What Your Affordable Housing Organization Can Learn from Arizona about Going Lean


I recently attended the Lean Government Conference in Tacoma, Washington.  Robert Wood from the state of Arizona came and gave a motivating and I believe instructive presentation about how the entire State of Washington is going lean and working on process improvement.  I thought that his message translates well to any organization and especially us in the non-profit/housing sector.

Measure and Identify Break Through Goals:

Robert believes that every organization should go through a pretty simple path when their are process related problems.

  • Set Targets
  • Measure the problem
  • Identify the gaps
  • Target results
  • Take Action
  • Close the Gap
  • Celebrate

Sounds simple enough but the message that should not be lost is that he is advocating for REAL problem solving.  Another thing worth noting is that every department in Arizona must develop break through goals each year.  One example is the department of licensing cut wait times for their customers by 50%!  This is a really cool idea and I think that it is something being missed in the housing and homeless industry.  Sometimes we get so focused on these monstrous global issues that are somewhat out of our control that we forget the little things that could ease burden.  What would happen if we cut the amount of time someone waits in our lobby?  What would happen if a voucher briefing took one hour instead of 3?

Who is Your Customer?  Make it Visual:

The speaker brought out that every process has a customer.  I really liked that he brought out that sometimes we focus on the big customer and forget all the internal/external customers.  One example was people taking phone calls on child abuse claims.  They were taking a lot of notes and there was a huge backlog of voicemail.  When asked who their customer was, they often said-the child.  That makes sense but in reality their customer was the person investigating the claims.  They found that when they spoke to that customer, they were over-collecting information which was wasteful for the complainant and the investigator.  It is a smart move to articulate your customer.  If you are in accounts payable, your customer might be the vendor who needs to get paid, not a resident.  If you are a data analyst, your customer might be the boss who needs a report.  If you are cranking inspections, you have multiple customers who needs have to be met.  Think it through.

Once you know who your customer is, go ahead and make the major goals and issues visual. Quit hiding problems!  It is important to embrace a culture of embracing issues and being vulnerable.  The only way that is going to happen is if there is a safe environment.  Once you have visual management boards up, your teams can huddle around them and discuss emergent problems.  If you do not know what daily huddles or visual management boards are, watch this video.

Problem Solving-4 Box

I appreciated the simple approach that Arizona is taking towards problems.

  1. What is the problem
  2. Causes
  3. Solutions
  4. Standardize

They keep it simple.  See the slide below:



There is much more to discuss with how the State of Arizona is going about implementing lean and working with its leadership and staff to become a state full of problem solvers.  What you you seen where you work?  Are there lean movements in your state?  Email us at info@housing-futures.org and share.  For more about lean in Arizona, visit this website.

Author: jcrites

Josh Crites is an American social housing professional with both practical and research experience. He has worked at 3 social housing companies in the USA in roles ranging from policy and operations to process improvement and strategy. Josh is a former Alexander von Humboldt German Chancellor Fellow. During that fellowship, Josh researched and worked with social housing companies in Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, England, Estonia and Spain. He is an avid writer and advocate for the provision of social housing around the world.

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