No mud and drills at this boot camp

[from Athens News]

David DeWitt
August 10, 2014

Government officials from organizations throughout Athens County and the surrounding region gathered at Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs late last week for the start of boot camp.

This isn't the typical fatigues-and-obstacle-courses boot camp. This boot camp emphasizes quick, simple and effective service, continuous improvement, streamlining processes, strategic planning, and data analysis.

These are words and phrases typically associated with the private sector as it seeks to maximize efficiency and eliminate waste.

Ohio is now incorporating them into state and local government, and over the next couple weeks, Athens County officials are getting a crash course.

Since 2011, Ohio's public sector has been receiving training to implement these concepts through a program called LeanOhio. At the state level, many public employees already have gone through LeanOhio Boot Camp.

This summer, municipal and county-level administrations, agencies and groups are being offered five-day sessions, in an effort to spread these strategies across the state. Over the next couple weeks, it's Athens County's turn.

"Combining the techniques and tools from these two concepts help us work in our local governments to streamline processes, meaning less time for customers and more efficient use of resources," Athens County Auditor Jill Thompson said in an email Sunday. "We learned in the first two days that by using these tools, we can also help employee moral and improve the work environment."

Athens County officials had their first two sessions of the five on Thursday and Friday last week. Later this week, they will go back for the next two sessions, and finish with the final session the following week.

"The camp is very interactive and challenges us to work together as a team and use our various strengths to form a better end result," Thompson said. "There is a lot of emphasis on the 'teamwork' approach."

Also participating in boot camp is county Commissioner Lenny Eliason, along with officials from local government agencies or institutions as varied as the SEPTA center, a Nelsonville community-based correctional facility; the village of Amesville; the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority; the local Area Agency on Aging; the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities; and Athens County Children Services.

Participants also came from outside the county, including from the Meigs County Health Department, the Southern Ohio Educational Service Center, the Manchester Local School District, and the village of New Lexington.

STATE OFFICIALS HOPE to see the impact they've seen at the state level now carried over to local government.

"We really feel excited that the results we got in state government were such that now there's an opportunity for cities, counties and local governments to get access to this to get those same kinds of results," Steve Wall, director of continuous improvement for the state of Ohio, said last month.

The LeanOhio Training Academy offers levels that mirror martial-arts achievement: white belt to yellow to green to black belt. The academy also offers a boot-camp training that earns the participant a camouflage belt once strategies are implemented.

LeanOhio Boot Camp is a five-day intensive training, incorporating what's known as the Six Sigma process improvement system, aimed at making government "simpler, faster, better, and less costly," according to the state's website.

The 40-hour, highly interactive boot-camp program consists of applied learning and simulations on mapping agency processes, identifying redundant or unnecessary steps, eliminating waste, and teaching other elements important in local government management.

Participants also develop action plans for when they return to the workplace where they can implement their training.

The LeanOhio Boot Camp in Athens is being conducted by Michael Fuller and Brad Hollingsworth, of the Muskingham Valley Educational Service Center. Both are Ohio University graduates, and both have black belts in Lean/Six Sigma training.

Those looking to participate in training can sign up for sessions at OU branch campuses planned for later this year and early 2015 via the website at www.mvesc.org.

Hollingsworth said Saturday that a major advantage of the training is that improvements don't require expensive resources or influx of new capital.

"You simply need a little bit of time with the folks who do the work, and we provide methodology and tools that allow those people to make improvements to their own processes," he said.

He noted that the program is not aimed toward making budget cuts but rather creating efficiency for more effective service.

"One of the things you'll hear folks from LeanOhio say is that the focus is to eliminate waste, not people, from the process," he said. "Most agencies are already lean in terms of people, but their processes are not lean."

Agencies that have their budgets cut and lose resources, he said, could increase wait times and the time it takes to handle work with less staff.

"We're trying to give them tools so they can create more capacity with the resources they already have," he said.

Hollingsworth applauded the partnership with the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at OU, pointing out that part of the training is focused on emphasizing collaboration.

County Auditor Thompson noted that the training includes education on opportunities to receive grant money to help use the skills learned during camp.

"I'm hoping to be able to work with Commissioner Eliason to come up with some ideas that would give us the most advantage in being awarded the funds to put our toolbox to work for Athens County," she said. "Ultimately, I would like to see a more efficient practices and cost savings."

An information packet from LeanOhio trumpets the program's effectiveness, showing that teams reduced process steps by 56 percent when these strategies were implemented by government agencies.

Moreover, the packet shows, process time was reduced by 53 percent.

At the state level, more than 500,000 staff hours have been re-directed to higher-priority efforts, the equivalent to 250 full-time employees who are now available for mission-critical work, according to program information included in the packet. Also, in 2013, for every $1 invested in LeanOhio activities, the state gained more than $40 in projected savings, it said.

The article can be view on the Athens News website by clicking here