A well-balanced, full-bodied Lean success in Washington wine country: process improvement success at Walla Walla Treasurer’s Office

Rows of Wine Grapes

Cab Franc Block 3, Rows of wine grapes at a vineyard in Walla Walla region of eastern Washington

Small governments, big focus

The Performance Center’s years of working with local governments all across Washington has given the Center an unprecedented understanding of the needs of local governments. Our targeted, customized approach to process improvement work not only helps local governments succeed in their chosen process, but gives them the depth of understanding they need to foster a Lean culture within. The work we did with the Walla Walla Treasurer’s Office outlines this kind of specialized assistance that makes the Center’s approach unique and effective.

The back story

County Treasurer Gordon Heimbigner was interested in making his office work more efficiently. Some of the processes they had, such as using manually created spreadsheets for journal entry and reporting, were time-intensive and cumbersome to the staff. Heimbigner (a former State Auditor’s Office employee) learned of the Lean services offered through the Performance Center through State Treasurer Duane Davidson, who encouraged him to contact the Performance Center to help facilitate the Lean process improvements and culture changes needed in Walla Walla.

The five-person team at the Walla Walla County Treasurer’s Office was open to change, and were already brainstorming creative ways to accommodate their increasing workload without extra help. They were excited at the prospect of getting expert help in making their workday run more smoothly and efficiently.

The work begins

Performance Center Lean Specialist Debra Hentz began her work with the County Treasurer by leading the group through a day of foundational Lean training, designed to give everyone a basic understanding and tools they would need to create success. From there, using the Performance Center’s model of customized process improvement services, Hentz determined the County Treasurer’s Office would most benefit from a three-day kaizen (or process improvement) event. Part of this customized approach and setting the foundation for success was to bring in other experts from the Performance Center, including a former auditor/financial management expert. This made sure the process improvements made would be in compliance with requirements as well as best practices in internal control principles.

The kaizen was aimed at mapping the County Treasurer’s Office cash receipting and journal entry processes to determine if they could be made more accurate or simple through the use of computer software rather than hand-created spreadsheets. Heimbigner hoped the kaizen would teach and empower his staff to use their new Lean skills in many different ways in their jobs.

Eye-opening revelations

The kaizen event revealed many areas that would improve efficiency. Staff realized they were collecting and recording more information than they needed. They also identified the opportunity to collaborate with and train other County departments on how to accurately enter information into the computer software system, which would free up Treasurer’s Office staff to better assist with more complex questions or issues.

Putting it all together

Mapping it out as a team gave the treasurer’s office some impressive results. What was once an 11-step process done by a single staff member was reduced to four steps. This freed up considerable time and helped ease the burden on the small staff. Through the collaboration and training with other County departments on recording their own data into the computer system, the kaizen was able to dramatically reduce the number of “human errors” which bogged down the process, resulting in employee-reported increased job satisfaction and positive working relationships for all involved. Office employees embraced a culture of process improvement, and now seek out opportunities to improve their everyday work environments.

Making a lasting change

Taking three days out of an already very busy workplace can seem scary; people ask “can we ’afford‘ to take this time?” But what people are really asking is:

  • Will there be meaningful change?
  • Will we waste our time just to have things go back to the old way, or maybe even a worse way?

The professionals at the Performance Center understand these concerns, and want to design a process improvement event around you and your unique needs. We are experts in helping local governments in Washington improve the way they work — from the operations they perform to the culture in the office environment. If you are interested in learning more about how the Performance Center can help you take the next step in creating a better government, email us at performance@sao.wa.gov or call us at 360-725-5621.


Don’t miss this upcoming free webinar “Cybersecurity Essentials for Local Government Leaders!”

computer_equipment-224824333Presented by the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) and sponsored by the State Auditor’s Office Performance Center, this webinar is for elected officials, managers, information technology and other staff working to keep electronic systems safe from outside interference. Share this information with your co-workers and elected officials in order to get the most out of this opportunity!

This free webinar will help public sector leaders understand what their organization’s greatest vulnerabilities are and the most important investments necessary to reduce risk. You’ll hear from firsthand experience—in agencies both small and midsized—how opportunistic cybercriminals take advantage of system vulnerabilities. You’ll also learn about cybersecurity training that each person with your organization should have and how to get it.

Could a major cybersecurity incident happen to your agency? If it did, how costly could it be? You can’t afford to miss this presentation occurring October 18th at 11am – Register at: mrsc.org/getdoc/27fa135b-50ee-4ab2-ab1d-d9220f9324fe/Cybersecurity-Webinar-2018.aspx.

Recent GAO report underscores the need for cybersecurity auditing

GAOlogoThe federal counterpart to the Office of the Washington State Auditor, the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on Tuesday demonstrating the vitally important role of cybersecurity auditing in the information age. Vulnerabilities in government systems can be exploited by criminals looking to harm the public, as detailed in the GAO’s audit findings.

