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A Map to Leaner Operations

By Ron Crabtree, CIRM, CSCP, MLSSBB | September/October 2012 | 22 | 5

Streamlining hiring processes with visual data tools

My company was recently awarded a local government contract in a Michigan state agency to assist with the implementation of lean six sigma principles. The first focus area for the business process review and improvement initiative was human resources (HR), as the executive team and steering committee felt this function affected everyone and that changes could be adapted to quickly. Additionally, in local government operations, support functions such as HR often are noted as areas of significant frustration. 

The initial group for the business process review initiative consisted of 12 people, including HR personnel, HR liaisons from various departments, hiring managers, and one person from information technology (IT). Stretch goals included reducing internally controlled elapsed days to hire by 33 percent, lowering hands-on time—a measure of productivity—by 20 percent, and improving candidate quality. 

We began by interviewing employees across all areas of the agency in order to hear their perspectives on what could be improved, with a focus on what steps could increase the quality of candidates for new positions. Nearly everyone agreed that it took too long to fill open positions, which led to frustration and poor results. The team also spent time exploring the requirements imposed by civil service mandates. 

A dearth of data 
It quickly became apparent that there were few measurements being taken or reported for HR processes. Another challenge was the variability of how documented procedures were followed. It also was unclear how many man-hours of effort were expended for a hiring action, and any measurements that were performed were only minimally helpful for driving problem solving.

My team collected existing process documentation and conducted interviews with subject matter experts (SMEs) to gather step-by-step data for the end-to-end HR process. The key data elements included what was done, who did it, areas involved, annual frequency, hands-on time, average delays, and percentage of time a task is “one and done”—a measure of process quality. These data were charted using swim-lane and value stream maps, which, along with process summaries, enabled us to uncover a not-well-understood view of the hiring process. 

It turned out there were more than 100 steps to fill a position—if all went well. Meanwhile, the worst-case scenario involved 163 steps. These could be broken down into eight subprocesses: initiation and approval of position descriptions; mandatory union actions for unionized jobs; selection and recruiting; credentialing; interviewing; the job offer; arrival procedures; and activities to get the new employee ready for work, including IT and security functions. 

According to the value stream map data and SME estimates, the baseline was about six months elapsed and 70 hours hands-on time for each new hire. This resulted in tens of thousands of hours of effort and six-figure dollar amounts in human capital annually.

Becoming leaner and faster
The agency group was trained in the foundations of lean six sigma and the principles of waste and value-add in government operations. They spent a number of hours reviewing the value stream maps and data. Needless to say, putting the entire process into a visual format brought about many aha moments and enabled Pareto analysis to understand which steps have the largest impact and require the most focus. 

Next, the team was led in ideation, organization, and prioritization to determine measures that could improve the processes and move toward objectives. The first round of brainstorming resulted in a list of 93 improvement ideas. Even after condensing these into stand-alone, assignable actions, there were still 45 ideas to pursue—way too many to tackle at once. We prioritized by assessing impact, practicality, and cost to find the low-hanging fruit. The steering committee ultimately settled on 29 ideas. 

One key action was challenging redundant and low-value-add approvals. It required six people over the course of four-to-six weeks to approve a hiring action before a job could even be posted. In many cases, hiring would become bogged down for change approvals to position descriptions or pay levels. 

The single biggest innovation from the team involved completely reinventing the steps of hiring initiation, essentially eliminating the delays.Carefully developing a better process for the initial steps by hiring managers and engaging civil service up front, essentially eliminated approval delays. The use of existing IT-supported workflow tools made it possible for the team to eliminate several paperwork-tracking steps, making the process more or less electronic.

At the time of this writing, some of the team’s ideas are complete and some still have many months to go, due to the time needed to test new work flows and technology, training, and deploying the improvements across the state. Ultimately, the team expects to achieve and even surpass the goals of the project. 

If you recall, the steering committee requested a target of 33 percent reduction in internally controlled elapsed time. However, about 36 of the 122 days of delay time are not controllable, dictated by posting cycles, mandated civil service approvals, security mandates, and IT requirements. Through their efforts, the team members have experienced a 50 percent reduction in controllable elapsed time—a major victory. Candidate quality also has been directly improved by the changes. Why? The hiring process initially took so long that great candidates would take other jobs! Shortening the time to hire kept the outstanding applicants interested.

In the majority of operations, becoming leaner and faster than before directly increases competitiveness. This is the goal of every business, whether you work for a corporation or the government. 

Ron Crabtree, CIRM, CSCP, MLSSBB, is president of MetaOps and coauthor of four books on operational excellence. He also writes an online magazine; runs an online radio show; and teaches, presents, and consults. He may be contacted at rcrabtree@metaops.com.

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