Find out what happens when you take a plumbing inspector out of the field and put him into a completely virtual DOTI Black Belt Fellowship. Spoiler alert: record-breaking levels of innovation.
Our third installment of the DOTI Black Belt Fellowship program (read more about it here and here) was unique for a couple of reasons: 1) it took place completely virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic and 2) our solo fellow in this program was Gene Roybal and he set a record by completing 10 innovations during his fellowship.
Gene is a Plumbing Inspector with the Right of Way Services (ROWS) Wastewater Management team, and this June he left his team behind to embed with another division with in ROWS, the Engineering and Regulatory Analysis (ERA) team. The time savings created by ten innovations helped a team with backlogs and staff shortages in an even more important way given the current budget shortages the city is facing.
You’ve probably heard us say this before, but a huge part of the innovation process is building relationships and trust with the people who do the job every day. While this was made even more challenging in a virtual environment, Gene was the right person for the job with his humble and inclusive communication style and his ability to listen first and ask great questions. Gene worked most closely with Devin Price, an Operations Coordinator on the ERA team.
Devin and Gene spent countless hours on Microsoft Teams calls, with Devin showing Gene the ins and outs of the ERA processes and Gene asking questions to understand the systems. This was a huge shift in work for Gene, who is used to being out in the field for his daily work, never using Teams before his first virtual meeting about the fellowship. But again, Gene’s humility and eagerness to learn helped him master the needed technology, so much so that by the end of the fellowship, he was ready to bring this new tool back to his team to keep them from meeting in person during a pandemic.
While the constant desk-sitting of this tech-heavy task was making Gene antsy toward the end of the three months, so was the idea of his team covering for him back in plumbing inspections. In our weekly Teams meetings with Gene, he would mention feeling guilty that his team was rearranging vacations and taking on extra work to cover for his opportunity to take part in this fellowship. But during Gene’s readout to the DOTI CORE Leadership team, we heard from Gene’s supervisor and teammates about how thrilled they were to do this for him because they knew he would do the same for any of them. This tight-knit team was not only connected to each other, but to their purpose as public servants.
Gene’s work ethic and passion for process improvement inspired not only us on the PEAK Team, but the team that he worked with in ERA as well. Not only will the team be seeing his ten innovations through (six were identified as Just Do Its and have already been put in place, and four more have been started but will be seen through by the team), but Devin has already come through Public Service Superhero training and has some innovation ideas of her own. And Vanessa West, who oversees this team and also worked with Gene, completed two innovations of her own during Gene’s time with the group. Below is a compiled list of all of the innovations from Gene’s fellowship, just so you can bask in his and the ERA team’s glory with us!
Innovation 1: City Council Communications – The team streamlined ERA communication with city council to reduce errors and disruptions to the operations coordinator’s work.
Innovation 2: Comment Reports – By reassigning distribution of this task to a team member with capacity, operations coordinators gained 312 hours back over the course of a year.
Innovation 3: Ordinance Submittal Refinement – After reviewing this process, the team was able to remove a review by the senior engineer that eliminated two days from the process.
Innovation 4: Checklist & Application for Vacation and Relinquishment – 40% of all customers were struggling with this application, resulting in lots of rework that could cost thousands of dollars on construction loan defaults.
Innovation 5: Reviewer Assignment in Accela – By modifying Accela to automatically assign reviewers they reduced unutilized talent and wasted time.
Innovation 6: Accela Report – By creating a report in Accela to replace a spreadsheet, the team eliminate the possibility of human error as well as the time it took to update the spreadsheet.
Innovation 7: Vacation Protest Process – Currently all resident comments and protests to Right of Way Vacations go to the Executive Director’s office. This innovation will direct these communications to the ERA office instead, eliminating the possibility of interoffice mail delays by also utilizing a webpage instead of snail mail.
Innovation 8: ACA Vacation Requests – This innovation will create a portal that allows applications to apply for Right of Way Vacations online, reducing the number of hours that an operations coordinator spends originating a process by more than half.
Innovation 9: Small Cell Unique Identifier– This innovation will create a new record type in Accela to eliminate the need for multiple records, reducing processing time by 45 minutes.
Innovation 10: Lack of Merit Vacation Protest Letter – This innovation will create a new form letter to send to constituents explaining why their protest of a Right of Way Vacation is being denied due to Lack of Merit.