Posted by: knightbird | February 20, 2015

Lean Thinking for Addressing Homeless Issues in Alaska

My involvement in public service in Alaska started with a term on the Bean’s Café board of directors. What a great group that was. The director, Dr. Lynn Ballew, started an organization with a goal of feeding the homeless and hungry. Our first home was a small concrete block building on 5th Avenue, located just across from the Anchorage Sheraton Hotel. Since then, the numbers of homeless have apparently increased in number, and the services substantially expanded and institutionalized. But the increase in services has happened in siloes, without much in the way of Lean Thinking. How do we apply Lean Thinking to the homeless issue in Anchorage? Well, I have some thoughts.

If you guessed that I would recommend a Kaizen event, you are right. We have to have a problem statement, or multiple problem statements. After all, we are tackling a very complex system and there will be multiple problems to address.

We need to know a current state. We spend lots of money on studies and news reports, but precious little on an improvement event. Get 10 people together and hold a Kaizen. We should have an A-3 guiding us. Gather the facts; look for data, and Value Stream Map (VSM) our current programs used for addressing homelessness. We know that public funds are spent on addressing homeless issues, but we don’t know how the entire system works. So many of the services are in siloes, as with any business. If we are going to make progress on our homeless issue, we need to understand the Value Stream of homelessness. Do I recommend going to the Gemba? Absolutely. Map the Value Stream with real facts and that includes movement. Use the tools of Lean to gain as complete a picture of the homeless as we can. Perfection is not required. We have a system in place. It is ruled by Random and Chaotic routines. But it is still a system. Let’s map the system as best we can, and establish whatever data we can. It’s a start.

How do we map the system? Remember the 5 Why’s? Let’s look for Root Cause. Let’s use a Fishbone diagram to explore the whys for the issues faced by the homeless. Use a spaghetti diagram. Run your VSM through a swim lane analysis. Get the data and analyze it.

And what is the next step? That’s simple; create a vision, a future state. What do we want to accomplish.

Then we brainstorm. How do we address the issue we have factually identified? What can we change that will help us make improvements to the system. We do this in a team environment and using Lean methods. We construct our next target condition. What can we improve today? What needs a change in policy and how do we accomplish that change. What requires additional funding, and how do we secure the funding. There is some serious analytical work that must be done, but this is a start.

Following through on the PDCA of improvement events, once we have a plan in place, we manage it Visually. Our project plan must be carried out. We need good and effective handoffs. I don’t have all of the answers, but I know the methodology to use to address the problem. Will the solutions come overnight? Of course not. That’s why Lean is engaging in “Continuous Improvement.”

It would be nice to have Leadership willing to give Lean Social Issues a try. I believe it will work.

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