FBOD Presents Launching Lean Thoughtfully


Launching Lean Thoughtfully presenters, from left to right: Carol Basile, Ken Guy, Tracy O’Rourke, and Jay McNally.

On Wednesday, October 22nd, Director Ken Guy and Deputy Director Carol Basile presented Finance and Business Operations Division’s (FBOD) Lean story at the 2014 Washington State Government Lean Transformation Conference.

Full video of the presentation here.

Joining them to present were Jay McNally of the King County Continuous Improvement Team and Tracy O’Rourke of Integris Performance Advisors, two Lean senseis who have worked with FBOD to introduce and sustain Lean principles and activities.

The title of their presentation was “Launching Lean Thoughtfully,” and during the hour they talked about embarking on FBOD’s Lean journey, some of their early missteps, and how they’ve learned to become better Lean leaders over time. (Here is a written version of the Launching Lean Thoughtfully story that details FBOD’s entire Lean journey to date.)

The core message of their presentation was two-fold:

First, sudden success usually takes time and failure. FBOD first launched lean in 2012. Guy and Basile know now that that they didn’t get it right the first time. But they learned and improved and learned and improved. FBOD’s 2013-2014 Lean transformation was the result of true PDCA.

Second, they were only successful when they balanced being tools-focused with being culture-focused. Today, FBOD is awash in the evidence of the Lean tools being used: visual controls help people evaluate and improve processes; everyone is solving problems with A3 thinking; work is guided by value stream stakeholder and customer requirements; and roundings and huddles are ubiquitous.

But as the FBOD presenters explained, the robust use of those tools came about as part of deeper cultural change at every level of the division. As Guy and Basile learned, simply training employees with Lean tools—the focus of the less successful 2012 Lean efforts—won’t necessarily foster an environment for them to use those tools to their fullest. FBOD found that launching Lean well required aligning the entire organization’s mission and values, an emphasis on customer-focused results, developing the ethos and activities of continuous improvement, and fostering the cultural enablers of leadership and respect.

Of course, all that is much easier said than done. How can this culture—the set of behaviors, beliefs, and shared practices—be instilled? And how can leaders really lead this transformation; how can they become Lean leaders? The presentation acknowledged that their path was one of many possible paths and highlighted several keys to their own improvement, but three points they made stood out.


“When I look at successful Lean organizations, it is not because a senior leader enables Lean, not because a senior leader sponsors Lean, but because a senior leader is living Lean.”

– Carol Basile

The recognition that training a handful of employees with Lean tools hadn’t properly prepared the division for lasting growth and change spurred Guy and Basile to a deeper, more sustained commitment as Lean leaders. By “commitment,” they did not mean, “we’re gonna make you do this, like it or not.” Rather, Guy and Basile adopted the opposite meaning: we’re not going to force you to do anything, and we’re going to do everything we ask you to do.

Leader standard work is now the norm at FBOD. Guy and Basile allocated time, changed their behaviors, and sought coaching (enter McNally and O’Rourke). In other words, they committed their most valuable resources—their time and energy—to becoming better Lean leaders themselves.

It didn’t happen quickly, but that approach earned trust and organic buy-in among employees.

Mapping Value Streams

Teams of FBOD employees worked together to map the five value streams in the division—budget-to-report, procure-to-pay, hire-to-retire, billing-to-cash, and assess-to-collect—including the core processes, activities, products, customers, and stakeholders for each. Now everyone has a much better sense of what their work is, what the expectations are, how their piece of the work fits within the division and the county, and who their stakeholders and customers are.

That might sound elementary, but it is a crucial and too often overlooked facet of organizational management, where hierarchical silos can obscure the relationship workers have with their co-workers, stakeholders, and customers. After all, how can workers try to improve their work if they don’t have a clear idea of what they are doing and contributing to or why it matters?

Problem Solving

When the people doing the work are engaged, know why their jobs matter, and can measure the important outcomes, then they can truly use tools to improve the work—for themselves, their teams, their stakeholders, and their customers. In 2014, every person in FBOD has been trained in A3 problem solving thinking. And not just trained, but, as Guy explains, “we wanted to take it a step further and actually apply that training…We wanted to strengthen our problem-solving muscles and ultimately become expert problem solvers.” So in 2014, every person in FBOD has done real A3 work, identifying real problems and trying to implement real countermeasures.

Just giving employees tools in 2012 didn’t get big results. But giving workers tools in a culture of kaizen with clear goals in 2014 has driven numerous important process improvements. Here are a few recent ones:

  • Financial Management Section: Accounts Payable – via a Sensei Nakao-inspired “try-storming” exercise, Kelly Williams, AP supervisor, and the AP team have reduced average cycle time on invoice input from 5 business days down to same-day processing. In a one-day session, AP staff implemented a Lean work level-loading tool, called a “heijunka box,” and are increasing hourly productivity in this activity.
  • Procurement and Contract Services Section: P-Card – via the “Combined iExpense/P-Card Training” provided by the both BRC and P-Card staff, Rena Jackson and the P-Card team have combined the two monthly training sessions into one, reducing the length of each session by one hour. This initiative will save approximately 400 hours per year of countywide staff time.
  • Treasury: Cash Management – Fiscal Specialist Charla McCoy found a more timely way to correct warrant errors by working with the bank, saving one hour of her time per day that can now be devoted to other work.
  • Business Development and Contract Compliance – Phuong Nguyen, a member of the BDCC team, reduced the cycle time to prepare a monthly apprenticeship report from 10 to 4 business days.
  • Benefits, Payroll and Retirement Operations: Payroll – Payroll Accounting staffers (led by Alisa Bui) discovered an issue related to deductions and pension calculations on a final paycheck that causes lots of manual reconciliation work each month. Bui and her teammates traced the root cause to a financial system setting that affects more than 200 business processes and numerous stakeholders. Those stakeholders are now working to develop a robust solution that will benefit all involved.

Of all the performance metrics tracked on FBOD’s walls, these thank you notes from stakeholders and customers are among the most important. This is a sampling of many.

Postscript. All audience feedback was positive. (50 green dots, no red dots.) No problems is a problem.

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