The Office of the Washington State Auditor helps local governments protect themselves from cybersecurity threats through a variety of means, including conducting cybersecurity audits on both the local and state levels. SAO also provides local governments with the training and resources they need to better understand the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity. Responding to the increased demand for cybersecurity resources by Washington’s local governments, SAO has begun developing a new suite of materials specifically designed to address local government concerns. By partnering with governments across Washington and providing them with our valuable audit services, we help protect Washingtonians from potential cyber harm.


Helping local governments avoid costly cybersecurity breaches

Searching For VirusOur Office is dedicated to helping local and state governments across Washington avoid the potentially devastating effects of cybersecurity attacks. Much of the public data governments hold is sensitive in nature, and needs to be carefully guarded. That’s why we are in the process of developing new, user-centered cybersecurity resources specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of your local government. We want to hear from you about what resources you’d most like to see, and what issues you want us to address. Take our short, anonymous survey to give us your important feedback.

The Office of the Washington State Auditor has put together a handy guide to various organizations that offer cybersecurity resources to local governments like yours—you can find this and other resources you may find helpful on our website.

We are always listening! If you want to start a conversation with us directly, email us at performance@sao.wa.gov.

How Benton-Franklin Health District used Lean to make its immunization process work better

Kennewick, Washington: The Benton-Franklin Health District building is a clean, modern facility, shining brightly from its location tucked behind a shopping center and other businesses. The waiting room is spacious, and the interior brims with helpful pamphlets about preventing common diseases, staying healthy and knowing when to visit your doctor. The facility is designed to put clients at ease as they wait for their appointments. Health District employees care about their clients and have designed their space around their clients’ comfort.

But what about the Health District’s internal processes? Employees, championed by District Administrator Jason Zaccaria, knew their day-to-day work could reflect the peaceful, client-centered flow of their external building. That’s why they contacted the Performance Center at the Office of the Washington State Auditor. Continue reading

New resource identifies best practices for small and attractive assets

mobile_tech-202676950.jpgRecently, the Performance Center provided several resources on accounting for capital assets to help local governments with financial reporting. Another group of assets, which fall below a government’s capitalization threshold, should also be considered when establishing and evaluating asset policies and other internal controls. In Washington, we frequently refer to these as “small and attractive assets,” but they these could be described using different terminology. For example, the Government Finance Officers Association refers to them as “controlled capital-type items” in its best practice guidance. Continue reading

Come try our new, improved Local Government Financial Reporting System

2018-04-26_LGFRS_publish_snapshotAs a part of our continuing commitment to making information about local government operations around the state more transparent and accessible, we have updated the look and feel of our Local Government Financial Reporting System, or LGFRS. Our Office has long provided unaudited financial data filed by local governments on our website via LGFRS. This same tool has a new look and is now even easier to use and understand. Continue reading

Kenmore showcases love of community

At the Office of the Washington State Auditor, one of our primary functions is to evaluate the finances of governments across the state. But did you know that what we do goes beyond the bottom line, and into the very heart of what makes a government function well and connect to its residents? This emotional connection is what is at the heart of our newest video, “For the Love of Kenmore.” It’s about helping local governments in Washington find, as Kenmore City Manager Rob Karlinsey puts it, “value beyond the purely financial.”

In 2015, the City of Kenmore invited Peter Kageyama, a community development consultant and author of “For the Love of Cities,” to speak. The goal was to develop what Peter calls the “emotional capital” for both the people of Kenmore and the public servants who work to make Kenmore a great place to call home. The City invited engaged residents to hear Peter speak, and a new private-public collaboration was born, with amazing results.

Fast-forward to 2016, when the Government Performance Consortium (GPC) (a collaboration between the State Auditor’s Office, University of Washington-Tacoma and the Municipal Research and Services Center) invited Kageyama to come to speak at several cities across the state. You can watch that video summary here. After that event, many governments reached out to GPC asking how they, too, could learn more about creating this type of emotional investment in their government — to engage residents and increase trust in their government, and thereby to work better together.

This video shows one response to that demand — that along with good financial management practices, sound budgeting guidance and performance improvements, local governments can find a path toward creating meaningful (and, dare we say, loving ) relationships with the people they serve. For more information about this, and other assistance for local governments, please visit our Performance Center page.

Washington Auditor’s acclaimed Financial Intelligence Tool to be an example of leading practice at Pew Charitable Trust national conference

Who is using FIT?

The Office of the Washington State Auditor is a national leader in developing and applying tools to assess and display information about local governments’ financial condition. That’s why the Pew Charitable Trust has invited the Office of the Washington State Auditor to speak at its State and Local Fiscal Health Workshop on February 27 in Boston, Massachusetts.

The workshop will bring together state officials from across the country to help staff at the Massachusetts Division of Local Services as they work to improve the state’s municipal fiscal data dashboard and to allow officials from all the states to exchange ideas.

Washington’s Financial Intelligence Tool (FIT), a unique local fiscal health tool and dashboard, is of particular interest to the participants as they seek to improve their own fiscal data visualizations. Designed to help local governments understand information about their financial health, FIT received the 2016 National State Auditors’ Association (NSAA) Award for Excellence in Accountability. Since then, local governments across Washington have used FIT to gain insight into their financial condition and make sound fiscal decisions based on that data.