People think of permit inspections as part of the long and arduous construction process – and they’re right! But the inspections themselves don’t have to be long and arduous, too.
The Brevard County (Florida) County Building Inspector is a welcome sight as applicants eagerly wait to close out building projects or proceed to the next phase. With more than 40 different inspection types and 200 to 300 inspections conducted daily, however, coordinating the routing of the County’s 14 inspectors across more than 500 unincorporated square miles is no small task. “Certainly, we strive to make the process as seamless as possible, from inspection request to scheduling to providing timely inspection results. We want our citizens to know that we understand construction projects are often stressful and we strive to remove whatever hassle we can from the process,” said Mike McCaughin, chief building official.
The County recently completed two Lean Six Sigma improvement projects focusing on inspection efficiencies. Selected County employees were organized into teams to dissect and examine every part of the process.
Project 1: Implement Online Inspection Requests
The County has provided next-business day inspections for some time. But until recently, the Building Department lacked the ability to accept inspection requests virtually, relying instead on phones or email to receive a request. “Permit submittal has continued to rise this spring; we are now exceeding last year’s level. In two or three months, we will be very busy with the resulting inspection requests,” added McCaughin. Managing those permit requests will be difficult and efficiencies must be found.
The first project instituted online inspection requests through Brevard’s Advanced Service Site (BASS) – the Planning & Development Department’s online portal for permitting (Figure 2).
Most permit applications, inspection requests and contractor licensing renewals can now be submitted through the website with instant confirmation. Expansion of the system to include inspection requests saves the County more than 2,000 hours a year and gives customers an extra two hours in the workday to schedule inspections. Inspection requests that are submitted by 4 p.m. are inspected the next business day. Prior to this project, citizens had to submit requests by 2 p.m. and wait an average of two to three hours for inspection confirmation. “Instead of calling us or emailing an inspection request and waiting for us to respond, our customers now have the opportunity to schedule their own inspections and receive an immediate response. This change saves the customer time,” remarked Dawn Verostic, customer service manager.
The online inspection request pilot program started small. “We visited various builders and contractors in their offices and really tried to understand their needs,” said Rebecca Ragain, Planning & Development’s assistant director and Lean Six Sigma team lead. Brevard County customer Viera Builders was asked to test the online inspection scheduling feature; their permitting volume made them a good candidate for testing the system’s limits.
The Lean Six Sigma group theorized that moving just Viera Company from phone to online inspection requests would provide a significant time savings. But before the team could officially roll out the virtual request pilot program, other builders and applicants found the online inspection request feature on the County’s website. “We very quickly exceeded our 25 percent online inspection request goal. Now, more than one-third of our inspection requests are made virtually with instant confirmation. When compared to a five-minute per average phone or email request, the convenience really begins to add up for our customers and employees,” said Ragain.
Project 2: Assign the Right Inspector to the Right Location
The second inspection project sought to ensure the assignment of the correct inspector to the inspection based on inspection type and location. This notifies the customer who to expect and when to expect them – allowing more coordination between inspector and customer. Improving how inspectors are assigned also has reduced the number of rescheduled inspections by half and provided more process assurance for the customer.
20 Teams Leading the Way
The County has deployed more than 20 Lean Six Sigma teams to examine various County processes. Said Brevard County Manager Frank Abbate, “Lean Six Sigma is really about our desire for this organization to be one that can ‘self-correct’ while allowing dedicated employees to acquire tools that facilitate their professional development and gives us a strike team for continuous improvement.”