in King County’s lines of business makes standardizing a challenge since many individuals feel their groups have different needs. But Basile points out that many large organizations have comparable variety in their tasks but still have standard work.

FBOD has begun having conversations with stakeholder agencies and business partners to help them understand that the lack of standard work costs money. For example, says Basile, “When an agency starts a new employee on anything other than the first day of a pay period, four FBOD employees have to spend time tinkering with the system manually to get tax and retirement calculations correct. If we can explain to our partner agencies that there is a real cost to starting employees other than those dates, they can understand that their decision is creating downstream work that has costs to central services.”

“Sometimes there will be an exception,” Basile acknowledges, “but we want people to be able to make an informed decision. If you just tell someone to do something they will just think you are being bureaucratic.”

There has been occasional resistance—whether aversion to change or for legitimate business reasons—and FBOD has worked through those sometimes hard conversations.

Often, however, FBOD’s partners didn’t know that they were doing things contrary to the standard. They’d just always done it that way and were happy to change. One client in procurement laughed when an FBOD staffer told him he had a special exception page devoted to him in the standard work manual. He quickly agreed to follow the standard process and that page—and the costs it signified—disappeared.

The team:

Jeremy Zimmerman, Administrator 1 and Lead of the administrative staff

Alice Phoenix, Administrator I and Lead of administrative staff (currently detailed to another office)

Megan Burris, Administrative Specialist III

Jim Shoemaker, Administrative Specialist III

Paula Wilz, Administrative Specialist III (currently detailed to the Buying Team)

Sue Krzyzanowski, Functional Analyst III and Lead of the Functional Analysts

Nick Lashbaugh, Functional Analyst II

Rebecca Love, Functional Analyst I

Janice Page, Supervisor, Procurement Central Services

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