August 26th marks my last day with the City and County of Denver, after a three year period of designing, delivering, and deleting training modules for over 1,000 participants; facilitating 23 process improvement events; managing several projects; and meeting people across the city from all walks of life.
I joined the Peak Academy in June 2013, not really sure of what I was getting myself into. Sure, I had three interviews with people who talked about things like “RIEs”, “Black Belt”, and a lot of other foreign words at the time, but I didn’t really know what those meant. I had applied due to my interest in learning more about Lean & Six Sigma, and wanted to employ that knowledge in government, but this Peak position was an unknown to me. It was a leap of faith.
I drove my packed car from Cincinnati to Denver, crashing at my cousin’s house in Littleton the weekend before I was to start work. I knew that I was going to be “in Black Belt” my first week, and that the Mayor was in “my cohort”, but again, I had no idea how to interpret those statements. I didn’t know what my actual responsibilities were going to be; I just knew that my position was going to be terminated at the end of the following year, as it was only funded temporarily.
That first week was a bit overwhelming- I met my coworkers for the first time, was told that I had to present on three ideas to improve the class for my “Ignite” presentation at the end of the week, my personal laptop started going on the fritz, I was living out of a suitcase and adjusting to Denver’s altitude. Did I mention the Mayor was also in my class? Cohort 10.2 was crushin’ it.
After that week, I was told that Katherine (the other new employee) and I were going to be coordinating Black Belt class going forward. The first Black Belt we ran was for Cohort 13, and we couldn’t have been luckier to have such an impressive group of champions for change. One of those memorable Ignite presentations was from Sgt. Bobby Waidler, who informed us about the potential for a positive impact in the department if officer log sheets were no longer hand written by patrol officers. This innovation sounds so simple yet was a very big deal for the department. It is expected to be fully implemented this year, saving almost $1 million in officer time.
The first process improvement event I participated in was with Excise and Licenses, assisting with their medical marijuana application backlog. I truly can say that I never thought I’d be working on marijuana so soon in my career. The first process improvement event I actually facilitated was with the Treasury- Tax Compliance division, helping the tax auditors transition from a paper-based to an electronic write-up. It took over a year to finalize the savings and hit a major snag due to a Windows migration, but thanks to the persistence of that team it was successful and ended up saving about $40,000 in staff time. I’m lucky to have been able to work with Treasury since that event, helping them work towards a culture of continuous improvement.
In May of 2014 the Peak team was informed that our jobs would, from that point on, be permanent. This was a huge relief for us and a great affirmation that Peak was making a difference for the City and County of Denver. This led to other interesting challenges, however, as our operational philosophy shifted from startup to sustainability mode, with a need to focus more on standard work than on quick implementation.
A process improvement event later that year with the Cash, Risk, and Capital Funding division of the Department of Finance led to a Peak Partnership with the same group in January 2015. I spent six months with this fun, hardworking group, learning all about investments, banking, and how to properly decorate cubicles for birthdays. Their efforts have significantly improved how the city handles cash, processes payments, and invests tax dollars in accordance with policy guidelines, cash flow, and current market conditions.
The thousands of Peak Academy trainees who believed in what we taught and performed innovations citywide have made this program a success. Because of them, the Peak program earned numerous awards and accolades, and hundreds of other government employees have taken training from Peak staff, with the goal of implementing a similar program in their area. Peak trainees are responsible for the program getting recognized in the 5281 Awards, Harvard Ash Center, and Governing.
In the fall of 2015 I got the opportunity to project manage Denver’s What Works Cities initiative, and the chance to work with staff from the Sunlight Foundation, Results for America, Johns Hopkins University Center for Government Excellence, and the Behavioral Insights Team. Thanks to this partnership, Denver is in a much better place to use and share city data to improve operations and transparency.
The Denver Peak Academy has changed dramatically since I started over three years ago. We’ve gone from one-off, weeklong process improvement events to six-month partnerships and one to two day workshops. We’ve shifted from teaching about facilitating meetings to using change management concepts to implement innovations. We’ve integrated behavioral economics into our training, and created standalone trainings on change management, randomized control trials & behavioral economics, analytics, and project management. Every class has been a guinea pig to one change or another, and has made the program better in some way.
This post can only touch on a few of the multitude of moments I’ve been privy to, the examples of innovation I’ve experienced, and the ingenuity and spirit of public service that lives inside the 13,000 City and County of Denver employees. I consider myself fortunate to have had such incredible opportunities to be at the forefront of innovation in local government and to have learned from so many incredible individuals.
A special thanks to my coworkers who have taught me so much about empowering others, resolving conflicts, and challenging the status quo. I am so grateful to have worked alongside such wonderful people on the Peak team- Katherine, Kent, Tanya, Faustino, Melissa, Tom, Patrice, Jerraud, Daniel, Sophia, Katie, Christi, and of course Brian, our fearless leader.
So, you’ve made it to the end of my farewell blog post. In honor of this achievement (I’m assuming you read every captivating word), I’m pleased to share with you a GIF of me doing the Dougie. Yes, one of the things I could have done for a Black Belt class, but never did, is teach them how to Dougie. Enjoy!