Public Housing Process Improvement: Translating High Level Strategy to Daily Problem Solving

Over the last couple weeks, my lean work has ranged in several areas ranging from visual management boards to problem solving.  The key concept that keeps coming up revolve around bigger picture strategy and where the agency is headed.  My lean coach often refers to, “True North“.  What is True North at your agency and how do you know if your process improvement efforts are helping you achieve goals that will help you move towards True North?

Lets give an example and work our way backwards.  If a strategic goal or mission statement says something along the line of, “Provide low income persons and families with a safe, decent place to live,” how does that translate down to the employee in the voucher department who is trying to  to get an applicant through the admissions process to become an approved person who could be issued a voucher? How about an HQS inspector?  In a lean world, we would be looking to connect the work that the employee in the voucher department is doing to the larger picture.  How? Lets examine.

Voucher Department

What major work is the voucher department doing that connects up to the larger agency goal of providing low income families with a safe decent place to live?  The voucher department of course is giving the low income families subsidies in the form of a voucher that helps them afford a place to live.  What might be an important measurement for the department?  When I speak to most voucher department directors and agency leadership, they are concerned with the voucher utilization rate.  That basically means how many vouchers of the allotted amount are actually being used.  The higher the percentage, the more families that are receiving stable housing.  That seems to make sense.  Lets break  this down for the various areas that make this abstract idea of a voucher utilization a reality.

Example 1-Admissions: It is hard to utilize a voucher if you don’t get the applicants who are eligible through the door to receive a voucher.  If you are a supervisor and a team, what key metrics tell you if you are doing your part to help the department meet its goal?  How about the following:

  • Number of interviews-You might track how many interviews you are doing a month and how many it takes to get you the desired number of successful persons who get a voucher.
  • Vouchers issued: You might have a goal for vouchers issued in any given month and a metric showing how you are doing day to day on meeting that goal.

Problem Solving:  If you post those numbers on a visual management board, your staff can directly link their work to the organization’s goals and see how they are doing on a regular basis.  What happens if you are not meeting goals?  Great time for using the PDCA scientific problem solving tools lean provides us to get to the root cause.  Maybe 45% of all the applications that come in are missing information.  Do not accept that.  That is a problem.  Instead of calling in more people to make up for the missing info, problem solve why the information is missing to begin with.  Think of the power of you and your staff understanding why your work is so important and actively solving problems that are stopping you from meeting that goal.

Example II-HQS Inspections:  In the housing world, we know we cannot approve a voucher holder to move into a unit unless an inspection has been completed.  How can we pull the team together and track our daily work to see how we are doing?  What other role does this team play in helping the agency provide low income families with affordable, safe, decent and stable housing?

  • Number of days from RFTA to Inspection: I am assuming public housing/voucher employees are reading this so I will not explain what a RFTA is.  However; what is important is that inspections happen quickly.  Maybe a good metric to track is the average number of days between RFTA being received and unit inspection date.  There should be a goal there to keep us honest.  Inspecting a unit is all part of providing a safe, decent housing unit and the number of days is crucial in voucher utilization numbers.
  • Yearly Annual Inspections Completed On Time:  Each month, your inspectors are going out and doing annual inspections.  Again this is ensuring stable, safe decent housing.  If there are 45 to do in the month, why not have that up as a visual management goal.  You might also want to track re-inspections.  Why?  That is re-work also known as defects.

Problem Solving:  If you are tracking the numbers above openly using visual management, it should be apparent when goals are not being met.  What happens if you are doing 20 re-inspections a month?  Should you just accept that as the norm?  Hell no.  This would be a great time to use the PDCA problem solving method to get to the root cause and reduce the re-work. I hear about a lot of landlord or tenant no-shows.  If this is an issue, it is time to get to a root cause and propose some countermeasures.

Conclusion: Lean principles are not rocket science and are based in common sense and good practice.  Imagine if you can connect your employees throughout the agency directly to your strategic goals.  Take it a step further and have those front line staff measuring the work that they do visually to see how they are doing day to day in supporting those goals.  One step further, not only are they tracking their day to day work in support of the goals but are actively doing gap analysis when goals are not being met.  This leads to metric based problem solving to narrow/close the gap.  There is true power in lean because of this ability to connect staff at all levels of the agency to the mission, values and strategic goals.


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