How can an organization work seven times faster when it knows it can’t work seven times harder?
In June 2010, Parliament passed the Balanced Refugee Reform Act. Its implementation compels the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) to process claims seven times faster with no additional human or financial resources.
Achieving this demanding challenge clearly requires a dramatic cultural shift as personnel will be required to overhaul the way they work. To meet the challenge, the Board has implemented a Business Process Improvement (BPI) initiative to allow for staff consultations on the coming changes to improve their level of understanding and buy-in. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of how the IRB is rising to the challenge.
Provide the tools to do it better
The IRB established process mapping sessions with various teams. They received detailed information in a “value stream map” demonstrating the flow of materials and information through a business process or system. This improved strategic thinking at all levels by mapping the role and contribution of each individual.
“As opposed to examining the processes of our organization from the top down and dictating improvements to personnel, we gave personnel the tools to find efficiencies themselves,” said Mark Jarvis, senior project officer for the BPI.
This approach allowed those who worked closest with subject matter to identify critical bottlenecks. As a result, the Board received nearly 300 suggestions on process improvements and created an opportunity for senior management to directly address “disturbances to flow” or problems that personnel experience on a routine basis.
Write the unwritten rules
A common observation at the mapping sessions was worker dependence on “tribal knowledge” learned through a combination of trial-and-error and word-of-mouth and necessary for survival. This information is a collection of workarounds, alternate practices, tips and tricks whose usefulness is not always obvious in the completion of a task. Think, for example, of a consistent way for a senior manager’s office to receive briefing notes or the best way to order office supplies.
The application of this expertise, by its nature, eludes good knowledge management practices. When an employee leaves a position, many important procedural details associated with that position also leave.
The IRB’s Central Region launched a pilot project to capture this unwritten, task-related knowledge. For each task, the person responsible completed a process template in plain language. The overview posted on cubicle walls could be readily viewed by others as needed while more detailed process logs were available online.
“Task transparency allows us to act in a more team-oriented fashion with a greater ability to collaborate on each task or to exchange tasks amongst ourselves,” said Jarvis. “It creates a ‘rubber organization,’ one in which an absent colleague’s work can be covered by a co-worker who can use the task descriptions to easily identify what needs to be done.”
For continual improvement, try continual collaboration
The IRB set up another pilot project in its Toronto offices to test a new approach to team meetings. The project involved work units meeting in “report-out” sessions on a daily basis for 10-minute stand-ups to update each other on important issues.
During the mapping exercise, when asked how they knew they had done a good job, employees answered either that they didn’t know, when all the work was off their desk, or when they didn’t get into trouble. Clearly goals stated at a high level had not translated into work at the operational level. These meetings helped solve this issue by allowing teams to discuss the relevant goals instead of just specific tasks and identify collaborative solutions that cut across traditional boundaries.
“While the time commitment of huddles may seem daunting to some, this approach actually saves time,” said Jarvis. “A unit cannot act more efficiently without an adequate working understanding of what the team’s play is, which is discussed during the huddle.”
Preparing for the future
These imaginative initiatives show positive results based on personnel feedback and degree of engagement. The true test of success will be with the implementation of the act but the Board is well prepared to meet the challenges ahead with a cultural shift well on the way.
Simon Coakely is the executive director of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Christopher Slaney is a communications advisor for the IRB.