“They’re not interested in working with us.”

“They’re not interested in working with us.” That’s what Kathy Loland used to think about  King County’s central Finance and Business Operations Division’s (FBOD) interest in improving the procurement process.

Kathy Loland shares her happiness about having been proven wrong about working with FBOD. FBOD Director Ken Guy stands to her left.

“I’m glad I was proven wrong about working with FBOD,” Kathy Loland shares to a group of colleagues. FBOD Director Ken Guy stands to her left.

Loland is a Project Planning and Delivery Manager in King County’s Wasterwater Treatment Division (WTD). WTD runs numerous procurements each year…and each one was painful for the people involved in the evaluation and contractor selection process.

But Loland and others thought there was nothing they could do about it; and that FBOD wasn’t interested in changing the process anyway.

Working as One King County

The procurement process necessarily cuts across county agencies, and everyone involved are county employees! But a bad process can make working together onerous and frustrating, can make colleagues seem like adversaries.

As it turns out, FBOD has been acutely aware of how much its own performance depends on improving relationships and workflows with other agencies. Their own performance value streams even depict which processes involve other agencies (orange) or are wholly in other hands (gray):

FBOD Procure to Pay Value Stream
FBOD Procure-to-Pay Value Stream: These are FBOD’s performance metrics, but the orange items represent parts of the work that FBOD must collaborate on with other agencies.

So how can a process that has gone sideways be improved? How can colleagues become teammates?

Inspired by Lean’s respect for people emphasis (and the work FBOD has been doing), FBOD Director Ken Guy has an answer that seems almost too simple to work: “Let’s get employees together to solve problems.”

“It really wasn’t rocket science,” agrees Tom MacBriar, one of the Wastewater Treatment Division’s (WTD) project managers on the other end of the procurement process. “Just a matter of communicating, ‘Hey, what is the problem?’ It turns out, they had as much interest in reducing their inefficiencies as we had in ours.”

Better Communication Leads to Process Improvement

Here’s how it used to work, taking only the “contractor evaluation” portion of the procurement process:

It typically has taken up to 6 weeks to laboriously score the bidders on 22 different criteria.  Numerous meetings were scheduled, and there was lots of back and forth on documentation and scoring..

Here’s how it works now:

Everyone reviews the documentation, but then discusses and scores SIX criteria with a consensus score. It takes TWO WEEKS.

By communicating about pain points and what each division really needed, everyone was able to streamline the process and eliminate a bunch of unnecessary process steps that each side assumed the other required.

“Mapping out the old process, we found a junk drawer of steps,” explains Will Sroufe, a project manager with WTD. “We thought procurement needed them or they thought our agency needed them. Turns out nobody needed them.”

Sibel Yildiz, JR Mksavanh, and Will Sroufe
(L to R) WTD Project Managers Sibel Yildiz, JR Meksavanh, and Will Sroufe

The project managers and procurement staff themselves redesigned and streamlined the process, based on what they knew to be the important and necessary steps. Sibel Yildiz, a fellow WTD project manager, says that the experience has been “very validating to implement ideas and see them work.”

According to WTD Capital Projects Supervisor Stan Hummel, the instinct in government historically has been to add endless requirements. “There’s significant power when we look for ways to improve and empower staff to take the lead in identifying challenges and solving them.”

Ken Curl, a contract specialist in FBOD, is pleased that because of this process change, people may become more interested in participating on evaluation teams, as many of the the pain points his counterparts in WTD were experiencing have been removed.

A Procurement Win for the Whole County

The strong collaborative work between WTD and FBOD has resulted in improvements that can be applied to the procurement processes of other county agencies, multiplying the time savings.

“We’re an internal services partner with every agency in King County,” says FBOD Director Ken Guy. “This increases our collective capacity to do more work.”

“In the past, sometimes the County has been reluctant to try things. But now we’re in a cycle of trying new things–‘Could this work? Let’s see.'”

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