Lean in Public Housing: How Do You Solve a Problem?

We are hard wired as humans to solve problems.  Sometimes we are methodical and devise strategies and other times we just do it because it is simple and needs to be done.  As I have worked in government for several years sometimes I find the need for a more methodical way of attacking an issue I encounter.  When I run up against a complex issue that has a seemingly never ending number of causes, it can seem over-whelming.  This is where lean can come into play.  The problem solving side of lean is actually pretty simple and fun to use.  Lets take a quick spin and see how easy lean problem solving can be.


Do you remember high school science?  You would form a hypothesis and test it out?  You should still be doing the same thing now at work when there is a problem.  There is a simple formula you can use.  P=Plan, D=Do, C=Check and A=Act.  Lets get into some detail.  I am going to give an example here to help us.

Example:  Every time I hold an admissions briefing for public housing or section 8, a lot of applicants who come end up being over-income.

1. Plan

This is the phase where you actually spend the most amount of time.  You get to understand your problem in its simplest terms.  In our example above, we could probably say that too many people are showing up over income.  Pretty simple right?  You will then process map or really measure the full scale of the problem.  In our example, you would want to identify how many people are coming in to briefings but are over-income.  You might need a few months of data.  Lets say you have it and its 30%  Once you have a number you can then say what your goal is and write a problem statement.

Problem Statement:  Currently 30% of everyone who comes to our admissions briefings are over-income compared to our goal of 5% that we want to reach by December 31st 2017.

The problem statement above is good.  You have a baseline, you have a goal and a date.   The next step in planning is to do a root cause analysis.  There are several tools but 5 whys works well.   By the time you ask why-5 times, you usually get to a root cause.

Why are so many families coming to briefings over-income?

-Because we do not check their paper work until the time of the briefing——--WHY?

– Because we do not have enough time to check this paper work——-WHY?

– Because it is complicated to check family size and incomes and compare to 30% ami         to see if they are income qualified

Root Cause: It seems like the process is too difficult so we need to find something that is simple and easy.

At this point, you can brain-storm with a team on different ideas that might help solve this problem.  In this situation, I have seen a countermeasure come up already.  The team I worked with came up with a cheat sheet to make checking for income before briefings fast and simple.

2. Do

Once you’ve identified a potential solution, test it with a small-scale pilot project.  I am a huge fan of testing.  If it does not work, you did not put too much work in.  Plus change can always create unintended consequences.  Test a little and then see where you are at.  If it goes well, you can further implement.  In our case, the team tested out for a few months the idea of checking income with a cheat sheet to make it faster.

3. Check

Now you see if your goal is being met.  Remember our problem statement?  Our goal was 5%.  The team that I worked with tested their results after three months to ensure a good sample size.  They got down to 8% so pretty damn close.   If they had not met their goal, they would have went back to step 2 and 3 (plan and do).

4. Act

If all is good, go ahead and fully implement your counter-measure.  Remember that this is all a test so you keep on trying to improve.   Our team fully implemented this and continue to look for ways to improve.

Conclusion:  If you are ever looking for ways to help you get through a problem, try this lean problem solving methodology.  Check out this article for more information. 


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