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How process improvement streamlined the child support case intake process
The Michigan Department of Human Services Office of Child Support assists parents with their financial obligations to their children, providing a range of services to them as well as to employers, hospitals and schools.
Recognizing the need to improve the child support case intake process, the Office initiated a rapid process improvement assessment in June 2013. The goal was to realize fast, high-impact results while keeping stakeholders involved and boosting morale.
Working with Accenture, the Office completed a Kaizen event—a lean process improvement method known for delivering quick results. In just six weeks, the team identified more than 30 solutions to increase process speed, process cycle efficiency and rolled throughput yield across 12 sub-processes. Since implementing the recommendations, case intake team output has improved by 40 percent.
The efficiency of the child support intake process is fundamental to the Office’s ability to deliver on its mission. While the process had undergone some improvement efforts since 2002, including centralization of staff, there was more work to be done.
As Director Erin Frisch explained, there was broad recognition of the need to make improvements or “straighten the pipes.” “We needed to find a way to move past the general consensus that the way we were doing things was not working anymore, and figure out what to do next.”
There were a number of issues and delays within the process. For example, of the 87,865 cases opened from June 2012 to June 2013, only 10 percent were referred in 30 days or less. Just 4 percent of cases were referred immediately. What’s more, at least 15 percent of cases opened during this time were opened unnecessarily.
These challenges were heightened by a high volume of referrals from the public assistance program, which jumped exponentially during this period. “We had the disruption of big change, which impacted the volume of work,” says Frisch. “As a result, folks felt like they were working very hard and not making any progress.”
The Office selected Accenture to help work through these challenges. Accenture brought business process improvement insight, eligibility system and human services industry experience. Accenture was also familiar with Michigan’s child support environment. Accenture assisted with the implementation of the Michigan Child Support Enforcement System (MiCSES) and has helped maintain it since 2003.
Drawing on this understanding and listening to Frisch’s requirements for a fast, inclusive and outcomes-driven approach to process improvement, Accenture recommended the Kaizen event. Led by an Accenture Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and small project team, the method aligned well with project objectives such as:
This approach included three phases over six weeks—preparation, Kaizen event and post event. During the preparation phase, the project team created a project charter, identified primary metrics and developed a value stream map. This is a process map that includes data analysis for a view of the current state of how things are done—and how well they are being done.
This work culminated in the “all hands in” Kaizen event. A core team of support specialists, friends of the court, plan administrators and MiCSES project members came together with the Accenture facilitator to unpack the child support case lifecycle, citing issues and identifying solutions.
By including this representative group, the Office benefitted from a mix of operator, upstream and downstream perspectives. The collaborative process also gave participants a real stake in developing solutions. “This process was very pragmatic. It allowed us to get the best thinking from the people actually doing the work without any distractions, which was invaluable,“ recalls Frisch.
The team identified a number of issues as a result of this thorough process analysis, including:
The Kaizen event identified solutions to these issues—balancing process and system improvements. The team developed 33 solutions, including eight “quick hit” solutions. While participants completed some of these actions during the event, others were tasked with discrete actions in the weeks following to continue the momentum.
In addition, the process revealed 25 medium- to long-term solutions, tentatively identifying accountable and support personnel to shepherd progress. A future state value map incorporated all approved quick hit and longer-term solutions. The team also created a metrics plan with several proposed new metrics.
Frisch reports that the Office is acting on the solutions. “We’ve reorganized ourselves into teams, and we’re focusing on the backlog of work. In the first month of this transition, we’ve improved case intake output by 40 percent. So we’re already seeing big improvements.”
In initiating this assessment, Frisch and her leadership team consciously choose to focus on improving processes they could control—taking a measured approach to change. Moving forward, they have identified opportunities for potential future improvements across the end-to-end child support intake process.
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