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Making a city great

Aug 10 2014 12:26
* Denise Bennett

Melbourne consistently rates at the top or near the top of international liveability indexes. (Supplied)

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WITH ITS cosmopolitan lifestyle, plentiful parks and gardens, well-designed streets and buildings, and a calendar full of major sporting, artistic and culinary events, Melbourne consistently rates at the top or near the top of international liveability indexes.

READ: How South Africa is using Lean to enhance service delivery

The city of Melbourne (CoM) is leading the way in applying lean to local government in Australia, having embarked on its lean journey in earnest in 2009. As it often happens in organisations in sectors relatively new to the methodology, Melbourne staff was skeptical of the method’s application to local government and in the early years. However, we persevered and now all 30 departments within Melbourne have applied lean within their service streams to make things better, faster, cheaper and easier for customers, staff, the organisation and the community.

Starting with process improvement

A frequently asked question for new lean thinkers is "Where should we start?" We took the words of Lean Enterprise Institute CEO John Shook to heart: "It doesn't really matter where you start, just start somewhere."

We began our lean journey improving high-volume or problematic services and processes. The CEO and executives chose the first projects and then took responsibility for sponsoring these large-scale improvements, known as Director Streams.

We quickly learned the benefits of getting everyone together to map the process, including those who do and lead the work, across the silos and including externally contracted service providers. This was the first step in connecting senior leaders to the problems that existed within organisational processes.

Over five years, we have worked on more than 20 large-scale improvement streams.

For many of the processes and services improved so far, mapping revealed there was no standard way of performing the process or, if there was, often staff did not follow it. Few processes had good measures of performance so it was difficult to determine how well a process performed. Thus, much of the improvement work focused on developing a standard or agreed way of working and supporting its implementation.

We sought the voice of the customer to clarify value from a customer perspective and then used this information to develop value-based process measures. We found many processes lacked design, evolving over time, layer upon layer, often relying on the expertise of single individuals, with risk of corporate loss if that person left the organisation.

Staff started to consistently look for waste in organisational processes, with defects and over processing “just in case” being the most common wastes identified. This look in the mirror was important for us as we gained a sense of the amount of effort that would be required to create stable processes that delivered on our purpose.
We thought: if the City of Melbourne is already regarded as a great organisation, how much better could it be if our processes were more effective and efficient?

Engaging and developing the people

Lean cannot be sustained by a centralised improvement team. It requires engagement and commitment from those who do the work as well as support of leaders, who are responsible for those who create real value for the customers of the organisation.

In 2011, engaging and developing staff in improvement commenced formally at the City of Melbourne. The Lean Lea(r)ning Pathway has itself been the subject of improvement and PDCA based on participant feedback and observed outcomes of the learning in practice. All programmes are developed and delivered in-house, using simulations based on local government processes.

What is PDCA?


For City of Melbourne staff, learning about lean starts at induction and continues through various levels until the Lean Practitioner status is reached. More than 50% (700) of staff has now completed Lean Basics, a one-day introductory course on lean principles, waste and A3 thinking.

More than 100 of these staff members have gone on to complete a Lean Learner qualification where they apply what they have learned to their work. The Lean Learners program provides support and guidance for individual staff to tackle their first A3 and has helped the organisation demystify the art of A3 thinking and filling in those six boxes, a skill previously owned by the internal lean team.   

I was somewhat skeptical about asking staff to work on an A3 after just one day of lean training (it took me years to appreciate A3 thinking). However, my team have proved me wrong. It can be done.

In fact I think this is the most significant step we have taken in the past year: developing deepening A3 thinking skills in operational staff, while cultivating a culture where staff are lining up to continue the lean learning pathway - and we can't meet the demand. What a great problem to have!

Here's a few examples of Lean Learner contributions to the CoMLean winlog:

- Steve from Engineering Services reduced the time it takes to replace residents existing garbage bins with larger bins by 30% (from 17 days to 12 days);

- Melbourne visitor shuttle ticket stubs use to take 11 minutes per day to sort and reconcile. Kerry has reduced the time to three minutes a day, releasing 53 hours a year for value added work;

- Emma from Parking and Traffic removed wasteful steps from the process of handbill rejection letters reducing the time taken from nine minutes to two minutes and releasing 140 hours of staff time per year.

Lean Practitioner

Lean Practitioner is the next level of learning and is designed to equip leaders and senior operational staff to lead the lean effort within the organisation. This course, developed in-house, has attracted more than 100 staff, with the status of Lean Practitioner highly regarded within the organisation.  

