Employee Creativity at Solid Waste Division

Every additional truckload from the Shoreline solid waste transfer location to the Cedar Hills landfill moves 20 tons of extra garbage. On a given day, a driver might be able to make only three runs from Shoreline to Cedar Hills, so moving one extra load per day would mean a big productivity boost.

There are eight such transfer stations around the county, which means there are lots of opportunities to find that extra load here and there by experimenting with different routes, different timing, or different location sequences and combinations.

In August, Solid Waste Division held a kaizen workshop in order to brainstorm and test some of these options to increase productivity.

Some members of the Solid Waste Division Lean team discuss possible improvementsMembers of the Solid Waste Division Lean team discuss possible improvements. (From left to right: Kerwin Pyle, Larry Carriveau, Ben Hall, Greg Crandall, Keith Hendrickson, and Cory Schmidt. Team members not pictured: Bill Monroe, Sue Sturgill, Barry Anderson, Marco Desimone, and Kathy Hashagen.)

The cornerstones of a successful kaizen workshop are creative, outside-the-box thinking to identify problems and envisage countermeasures and a flexible, cooperative approach to testing them.

The kaizen workshop at Solid Waste Division (SWD) illustrates how the right environment can promote creativity and flexibility in proposing and testing improvement ideas in order to find impactful solutions.

Prior to the event, the table was set for success. SWD secured the pro bono Lean expertise of Group Health sensei Andrew Takamiya. The SWD team benefited from Takamiya’s guidance—and also from the fresh perspective an outsider could provide as they discussed their own processes.

Additionally, employee labor representatives were included in the planning before the event, which made for a more fruitful event for everyone, and also earned their buy-in for countermeasure testing afterwards.

Thanks in large part to that preparatory work, once the workshop started, employees, their labor reps, and management came together to propose and deliberate the challenges and potential solutions to increase the tons of solid waste hauled daily. “The participants set aside predetermined ideas and approached the problem with open minds,” SWD Operations supervisor Shawn Carter commended. “They thought of the system as a whole and made use of lean tools to test the impacts of various ideas.”

SWD event improvements increase productivity by 33%If at first you don’t succeed… Trialing combinations of ideas gained the crucial fourth daily load.

SWD ended up testing five different solution suggestions. Some realized productivity gains and some didn’t. One option that showed the most promise was arrived at only after trialing different combinations of ideas from the team—a testament to the team’s zeal. This option involved shifting the time drivers started and also having them leave full loads to be dumped at the end of the day in order to gain more time on the road during off-peak traffic hours.

Other options that had some success included letting drivers use the 520 bridge to see if time gains could be found. (Zonar technology allowed the team to watch the horserace between two drivers on different routes in real time.)

Thanks to all these experiments, SWD has been able to advance some recommendations that management and employees are now working together to fine tune and implement.

These solutions should increase three routes from three loads a day to four loads a day.

But an equally important result is that everyone— truck drivers, transfer station operators, and other staff—is sitting around the same table and working together to improve the work with creative solutions.

SWD is already reinforcing the foundational respect for people spirit that supports this teamwork. Since October, a supervisor has gone on a ride-along with each of the 58 drivers in the division, which is now an annual priority. “It is about learning,” explains Carter; seeing the challenges drivers face and learning from their insights and productivity innovations.

Andrew Takamiya from Group Health worked extensively (and pro bono) with the SWD Lean team during this event. Takamiya explains that Group Health Lean experts try to work with outside groups when possible in order to increase their own learning. “It is not about how many people we can help; it is about how many people we can go learn from. Take some of the experiences we don’t have in health care and see if by applying the improvement tools we know, we can learn.”

Takamiya says that quick cycles of experimentation are the best ways to develop change for the better. “Our PDCA doesn’t have much P,” he says. “We minimize the planning. The quick cycles of action help you acknowledge that there will be more failures than successes but it will get you closer to your targets. That is why you plan so much, because you are fearing failure. And that is really not reality; most plans fail.”

Time and again, Takamiya says, “The people who do the work will always come up with better solutions if given the chance.”

Tapping into each others’ ideas could help everyone discover ways to make the work easier for themselves and their colleagues. After all, as transfer station operator Corey Schmidt joked, “No one comes to their job thinking, ‘How can I make this harder?’”

And their shared creativity is needed. With eight stations, multiple route options and a variety of traffic patterns, there are numerous improvement permutations that could be tried to increase productivity or save staff from headaches. What would be the best times to start which routes on a particular day? These questions require the thoughtfulness and savvy of everyone involved.


Truck Drivers

Larry Carriveau, Ben Hall, Keith Hendrickson, Bill Monroe, Sue Sturgill, Barry Anderson, and Marco Desimone

Transfer Station Operators

Corey Schmidt and Greg Crandall


Kerwin Pyle, Supervisor, and Kathy Hashagen, Project Program Manager

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