Rethinking how workers work

To improve efficiency and save money, employees with Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection are using software to re-engineer and standardize their day-to-day practices and procedures.

In a partnership with Proforma Corp., a Southfield, Mich.-based business modeling software and consulting company, DEP employees are examining the way they do things and seeing if they can be improved, said Rodney Kelley, executive assistant at DEP's management and technical services office.

"This is a radical concept, at least in state government, because it's always been bureaucratically driven and hierarchical," he said. In the past, Kelley said consultants hired to improve operations usually observed the staff and made recommendations. In this case, he said Proforma acts as a catalyst to enable the employees to help themselves.

The idea started a year ago when officials decided that empowering employees to chart out their business processes — that is, what they do, how they do it, how long it takes, and how much it costs — would be a good way to build a new management structure and information system. Standardizing practices and sharing information, Kelley said, could modernize methods, improve operations and services, reduce costs and enhance performance.

Last fall, DEP's Bureau of Laboratories, which tests and analyzes samples, participated in a pilot project. Lynda Wiseman, a principal consultant with Proforma, said the company hosted a three-day workshop where the bureau's 14-member management team charted out its organization and processes and incorporated them in a flowchart.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," said Wiseman, who said staff members also were trained to use the software.

The software creates sophisticated and detailed flowchart models, which can be subjected to "what if" analyses for cost and time projections.

Even though they have been doing the same work for years, Wiseman said employees were able to see the many steps involved in a particular process. "They saw how many handoffs there were, how many time delays, and how many times there could be a slip-up," she said.

The company and DEP have created a Web site (www.bizprocessmodeling.com/dep/home.htm) outlining the goals, methods and outcomes of the project. Proforma, which has also worked with several Iowa and Wisconsin state government agencies, has started working with three other Pennsylvania DEP bureaus recently.

The company also provides mentoring and support services under its contract.

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