Driver Services Increases Efficiency with Georgia Tech Assistance

Jackie Upchurch, Kathryn Williams and James Davis of the Georgia Department of Driver Services discuss the agency’s hiring process with Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter, a lean specialist with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

The Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS), under the leadership of Commissioner Greg Dozier, could be a poster child for efforts to make state services faster, friendlier and easier to use. On average, customers who visit one of the driver licensing agency’s 64 statewide customer service centers wait just nine minutes and four seconds before beginning initial service. In 2007, more than 171,000 customers completed licensing transactions online and more than three million Georgians were assisted in person.

Even with all of those accomplishments, there was still room for improvement, in particular the hiring process for driver examiners. The entire process was a lengthy one, 125 days from start to finish. With technical assistance Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, Driver Services began examining the steps involved in the hiring process for ways to eliminate waste.

DDS selected a Rapid Process Improvement (RPI) team – a cross-functional team that deals with the process on a daily basis. The team was trained on lean principles, a set of tools that helps organizations identify and steadily eliminate waste from their operations. In addition to Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter, a Georgia Tech lean specialist, team members from DDS included James Davis from the investigative services division; Donna Garnto, Cheryl Rogers and Jackie Upchurch from the customer service licensing and records division; Johnnette Heard from human resources and Kathryn Williams from the customer service business analysis division. Deputy Commissioner Rob Mikell was also instrumental in assisting the team.

“We took all the documents used in the hiring process – from the time of testing until successful applicants get a hire letter – and laid them out on a brown piece of paper,” Trapp-Lingenfelter said. “Doing this showed all the time delays, duplicated efforts and some of the manual processes that people didn’t realize were occurring.”

Prior to the RPI project, potential driver examiners who passed an online test were mailed release forms for approval to complete criminal, driver and credit background checks. The next step was an interview and, if the applicants were deemed suitable, they would be required to fill out a 33-page background package.

“They were given 10 days to complete the big background packet, and it might be 20 days before I got them back. Of the ones I received, 70 percent were incomplete,” recalled Upchurch. “When that happened, I had to send everything back to them, identifying what needed to be completed. The amount of money we spent in postage was unreal.”

Davis agrees that incomplete applications were a major bottleneck in the process. He estimates that he was spending approximately 75 to 80 percent of his time doing background checks for driver examiners, and he says the process was spiraling out of control.

“One of the biggest problems we were having was applicants not putting in phone numbers or complete addresses and we would have to spend a lot of time searching for contact information. There was miscommunication with the applicants in the wording of the application,” he noted. “It all got to be counter-productive.”

Before the RPI, the process took 45 steps with 18 handoffs between departments. A total of six databases were kept separately by each unit, and the entire hiring process averaged 125 days. Upchurch said one reason the process was complicated was because priority was placed on high-need centers that had low staffing.

“Applicants could choose five centers where they wanted to work, but if you look at a map, we don’t have five centers close together. I was only allowed to interview for the eight high-need centers, so we had a growing pool of applicants that didn’t get interviewed,” she recalled. “I kept separate spreadsheets on each of these groups, and I never knew which spreadsheet I was working from – it was a huge spreadsheet nightmare.”

As a result of the RPI, several changes were made. These included implementation of a standardized and documented process, the elimination of multiple databases and unnecessary handoffs, creation of a regional interview board for examiners that includes center managers, selection of designated interview days, and development of an improved and streamlined background packet. Now instead of multiple databases, there is a single database to track an applicant in process.

Since the changes were implemented, the total time required to process an application has been reduced by 56 percent. Instead of 45 steps with 18 handoffs, the hiring process can be completed in 20 steps with nine handoffs. The revision of the background process alone reduced costs by 75 percent. The results were so impressive that Driver Services was honored in May 2008 with the Innovations Award during the Georgia Public Employee Award Recognition Program.

“Once a year the state allows you to submit applications for individual and team awards in five categories, and Driver Services was proud this year to receive two of the five awards, including the Innovations Award for the rapid process improvement project,” said Williams. “We’re still not where we want to be yet, but this is a process. We are constantly finding these new ways of improving it, and that’s the essence of continuous improvement.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

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Writer: Nancy Fullbright