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County saves with lean projects (04/24/2013)
By Sarah Squires

The adult mental health assistance application process in Winona County used to have application forms and clients bouncing between social workers and support staff. After transforming the system using "Lean Management" techniques, the turn-around time for mental health applications was reduced by 87 percent, county dollars and staff time have been saved, and the project is just one example of how Winona County government workers are changing the way they do business.

Called "lean," the process embraces a grassroots approach to simplifying daily tasks in manufacturing, hospital, school, and government offices. Lean projects are developed and implemented using insight from workers on the ground about how processes can become more efficient.

For Winona County, the concept has resulted in a variety of new ways to handle government business, trimmed steps in various processes and created efficiencies that save tax dollars.

Administrative Aide Kelly Anderson has taken the lead on the program, and recently provided an update for County Board members. In 2011, 30 Winona County employees were trained as facilitators through a Winona State University program, and those facilitators went back to work prepared to find projects that could generate more efficient operations. Four projects have been completed, four are now in the implementation stages, and one new lean project is on the horizon.

The payroll process used to include dozens of steps. It was cut by seven steps through a lean project that Anderson said will save the county about $11,000 per year. Daily deposit processes, she said, used to include 23 county fund collection points; now, Winona County has 18 collection points, has reduced the process of collecting and depositing funds by eight steps, and departments now make just one daily deposit each.

Lean projects on the horizon are mainly in the finance department, Anderson told the board. One major project currently in the works concerns sharing by all law enforcement agencies and the county attorney's office of criminal data data tracking and intake that currently involves lots of staff time in each of the departments.

Anderson said that some of the lean projects can present a difficult transition for employees. "We don't have a lot of employees jumping at the chance to [do a lean project]," she said. Her goal is to provide all county employees with some initial training about the lean technique, which could help build support and excitement for the concept.

Winona County Administrator Duane Hebert said that Anderson has shared her expertise on lean strategies with other counties that seek to model Winona County's initiative. Commissioner Jim Pomeroy thanked Anderson for her work, calling her a "real leader." 


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