The 22-week course is hard work, with classroom teaching, weekly homework and reflections, a lean improvement project and an exam at the end of the course. Many lean champions are identified through this course and their contribution to the organisation’s journey of transformation has allowed us to test the concepts in almost all work environments.

In addition to building capability, Lean Practitioner has helped to break down barriers across a large, diverse and hierarchical organisation, creating a common language across professional groups. In 2014, we gained certification of the Lean Practitioner course, which is now recognised by a local university. This means participants are rewarded with a formal qualification for their efforts in addition to the improvement they deliver to the organisation.

Building leadership and the management system

Lean at the CoM is led from the top. CoMLean CEO Kathy Alexander will admit she was new to the approach, however the more she experienced it, the more she became aware that lean needed to form the basis of the organisation’s leadership development system.

To this end, in 2012 Alexander brought together the Lean Transformation, Organisational Development and Planning and Performance teams. Since that time, leadership programmes have focused predominantly on developing lean thinking skills. Nine core leadership capabilities are now identified, with “leads improvement” and “develops and coaches others” articulated as the top two.

Alexander practices her lean leadership skills every day, replacing her notebook with a pad of A3s and her favourite coaching questions. She recently told me: "I learnt that I wasn't really coaching until I started asking the right questions - I was still telling, and that I was more likely to ask questions if I say on my hands."

The City of Melbourne has realised there is a lot to be done in relation to leadership development.

"Most efforts were previously focussed on emerging leaders,” said Tanya Athans, who leads the Organisational Development team. “We did not have a standard way of assessing and developing leaders that aligned with a lean organisation. We still have a long way to go, but at least now we know where we want to get to and the path to get there is becoming clearer."

In 2013, senior leaders who had not engaged with lean took part in a new programme called The Way We Work, which is a five-step process designed for any work area to help understand how to use lean as a management system. It begins and ends with the customer.

The 24 leaders who came together for the programme worked to articulate clearly what the organisation did – its core value streams. This thinking has proved extremely useful for an organisation that a few years ago saw itself as 30 discrete and autonomous businesses, many of which had little in common. These value streams will be used going forward as the basis for thinking about processes and improvement efforts.

What is the basic thinking that drives our transformation?

The basic thinking that underpins the CoM lean transformation is A3 thinking. For an organisation of innovators, coming to terms with deeply understanding the problem before thinking about a solution was difficult. However, the organisation has made real progress with respect to this.

"What problem are you trying to solve?" is a frequently heard comment around the executive table. The increased requirement for data and fact by the executive table drives lean analysis as part of the work the organisation does every day, including requests for staff and new projects.   

Going forward

The impact of lean on how we now think and act as an organisation was evident in our recent financial performance. At the Australasian Lean Thinking and Practice Summit, recently held in Melbourne, Alexander shared some of our progress with delegates: “Over the past two years, we have kept cost increases below CPI.

“During the same period we have built and staffed three new libraries, a new recreation centre, we have run three new major events a year, doubled the sustainability programme, introduced an urban forest programme, expanded capital works and water saving programmes while also accommodating the increased demand for human services resulting from a 20% population increase.

"During this time we have not reduced or ceased any service. Despite all of these new programmes, the number of assessable properties per Full Time Equivalents has increased by 8% since 2010. Lean thinking supports our effort to do more with our existing resource base.”

With thousands of processes across the organisation that represent endless opportunities for improvement, we constantly struggle with the question "Are we working on the right thing?" Improving one process inevitably reveals another three we could improve, and maintaining performance in areas previously improved continues to challenge us.

However, our focus on deep learning of the method is paying off and I liken it to making a patchwork quilt. We now have more people who can practise the craft so we are making more and more patches, whilst improving the quality of the patches. Our focus on purpose, people and process allows us to bring the patches together into something that will be functional (an effective and efficient organisation) but also a work of art – a thriving, energetic organisation of problem solvers who are constantly focused on making things better for customers.

- Fin24.

- This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared on Planet Lean.

* Denise Bennett is the Lean Programme Manager at the City of Melbourne and founding director of the Australasian Lean Healthcare Network, a subsidiary of Lean Enterprise Australia.

* Bennett will be one of the key international speakers at the Relentless Leadership Lean Summit from 17-19 September in Cape Town.

Speakers | Lean Institute Africa

melbourne  |  service delivery


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