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Continuous Process Improvement

The Concept of Process Improvement we call Lean

Overall Description:

Why did we decide to do Lean process improvement within the Health, Housing, and Human Services department?  Finding a better way to do things is good for individuals, families, and the community because it means higher quality services, more capacity for services, less waiting, and less hassle. It's also better for staff because it reduces the time we spend doing things that feel like a waste of time.

What is Lean

Lean is a set of concepts, principles, and tools used to deliver the most value from the customers’ perspective while consuming the fewest resources.

Why so much focus on process improvement?

Better results for clients: This is about providing more value-added services to more people.
Giving Staff a voice:  Those who do the work usually have the best solutions.
Resilience during stressful times: Improving processes keeps everyone engaged and provides positive jolts of energy.


Our process improvement effort was launched in August 2009 as part of a pilot project with Oregon State.  The model we used was to train a core group in Lean techniques, “go where people are motivated”, introduce tools and training, and share learning across department.

Since 2010 over 140 employees have attended at least one of the Lean process improvement training classes.  Over 100 Rapid Process Improvements (RPI) events have been completed and numerous small daily improvements by staff within their respective work units.  Recently we completed our first Lean assessment of the entire department in order to further improve our effort at creating a Lean thinking workforce.

Staff Testimonials

 “This is the best process I have been involved in for improving the process and I feel that this has a better chance for success than any other process improvement activity I have been involved in.”

“Management and staff can work together for a common goal.”

“The managers and supervisors that participated in the RPI event did not overwhelm the process.  They allowed us to put together solutions that worked for all the individual work groups.”

“This RPI process helped us all better understand each other’s work and made clear the importance of each of us doing our part correctly in order to avoid creating additional work downstream in the process.”

Visit our Blog “Finding a Better Way” to learn more about of the improvement activities and events for the department:

Principles of Lean

  • The customer always defines “value” for the process.
  • Lean improves systems rather than pointing fingers at people.
  • The people who do the work improve the process using lean tools.
  • Learning to improve work is as important as doing the work itself.
  • Lean is a visual system.
  • Reducing waste builds in quality.

Lean Process Improvement Tools


Visual boards/Huddles

Huddles and Visual Boards provide a better way to communicate. Huddles get the whole work unit together  for 5-10 minutes to update what happened yesterday, preview what's happening today, and tomorrow. Visual boards provide a place to propose Hot Topics for huddles, to make and route suggestions, and to review performance measures.


Problem Solving with Root Cause

Emphasis is on using root cause analysis to solve problems.  Once we know the causes of a problem we can focus on solutions that target solving the problem.


Value Stream Mapping

Is a tool focusing on what customers value, looks at the whole process linking the  work flow with the information flow, helps groups visually identify the most significant problems, uses data to make decisions, and is focused on agreed upon outcomes.


5S:   Sort, Set in place, Shine, Standardized, Sustain

Provide a better way to organize the workplace to eliminate searching waste. It helps us provide "a place for everything and everything in its place."


Best method

Is the current one best way to safely complete an activity with the “highest quality and proper outcome defined and agreed to by those who do the work.  It is a visual tool used for training staff and a starting point for further improvement.