Process Mapping in Social and Public Housing

Last week I wrote a little about the idea of process improvement in social and public housing.  I made it clear that I do not consider any process improvement methodology religion and that common sense can be our best friend.  With that said, I wanted to start writing about specific tools and ideas that I find personally helpful.  Common sense can go a long way but a few tools to pair up with common sense can pack a more powerful punch.  Let’s talk about my favorite tool: the simple process map.

I will honestly admit that I hated process maps for most of my career.  As a Section 8 caseworker, a homeless caseworker and later as a policy analyst I found them boring and confusing.  I thought they were used by a-holes who wanted to look and feel important.  Ok, maybe that is still true in some cases.  However; a little enlightenment and personal practice with process maps opened up my eyes that they can be very practical and used by anyone to improve their work.  If you want to improve your work shouldn’t you start by knowing what the hell you are doing and how much time it is taking?

Process maps are a lot like process improvement.  They can be as complicated or simple as you want to get.  Here below is a complicated value stream map.  Looking at this thing makes me want to shoot off my baby toe.  No doubt there a lot of people who find this valuable but for public/social housing it might not be necessary.



Ok that is pretty complicated looking.  Lets examine something a little easier to follow.


I like the swim lane chart because you can break out different positions and clearly see where different processes start and end.  You are not limited to just human positions but can add in systems like software.  If you have a housing management software that is a big part of a process, throw the damn thing in a swim lane and call it out.  At this point, I am using almost always only swim lane process maps to capture processes.  It is simple, everyone can follow it and staff seem to respond well to them.

You might be asking one you get all of your steps listed, what the hell should I do?  It depends on what your goals are by the choices are limitless at this point.  If you took a 30,000 foot view, you can drill down into each step to see what are the sub-processes involved.  What I usually do is quite simple.  I either look at the swim lane map or perhaps a more detailed swim lane depending on the situation and label each step with the following:

Value Added-That means that the individual step adds value to the overall process because the customer would want it to happen or it is absolutely necessary to finish the process.

Non-Value- That means nobody would pay for this step of the process and it is not necessary to finish the overall process.  Think the document that needs an assistant property managers signature, the property managers signature then works its way up the ladder to get two more signatures before it reaches its final destination.  Think about the massive lease packets, review packets and forms that have been added to a process over the decades.  If you start pulling out each form and asking which ones are absolutely mandated, you might find many were added from fear, from someone who thought it would help the process and has been passed down over years as tribal knowledge.  Non Value steps are anything that slows down the process and makes staff and customers do more than they should have to.

Non-Value Added but Mandatory–  Welcome to my personal hell.  These are crap steps that are made mandatory by dozens of regulatory agencies that never think twice about how to streamline processes.  They do care immensely about the clients and protecting the programs but never ask how they can improve the processes while also protecting the integrity of the program.  Sorry ladies and gentlemen, for now your stuck.

Sit down with the staff who directly work with these programs and let them lead you to what steps are value added vs. non value added.  You will need to drill down and ask why, why, why, why, why a million times to find out if something is really necessary.  (Later blog to come on the simple tool of 5 Whys) Remember if someone is trained to do something and has done it for 5, 10, or 20 years for them it is absolutely necessary.  Be respectful and realize they are doing their job.  At the same time get down to the bottom of the facts and see if the step is really necessary.  Tribal knowledge and inherited processes is often the cause of a lot of unnecessary work.

Going through this process can allow you to really view core processes and see what is necessary and not necessary.  You can then work with staff to attack the non-value added steps and see what can be done to remove them.  Remember always show staff ultimate respect as you do this.  Your job is not to make them feel like they have wasted time for years but see if they cant lead you and themselves to better ways to work.  There are a couple more things you can do here.  You can also make these into basic time value maps.  Add time values to each step to get a good measurement.  For example if a lease up process takes two hours, measure each step so you know precisely what step takes what amount of time.  As you cut out the non-value added steps, you will have an accurate measurement of how much time you are saving.  Lets say you do 1000 lease ups a year and you cut out 20 minutes per lease up.  That is 20,000 minutes or 333 hours a year.  Think about the improved customer service or catch up you can do with that time.

A few basics about process maps.  Start simple.  There are a million shapes you can use but here is what you need to start.  Start here and add if you want to.  If not, you will be fine.


Here is one of the first lean projects I did at a housing authority.  You can see I did not use swim lane yet but for American Public Housing Authorities the process will look familiar.  This was the annual review process before and after a process improvement project we did.  If you are interested in more detail, I can send you more information.

Annual Review Picture
Before-annual review


After-annual review


Yea that one was pretty fun.  We did do time value on all of these and wrapped up with a report showing the time and money savings.  To sum up this blog:

  1. I no longer hate process maps.
  2. I use simple maps because I am a simple man.
  3. You don’t need to be a genius to process map
  4. Add time value so you know what the hell you did when the project is over.
  5. Listen to your staff and let them guide you.

That is all for now.

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