Answers by Jason Smith, Cohort 53 – Mt. Princeton Peak, Stewart Peak, Park Horticulturist, Denver Parks & Recreation Parks – (DPRP) Greenhouse – February 2018
To start, Jason Smith is one of the most collaborative and dedicated Black Belts in the City & County of Denver. Along with his team, Jason identified and actualized more than $1600 in soft/hard savings for the constituents of Denver, by making small improvements to a few of the systems his department manages. The following paragraphs are Jason’s answers to some of Peak’s questions regarding his thoughts about the creative innovations he put into place since he became a Denver Peak Academy Black Belt.
1. Tell us a little about yourself; what should the world know about you?
I began my journey with the City & County of Denver in October 2013 as a Park Horticulturist at City Park Greenhouse. I work alongside a fantastic crew that propagates, grows, and distributes the annuals and perennials that are used in the park system throughout Denver. Additionally, at the greenhouse, we grow plants for the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Zoo, special events such as the stage for special mayoral events, the MLK Marade, the city office buildings during the holiday season with poinsettias, and other commemorative events where plants are needed. When I am not getting my hands dirty, enjoying my time with plants, I enjoy spending time with family, hiking, and building my horsemanship knowledge.
2. How did you start innovating & using the Peak Academy tools to innovate?
Through the Black Belt course, it inspired me to make changes to things I knew I could make better. I learned that I could make changes that I am in direct control over and I don’t have to do things just because “that’s the way we have always done it in the past.” Now I use A3’s to brainstorm on problems I see present and think about how I go about making a change.
3. What was your first Peak Innovation?
I began with something small that I knew was in my direct control. My very first PEAK innovation was to clean my workspace and organize it into a more workable area. While this innovation is a simple innovation, having a clean and organized workspace is crucial for everyone so that clutter is out of the way and so that everything that is needed is in its place. Through beginning small, it opened myself up to thinking ‘bigger’ about other things I could do that I directly control but could also benefit others. My next innovations did just that.
4. What is your most successful Peak Innovation to date and why?
At the greenhouse, we use Microsoft Excel to track plant orders, plant inventory, and propagation events. I implemented changes to the file so that it is easier to view how many plants we have in stock and to know how many trays of plants we must pull to fulfill orders. Initially, the Excel file only displayed what plants we have. I made changes which included conditional formatting and utilizes equations that work behind the scenes to calculate and show how many individual plants we still have to grow and how many trays of plants we need to pull for orders.
Additionally, I made the file automatically determine if there were unique scenarios present so that we wouldn’t ‘short’ plants unevenly for people who picked up orders later in the season. The greenhouse team would know on the front end, before the first order goes out, that we have plants that are in different container sizes or that we are short on our numbers if that scenario was present. The crew could look at the Excel file and know within seconds if we exceeded what we needed in our plant inventory, met our numbers, or were short on our count and by how much. We also knew how many trays were needed instantly to pull rather than the individual number of plants required for an order.
For example, it is good to know that someone ordered ‘X’ number of a specific plant, but that didn’t tell the greenhouse team how many trays of that plant there would be. Through having this automation in the Excel file, we no longer manually calculate the number to determine how many trays there should be and there are also fewer errors occurring from mistyped keys in a calculator or from looking at the wrong line(s) in Excel inadvertently.
5. What went well while working on your most successful innovation?
It took many steps to get the Excel file to work the way I wanted it to, and I just chipped away at it one step at a time. Not only did I improve a tool that all of us use at the greenhouse, but I was also able to learn from it by expanding my skills and familiarity with Excel. The changes that I implemented to the file have helped all of us, and now it is a normal part of this necessary file that we all use every day.
6. What didn’t go so well while working on your most successful innovation?
I did not know how to implement the changes in the Excel file and went through much trial and error with the logic done in the background to make the file calculate the numbers automatically the way I wanted it. While the process could work through using macros in Excel, I am unsure how to write macros. As such, I used equations in the background to do everything I wanted the dataset to do. It was a learning process, and it took time, but with persistence I got it to work.
7. What would you change about your most successful innovation?
If I made a change, it would be to make it so that fewer equations are needed for the innovation to work in the Excel file. Right now, the file is easy to break if the equations are somehow changed or modified unintentionally. While the number of instances is minor where errors occur, the changes require periodic maintenance to the file. When mistakes do happen, it only affects the Innovations I added, and it doesn’t stop the rest of the file from working. If I had to make a change, I would craft a way for the data to be less dependent on equations by having macros or some other innovation in place.
8. What advice would you give to someone trying to innovate for the first, second, or third time?
When implementing an innovation, don’t stop just because you hit a roadblock or are not sure how to do it. Sit back and think about the situation when you don’t know how to make a change. It took me a lot of trial, error, and research to learn how to implement difficult or unusual changes. I just knew the goal and focused on that. If you focus on what it is that you want to change, rather than giving up on the first attempt, you’ll be successful.
Additionally, don’t look at the result as one project. Look at the pieces that go into getting to that point. Through chipping away at the problem to get to the conclusion, you will eventually get there. Looking at a job in its entirety can be daunting. If you look at it in smaller pieces, you will make progress over time that will ultimately get you to the result that is desired.