Ohio’s Local Governments Head to Boot Camp

The state of Ohio has a program that sends local government officials to "boot camp." The state of Ohio has a program that sends local government officials to "boot camp." Flickr user tlarrow

KENT, Ohio — Quick, simple and effective service, continuous improvement, streamlining processes, strategic planning, data analysis: these are words and phrases typically associated with the private sector as it seeks to maximize efficiency and eliminate waste.

Ohio is now incorporating them into state and local government.

When Republican Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011, his administration stressed these concepts on the state level through a program called LeanOhio.

This summer, municipal groups and agencies are being offered weeklong boot-camp training sessions to spread these strategies at the local level across the state.

"We really feel excited that the results we got in state government were such that now there’s an opportunity for cities, counties and local governments to get access to this to get those same kinds of results," said Steve Wall, director of continuous improvement for the state of Ohio.

The LeanOhio Training Academy offers levels that mirror martial-arts achievement: white belt to yellow to green to black belt. The academy also offers a boot-camp training that earns the participant a camouflage belt once strategies are implemented.

LeanOhio Boot Camp is a five-day intensive training, incorporating what’s known as the Six Sigma process improvement system, aimed at making government “simpler, faster, better, and less costly,” according to the state's website.

Each week throughout July and into August, boot camps are being offered around Ohio, in Cincinnati, in Elyria, Bay Village and Springfield, in Columbus for state workers, and in college towns like Athens and Kent.

Steve Mercer, mayor for the city of Coshocton, takes his turn buzzing in to answer questions during a game of Jeopardy: The LeanOhio Edition, at Kent State University’s boot camp in June. (Photo courtesy Kent State University)

At the boot camp held in Kent in late June, hosted by Kent State University, participants gathered from government agencies and local jurisdictions as diverse as the Tallmadge City School District, the City of Coshocton government and the Portage County Department of Jobs and Family Services.

Amy Lane, the associate vice president for corporate and professional development at Kent State University, has helped to organize the boot-camp program and is a Lean Six Sigma master black belt.

She said that Kent State has been consulting with private professionals for years, offering Lean Six Sigma training.

"We found out LeanOhio was providing funding for local government to do this and it was a perfect match for us to be involved," she said.

Corianne Kocarek, a Lean Six Sigma green belt, serves as program manager for the Center for Corporate and Professional Development at Kent State.

She said that grant funding is made available by the state to entities that go through the training, and scholarships are available for those looking to attend the boot camp or other training sessions.

The 40-hour, highly interactive boot-camp program consists of applied learning and simulations on mapping agency processes, identifying redundant or unnecessary steps, eliminating waste, and other elements important in local government management.

Participants also develop action plans for when they return to the workplace, Kocarek said, where they can implement their training.

"They have the option of completing a project and if they do we award them a camo belt," she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity."

An information packet from LeanOhio trumpets the program’s effectiveness, showing that teams reduced process steps by 56 percent when these strategies were implemented by government agencies. Moreover, the packet shows, process time was reduced by 53 percent.

At the state level, more than 500,000 staff hours have been re-directed to higher-priority efforts, the equivalent to 250 full-time employees who are now available for mission-critical work, according to program information. Also, in 2013, for every $1 invested in LeanOhio activities, the state gained more than $40 in projected savings.

WATCH: A recent LeanOhio webinar

LeanOhio "is about taking waste out of your processes and making sure you focus on what your customers value," Lane said.

Participants in the Kent State boot camp got that message.

Sherri Scheetz, chief administrative officer for the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, emphasized that LeanOhio is not about cutting away at services, but rather streamlining processes to ensure resources are being used as effectively and efficiently as possible.

"We are really feeling the crunch as our federal resources dwindle, our properties age and we still maintain high performance," she said. "This is the way we will be able to build capacity even in the face of all these cuts and continue to provide the best of service. And that’s our purpose in being, to serve the public."

Kirt Conrad, executive director of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority, also participated in the Kent State boot camp, and agreed that LeanOhio is not an exercise in budget cutting but finding operational efficiencies.

"This kind of a process really tries to free up latent capacity, when it's like you're shoveling a hole with a spoon when you could use a backhoe," he said. "There are always needs in the community so we can take that latent capacity and do something else of value with it. I think that's the ultimate goal, which I really found attractive."

David DeWitt is a journalist based in Athens, Ohio, and is a senior writer for The Athens News. He previously worked at National Journal’s Hotline and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com.

(Photo of the Columbus, Ohio, skyline by Flickr user tlarrow via a Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)

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