Ready, willing, and ABLE:
Transformed grants process aims to cut 317 days from process
IN BRIEF: Through local ABLE programs, adult Ohioans gain skills they need to transition to post-secondary education/training and secure their careers. Services are provided through federal funds that are distributed by the Ohio Board of Regents. It's an effective program that makes Ohio more competitive, and Regents staff knew there was room to improve their ABLE grants management process. So they used Kaizen to transform the approach, doing their own learning along the way -- and demonstrating how one week of focused work can produce changes that benefit people and families for years to come.
SIMPLICITY: The new process has 93 steps vs. 220 steps with the original approach. That’s a 58% reduction.
EFFICIENCY: Big drops are also seen in the number of handoffs (from 60 to 21, for a 65% reduction), decision points (17 to 9, a 58% reduction), and loopbacks (from 7 to 2, a 71% reduction).
SPEED: The new process is expected to average about 125 days from start to finish. That’s 317 days faster than before, with the original process averaging 442 days.
TIME: With the added efficiencies, Regents staff (305 hours) and Grantee staff (390 hours) will be able to redirect the saved time to other activities that contribute directly to serving adults with literacy needs.
Team members (L to R) Sharon Brannon, Donna Albanese, and Jeff Gove get set for a breakout session. They'll work on a specific part of the project, then return to the whole group to present their ideas and hear from the other subgroups.
For thousands of Ohioans, ABLE programs are more than just programs. They're life-shaping paths to employment, job training, and post-secondary education. Through ABLE, which stands for "Adult Basic and Literacy Education," people gain essential skills in basic math, reading, writing, GED prep, family literacy, workplace literacy, English language acquisition, and more. They also gain confidence, an appreciation of lifelong learning, and a brighter future.
There are 67 local ABLE programs that provide services in all 88 Ohio counties. Funds come from the federal Workforce Investment Act. The Ohio Board of Regents ensures that funds are distributed in accordance with state and federal law. In this role, Regents manages the grant process for local ABLE programs -- all the way from a competitive grant application through completion of the continuation grant cycle.
The ABLE vision "is for Ohio to have a highly trained and educated workforce." And Regents staff knew that achieving this required having a highly efficient grants management process. For the local ABLE programs in particular, a simpler and faster process would lessen the time they spent trying to navigate the grant system -- allowing them to spend more time teaching, cultivating learners, and building the future.
So key staff from Regents, ABLE, and ODE came together in the form of an improvement team. The group of 11 met for five straight days, using the tools and techniques of Kaizen. It's a Japanese word that means "to break apart for the better." And indeed, the team began by mapping out every step in the ABLE grants’ process -- every task, decision, handoff, input, output, everything.
When the map was finally completed, team members saw just how bulky the process had become. It involved 220 steps, 60 handoffs, 17 decision points, 7 loopbacks, and immeasurable frustration. On average, the whole process was taking close to 15 months. That included everything: planning, application development, approval, monitoring, and reporting. But even with so many things happening in the process, everyone agreed that the current approach desperately needed to be simplified.
So the team sifted through the process labyrinth to find every source of delay, wasted time, and rework. They generated 70 improvement ideas, then narrowed down to a subset of high-impact actions they could feasibly implement. Then they developed three draft redesigns of the process. This led to vigorous conversation, followed by consensus-building, followed by construction of their crowning deliverable: a new and dramatically streamlined process that's simplicity at its finest.
The new process has 93 steps, which is less than half the number with the original approach. There are 21 handoffs, all of which are needed, amounting to a 65% reduction. Decision points go from 17 to 9, for a 47% improvement.
Best of all, when all improvements are in place, the new process is expected to average 4.2 months from start to finish. Compare that to the average of 14.7 months with the original process. The new process would get the job done in a quarter of the time.
Driving these numbers are big improvements, all developed by the team. One of the biggest is the switch from a paper grant application to an electronic one, starting with the competitive FY 2014 grant application. Also for the first time, review will be done at a distance by grant raters using e-grants instead of paper copies. The hard-copy submission of grant documents will be phased out, to be replaced by e-filing with e-signatures.
Trees will be saved thanks to this electronic approach, and so will time. Program managers will be able to redirect 305 hours to providing enhanced technical assistance to local ABLE program administrators and teachers. Grantees will save a projected 390 hours per grant cycle. So the paper chase will end, allowing more time for building collaborative relationships between Regent's ABLE team and the local programs.