Cutting Through Red Tape: Georgia Tech Helps Georgia State Agency Implement Lean Office Procedures

Mike Parks, Stone Mountain supervisor for Georgia’s Office of Child Support Services (OCSS), shares a letter written by a happy customer:

“I would like to thank you for the service I received from you and your staff today. I didn’t have a long wait in the lobby. I came right back to your office and you put all the vital information in the computer about my case. I set up my direct deposit and now I look forward to receiving support for my children. Same-day service works incredibly well in your office. All of my needs were met today and I can use my time working and taking care of my children.”

This happy ending might not have been possible had OCSS not implemented rapid process improvement (RPI), also known as lean management, a set of tools that helps to identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations. According to former OCSS Director Cindy Moss, the 60-office state agency, which is responsible for providing regular child support to families, was eager to get started on the road to lean.

With support from the Governor’s Office of Customer Service and technical assistance from lean specialists at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, OCSS began to identify areas for improvement in August of 2006. The following November, the OCSS leadership team began meeting with Bill Ritsch and Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter of Georgia Tech to develop value stream maps – diagrams used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer – in five areas of the child support process: establishment, enforcement, locate, legal and the Fatherhood Program.

“We didn’t have a base line on how long it took us to do each step in the area of establishing a court order, one of our core processes,” said Tanguler Gray, OCSS customer service program director. “It revealed a lot of duplicate work. We discovered that it took 71 days for our offices to take a request from intake to legal filing. Following the lean implementation, however, we were able to cut that 71-day timeframe down to same-day service.”

The second RPI event was conducted in the area of enforcement. Typically, enforcement includes a number of administrative tools including the suspension of drivers’ licenses and professional licenses, property and bank account liens, tax refund offsets, garnishment of lottery winnings and passport denials. The session resulted in what Gray describes as the “soft glove early intervention approach,” an improved process.

“Earlier, we allowed our customers to set the expectation for us, and now we’re setting the expectation for them,” Gray said. “By the time a case gets to court on our new early intervention process, the non-custodial parent will have been contacted a minimum of four times – two calls, one letter and then an additional letter if we have to move forward with sending the case to court for contempt. Before the RPI implementation and the soft glove approach, there weren’t any early intervention calls or non-custodial parent education or expectation established at the first point of contact.”

Should a non-custodial parent fail to respond to the early intervention attempts,  OCSS moves forward with aggressive enforcement actions once the non-custodial parent is 30 days out of compliance with the order, as opposed to the previous 60 or 90 days. Prior to the RPI implementation, it would take a minimum of 120 days to take “aggressive” enforcement action.

The lean implementation had a number of positive impacts in other areas as well. The pilot office for the locate (the process for locating non-custodial parents) RPI implementation was able to decrease its caseload by 32 percent. Legal secretaries have been able to save an average of 10 hours a week by having extra documents printed upfront. And in the Fatherhood Program – a program designed to provide under-employed non-custodial parents with job opportunities and training – the Fatherhood RPI team cut the number of days that it took for non-custodial parents to be notified about the program’s benefits from 69 to 14.

The RPI events have proven to be so successful that five additional events have been approved in the areas of review and modification, interstate cases, accounting, enforcement and legal.

According to Ritsch, lean transformation is a journey that does not end – and changes frequently.

“Toyota has been doing this for 40 years and they’re not done. It’s going to be a couple of years before OCSS really starts seeing impacts and establishing the lean culture,” he noted. “Our goal is to internally create the skill set to drive this forward. Georgia Tech will always be there to assist, but the agency now has the expertise to continue this path forward.”

Already OCSS has seen marked improvements. In 2007, the agency collected $651 million, a 6.2 percent increase over the previous year. That equates to an additional 17,500 families receiving child support. Many in OCSS partially credit RPI implementation for these impacts, and, according to Moss, those numbers alone could propel Georgia from its 47th ranking of states to somewhere in the low 30s.

The effort to streamline OCSS’s services initiated from Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Commission for a New Georgia, a public/private partnership designed to make Georgia the best-managed state in America. The Office of Customer Service, created and funded by the Georgia General Assembly in 2006, is tasked with making access to state services faster, friendlier and easier. According to Ted Bibbes, program director of process improvement with the Governor’s Office of Customer Service, it is a win-win situation for both customers and employees.

“The results of RPI enable employees and customers alike to experience the changes being made in government service. Customers encounter quicker service, more personal attention and simplified processes, be it a child support check from the Office of Child Support Services or a driver’s license from Driver Services,” he said. “Employees know their customers best, and the ins and outs of their jobs. This knowledge and leadership’s support are critical to success and therefore instrumental to driving change.”

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Writer: Nancy Fullbright