County taking Lean approach to government

The Anoka County Board is stepping up efforts to make county government more efficient.

On the recommendation of County Administrator Jerry Soma and its Management Committee, the board has unanimously approved a new position – associate county administrator special projects – to spearhead the initiative.

The new position, a two-year assignment in county administration, has been filled by Mike Roff, a 30-year veteran of the Anoka County Corrections Department, where he most recently has been manager of county’s adult corrections facilities.

Roff’s job is to establish and lead the Lean and Kaizen efficiency processes in county government and develop a comprehensive training program for county employees to learn the Lean process, according to Soma.

In addition, Roff will be a consultant with various county departments to solve small problems and get very much involved to helping the department relook at its operations to meet the county mission, Soma said.

“The initiatives are designed to improve how we do our work and make us more efficient,” he said.

County Commissioner Carol LeDoux, who has taken classes in the Lean process, will be mentoring the county effort, according to Soma,

Roff has already been working with the county license centers’ staff to improve efficiency, Soma said.

“Mike has been easing into the new position,” he said.

According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, the Lean process is to make maximum use of customer value while minimizing waste and creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

Lean is not just aimed at the manufacturing industry, it can be applied to every business and every process, including government, the Lean Enterprise Institute website states.

Government agencies have found that Lean methods enable them to better understand how their processes work, to quickly identify and implement improvements and to build a culture of continuous improvement.

Kaizen is a Japanese word for “improvement” and “change for the better” and is focused on the continuous improvement of processes in businesses, healthcare and government.

Kaizen, one facet of the Lean process, aims to eliminate waste by improving standardized activities and processes.

The Kaizen process has already been used Anoka County government.

In 2011, the Anoka County Human Services Division entered into a professional services agreement with Innovation Process Design LLC to conduct a three-month Kaizen child support-paternity redesign project involving the child support and county attorney’s offices.

The project’s focus was the need to meet the federal requirement for timely processing of paternity cases, according to information given to the county board.

Innovation Process Design, LLC provided a format and plan to assist county staff – child support and county attorney offices – who work with child support paternity cases to come up with solutions to enhance the process and quality of work, so the county could meet the federal timeline, which requires that 75 percent of cases are taken care of within 90 days, and to identify capacity needs.

The county board was told that to meet the federal standards, the child support office has 40 days to refer a case to the county attorney’s office, then it has 30 days to approve the referral and 20 days to implement it.

Using the Kaizen process, 47 percent of the paternity cases were completed prior to the federal 90-day deadline compared with 12 percent before Kaizen was initiated, according to figures presented to the county board.

This percentage completion came from 36 cases where the service outcome was known out of 64 referrals that were received from Aug. 1, 2011 through Nov. 17, 2011.

There is no money for the associate administrator position in the 2012 county budget, Soma said.

But the position will be paid for from funds transferred to county administration from the corrections department in 2011 as well as other savings realized by county administration in past years, he said.

“There would be some county dollars supplemented by the budget team,” Soma said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]