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Voice of Denver: Investing in Ourselves at Denver's Peak Academy

David Edinger, Chief Performance Officer, at Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock's Office.

Scotty Martin, Manager of Process Improvement at Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock's Office.

Scotty Martin, Manager of Process Improvement, and David Edinger, Chief Performance Officer, at Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock's Office, say Denver's Peak Academy streamlines and improves processes, eliminating waste and saving time and money.
Innovation does not always require technology. In Denver, we believe that people and processes are the foundation of innovation. Innovation, as we approach it, is strategic change resulting in performance improvement. It comes in small, imperfect steps and depends on our resolve to invest in ourselves.
 
In Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock's office, Peak Academy reaches government workers the principles of Lean to prioritize ideas and eliminate waste.
 
After four hours of Peak Academy training, one Denver colleague went back to her wastewater division office where she has worked for years and promptly created over $46,000 of annual savings. She determined that the 11,000 annual lien letters from her department did not require certified mail. As a result, she saved $44,235 in annual postage costs and freed workers from about 100 hours of stamping the mail. We call this type of innovation a "Just Do It," or "Just Stop It," as the case may be. 
 
These types of innovations are now frequent because the people who do the work are empowered with the tools to innovate that work. The term waste can initially seem insulting. Peak Academy teaches the opposite: that waste is disrespectful to workers, customers, and citizens because it asks everyone to endure work and processes that produce no value. 
 
This is not to say that technology is unimportant. The first time we tried to create an integrated criminal justice supply chain, the technology was already in place. The five primary criminal justice agencies had their own enterprise systems and, as a result, projects like the Unified Summons & Complaint turned seven paper arrest forms into one electronic version, eliminated redundant data entry across the supply chain, and dramatically reduced the chance for human error. Our subject matter experts -- our employees -- were the source of innovation.
 
Innovation requires team effort. Larger efforts, called Rapid Improvement Events (RIEs), take a week and can cost as much as $20,000 in personnel. It's not unusual, however, for RIES to return three to five times that investment, often within a year. At Human Services, a team set ground rules on day one. These rules required no investment in technology. They started with a reason for action: internal mail distribution took too long to reach case workers. The team then worked to reduce the number of internal mail transfers from 23 to 12, and increased the percentage of cases indexed within 24 hours from 29 percent to 100 percent. The bulk of the work took one week, and the financial payback occurred within seven months. 
 
Peak Academy will train over 1,000 new Green Belts with a four-hour Lean introduction in 2012, as 180 new Black Belts will receive four and a half days of training from an internal process-improvement team. Black Belts go back to their jobs with the expectation of two or three annual innovations built into their individual work plans. 
 
On the final day of Black Belt training, when candidates start thinking about going back to their jobs, fear often creeps in. They fear a lack of supervisor support, they fear co-workers resistant of change and they fear that this newly acquired knowledge might only apply in the classroom. The Black Belts present three of their work-related innovation ideas to classmates, executive sponsors and instructors. Together the group debriefs them on how to refine individual plans, and sponsors chime in with support to push Black Belts past their fears and into a place of hope and confidence.
 
We've found this cliff of fear to be the biggest obstacle for our colleagues as they enter into phases of innovation. And yet, for us, innovation is people. Of course technology has an important role for large-scale innovation. But we believe successful innovation must start with the people who do the work. Denver's goal is to turn 10,300 employees into innovators. 
 
Peak Academy is a component of Peak Performance, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock's vision for smart government. 

Voice of Denver is a bimonthly featured post from Denver's entrepreneurs, experts and raconteurs. Contact us if you'd like to stand on our soapbox.
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