iSixSigma

From Chaos to Order: Reinvigorating a City’s Finance Department

From Chaos to Order: Reinvigorating a City’s Finance Department

The City of Fayetteville, North Carolina, underwent a significant reorganization of staff in 2015 by carving both a Budget and an Internal Audit department from its existing Finance department. While the rationale for the reorganization was solid, the result of the reorganization was that a large group of senior finance personnel relocated to these departments – leaving an experience gap. Shortly thereafter, the City’s CFO, who had 25 years of experience in municipal finance, retired. Next, the City Manager resigned and was replaced with an interim manager.

Starting from Chaos

The end result of all this personnel chaos was that the City was left with little experience – top to bottom – in its Finance department. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of the employees in the Finance department at this time had more than one year of municipal finance experience.

Finance Department Challenges

The lack of experience in this area of operations soon became apparent.

  • Critical deadlines were missed.
  • Both internal and external customer satisfaction was down.
  • Employee morale in the Finance department began to tank as people were called on to learn multiple roles on the fly. They had few mentors in the department and most operational procedures resided in people’s heads rather than in documented standard operating procedures.
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Not only had the department lost many experienced personnel in the reorganization, but now turnover among the new employees was beginning to rise as job satisfaction sank. The situation was becoming dire.

The Plan for Change

The Interim City Manager realized that the situation in the Finance department was deteriorating rapidly. He enlisted the help of the Strategic Planning and Analytics (SPA) office and tasked this office with developing a plan to right the ship in the Finance department. The SPA plan consisted of the following steps:

  • Gather internal and external customer pain points via a customer survey.
  • Construct a list of finance employee pain points via facilitated focus groups.
  • Conduct finance employee brainstorming sessions to identify:
    • Major areas of work performed in Finance
    • Roles and associated major responsibilities needed to perform this work
    • Major finance work processes
  • Conduct process value mapping sessions with finance employees to:
    • Map major work processes.
    • Map roles to process activities.
    • Identify non–value-added activities.
  • Develop a master list of Finance deliverables with associated due dates.
  • Develop and implement an onboarding process for the Finance department.
  • Enlist a group of key internal stakeholders as a steering committee for the project.
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Methods and Tools Used

SPA used a number of quality tools in planning and executing this plan. The City adopted the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) framework as its preferred method of performing process improvement and major problem-solving initiatives and this was the framework used on this project.

  • The City used John Kotter’s eight-step change model for its change management methodology.
    1. Create urgency.
    2. Form a powerful coalition.
    3. Create a vision for change.
    4. Communicate the vision.
    5. Remove obstacles.
    6. Create short-term wins.
    7. Build on the change.
    8. Anchor the changes in corporate culture.
  • Value stream mapping techniques were employed – along with root cause analysis tools such as the 5 Whys and Ishikawa diagrams – to optimize processes and identify waste.
  • Aspects of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) were brought to bear on the project as well. Although ITIL is primarily a best-practice framework for IT service management, it also contains guidance on process performance that can be applied universally. Specifically, the City tapped into ITIL guidance on topics such as process triggers and role definitions of process owners, managers and practitioners.
  • Finally, the City employed Project Management Institute (PMI) guidance so that best practices in project management would be used in execution of the overall project.
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Project Successes

The project was executed over the course of a mere 14 weeks. (Best practice indicates that project success is much higher for projects in the 90- to 120-day window than for projects that run longer than 120 days.) The project was constrained by the beginning of the fiscal year-end close and annual audit processes. Once those tasks began, Finance department employees would not have adequate time to devote to the improvement project. However, during the 14-week window, the project team was able to achieve multiple points of progress:

  • Conduct and analyze an electronic survey of both internal and external customers.
  • Conduct facilitated focus groups with Finance department employees.
  • Identify major work areas, roles and responsibilities.
  • Map major work processes to include triggers, process owners and roles per process activity.
  • Optimize many major work processes.
  • Create a matrix of department deliverables with due dates.
  • Create and implement a departmental onboarding program.
  • Create standard operating procedures (SOPs) for major functions.
  • Create an education plan for each employee based on mapping employees into roles defined earlier in the process.
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Next Steps

Other results from this project were:

  • The department’s year-end close was accelerated by six weeks compared to the previous year.
  • Ninety percent of the staff now has more than one year of municipal finance experience.
  • The department is stable enough for the organization to begin initial preparations for an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system upgrade.

The groundwork has been laid for the Finance department to make exponential improvements in service delivery in the coming years while better engaging its employees in meaningful and satisfying work.

Fayetteville North Carolina

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