Improving Services

A year ago, I wrote an article, “We’ve Gone Green, Now Let’s Go Lean.” The message presented in that article dealt with using Lean Six Sigma practices to help school maintenance organizations improve how services are delivered. The Lean process has typically been utilized in the private sector to improve the bottom line, but maintenance organizations can also benefit from using it as a mechanism for change. Last year, a project was undertaken in the Virginia Beach City Schools School Plant Services to determine if the process could assist in improving how we deliver services.

We started the project by talking with Mike Cory and Steve Demos in the Virginia Applied Technology and Professional Development Center at Old Dominion University. They offered to come out and conduct an on-site evaluation of the facility and its general operation to see what areas exist that could be improved utilizing the Lean Continuous Improvement Concepts. Subsequent to that evaluation, a proposal was submitted for a Lean Implementation Project that would focus on improving our ability to respond and deliver quality, timely and cost-effective services to the school division.

The first phase of this Lean Implementation project involved training in the basic Lean Principles and Value Stream Mapping. Twenty employees from various functional groups volunteered to attend this training and to participate as a team member on this Lean Implementation Project. The second phase involved generating a Current State Value Stream map of the overall process from a work order request from the school. Generating a consensus map proved to be a valuable exercise, and since people from multiple shops were involved, no two maps reflected the actual process in its entirety. Getting consensus on the current state was critical to providing a baseline for improvement. Simply generating a current state analysis raised many issues that needed to be addressed by the project team. At this point, the team generated a Future State map identifying what it should look like. This was done from the perspective of what should it look like if we were able to eliminate any/all non-value added process steps. At this point, baseline metrics were established relating to backlog, time to complete, age of work order, load by shop, travel distance and time, and accuracy of work order information.

The primary issues that the project team decided to focus on were to get the correct information from the school on the work orders, to reassign simple work requests that were previously completed by highly skilled craftsmen to the school custodial staff, to establish the appropriate inventory of parts on the service trucks, to balance the workload across the shops, to expand the preventative maintenance program, to review ways to reduce the use of overtime, to review contracted maintenance activities to determine if in-house personnel could assume more of these tasks and to minimize travel time to and from the work sites.

After approximately six months of discussion and investigation, actions were implemented to address the issues listed above. An online PowerPoint training initiative was developed and put in place to instruct the identified “Point of Contact” at each school in the proper submission of a work order. School custodians are now responsible for simple repairs that had been previously performed by the higher-paid craftsmen. Steps were taken to ensure the appropriate parts were on the vehicles, Netbooks were provided to all craftsmen to allow them to receive all work orders and view plans for the buildings, work order loads have been altered by reviewing backlogs and making personnel changes, vacant positions were assigned to the most needed trades either on the day or night shift, preventative maintenance program was expanded, some previously contracted work has been accomplished in-house, travel time has been reduced as a result of the installation of GPS on all vehicles.

Even though we have just completed the project this past spring, we are already seeing positive results. The number of backlogged work orders and work order age has dropped dramatically during the project and continues to show positive impacts. Savings have also been observed as a result of the movement away from printing approximately 50,000 work orders annually. This project initially caused concern among some of the employees at School Plant. There were misconceptions about the reason for taking on a project that required an in-depth look at how we operate as an organization. Some thought that it was a means to identify positions that could be eliminated, but that was not the intent. Instead, it was to be used as a mechanism to determine what actions were within our power to improve the services to our clients and reduce overall costs.

This project proved to be an effective activity that required everyone to analyze where we are, identify where we want to be in the future, and prescribe what would be necessary to get us to that future state. We have begun the journey that will take us to the future state. There is more work to be done, but the process was well worth the effort.

Fran Foster is director of School Plant Services for the Virginia Beach City Public Schools and is the National School Plant Management Association (NSPMA) President Elect.