Seattle Housing Authority Leading the Way in Lean Process Improvement


The Seattle Housing Authority is a leader in innovation, program design and operations.  One of the fundamental priorities of the agency is to be extremely good stewards of public funds.  Because of that the agency has always put an emphasis on ensuring all of its services, processes and workflow are as efficient as possible.  The Seattle Housing Authority is an original Moving to Work  agency, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development designation that means increased latitude in how funding is spent in order to be more innovative efficient.   SHA’s integration of lean methodologies in the last two years is nothing more than a progression in the willingness of the agency to always look at ways to improve.

Lean In Housing Choice Voucher

The Housing Choice Voucher (formerly known as Section 8) department at the Seattle Housing Authority is similar to many other voucher programs at first glance.  There is an office.  There are cubes.   However; one thing might make you pause.  There are visual management boards clearly showing how various sub-departments are doing on a wide range of issues like issuance, inspections, lease up rates, project based contract renewal dates, and veteran voucher utilization rates.  These boards allow for management and leadership to see how performance is going at a glance.  Being willing to share this is an important step in transparency.

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SHA now has a “Lean Lab” in the voucher department, created entirely by the staff.  It is the staff instigating process improvement, supervisors who are coaching and agency leadership who are enabling this positive work to take place.  A core belief throughout the agency is that empowered staff can help drive positive change.

Enable Staff to Be Problem Solvers

The voucher department leadership moved towards lean and made a big effort towards training staff.  That meant training for all staff.  Every recertification specialist, inspector, supervisor and leader took classes in problem solving using lean, daily lean practices and intro to lean.  This helped build a foundation that the staff is now using to continue to make the department more efficient.

Always Moving Forward

On any given day you might see a supervisor and front-line staff members in a conference room full of sticky notes.  A process mapping event could be taking place trying to identify the pain points in a process.  The staff are fully engaged at digging out the root cause of issues and then going back to their desks and figuring out ways to measure the problem.  Everyone is on board with measuring the scale of problems so they know if any changes/countermeasures worked.  Lease up times, issuance times, re-inspection have all squarely been in the cross-hairs of this departmental movement towards excellence.

Lean in Public Housing

Within the Housing Operations department, which manages more than 6,000 units of public housing as well as another 2-3 thousand affordable units, dozens of staff were trained and multiple lean events were implemented.  The admissions department cut back the number of over-income households coming to briefings by a large percentage within 2 months.  The savings were measured and helped both SHA and applicants save time.  A process improvement event allowed the inspector area to double its capacity by looking at day-to-day workflow.  The department continues to look for ways to improve different processes and make all housing programs more accessible and easier to navigate for residents and families.

Trusting Staff and Driving Customer Value

SHA has historically put an emphasis on efficiency.  That means any ideas that can make this happen are welcome.  Lean is just of many of the tools being used at Seattle Housing Authority. One of the greatest parts of using lean is the focus on enabling staff to improve their work and really look at how residents view the programs and how they interact with them.  SHA has always worked to deliver value for applicants and tenants and lean helps everyone to see the programs through the applicant/tenant lens and drive change to meet their needs.  The agency will continue to look for ways to improve and better serve the individuals and families that need help and assistance.

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