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Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

E084: Everyday Innovation and Ideas Programs in the State of Colorado

40 min read

In this podcast, I facilitated a webinar on engaging employees to gather innovation and improvement ideas with two agencies within the State of Colorado. The event was hosted by the Colorado Lean Network.

You will first hear from Corey Niemeyer from the Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) about their IDEA center, which stands for Innovation Driven by Employee Action.

Then you will hear from Gary Vansuch from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) about their Lean Everyday Ideas program. Their program is well established and has won multiple awards over the years.

If you enjoy this podcast, please follow us on your favorite podcast app. Any ratings you could give us, or shares across social media would be greatly appreciated!

You can watch the full video of the webinar here…


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Have you ordered the new book, “Lean Six Sigma for Good: Lessons from the Gemba (Volume 1)?” The book is made up of 8 chapters written about experiences from Lean and Six Sigma practitioners, to give you tips and tricks to help you work with nonprofits in your area. All proceeds donated to charity. We are also close to releasing Volume 2, so check back for the latest news.


Brion (B): Hey. Welcome, everyone. My name is Brion Hurley. I run an organization called Business Performance Improvement, and you’re here to hear about the Innovation and Ideas Program going on in the state of Colorado. We’re going to have Corey Niemeyer and Gary Vansuch today talking about what they are doing in their different departments to engage their employees and gather ideas and use those as part of their improvement program. They’ve both been doing this for quite a few years and have a lot of great lessons learned and successes to share, and so really appreciate their time putting together some presentations for us.

This presentation is sponsored by the Colorado Lean Network. Corey’s going to talk a little bit more about that at the beginning of his presentation. Could you go to the next slide, Corey?

Yeah, so a little bit about myself. My background is in aerospace. I worked at a company called Rockwell Collins for 18 years in Iowa and Florida and Oregon. I’m now based in St. Louis, Missouri. A couple years ago, I put together a consulting firm really trying to focus on the triple bottom line of looking at not just profits, but the people and the planet. There’s a lot of opportunities to apply process improvement methods like Lean and Six Sigma to bigger challenges and issues. I put together a site called Lean Six Sigma for Good and this is how I got connected up with Corey and Gary. I was really just trying to look for great examples of government agencies or nonprofits or public sector agencies who are trying to do good work utilizing these methods. These are not just methods that are used for manufacturers and large companies. This can be applied to anyone, from small businesses to these organizations that are really trying to make a big difference in local residents and communities.

The topic is really important because at the heart of improvement is really engaging everybody in your organization, and so how do you get a little bit of improvement out of everyone in your organization. We can’t just have one or two people running around being the expert at improvement. We have to leverage everyone in an organization because they all have good ideas; we’ve just got to figure out a way to get it out of their heads. If they’re engaged in their work, they do better work and they provide better service and they stick around longer. Those are huge benefits to any organization.

I was really excited to hear about Gary and Corey’s work on how to they’re leveraging the ideas of their employees and staff, and so that’s what we’ll go through. Corey will kick us off, so let me give you a little introduction to Corey and then I’ll come back for the second part and introduce Gary.

Corey has been at the Colorado Department of Public Safety for three years and helped start their Idea Program, which has been going on for about two and a half years now. He’s been doing process improvement since 2016 and really likes helping folks fix what bugs them. I think that’s a good little phrase that Paul Akers has used as a way to get people to just work on things that are annoying and get in their way. He’s also been an active member of the Colorado Lean Network since 2017 and has helped host the 2019 Lean Summit at the Colorado Department of Public Safety. And then he joined the CLN as Co-Director of Learning and Development in January of 2020 and he’s stepping down at the end of his term to let new blood continue to advance the CLN’s mission, which we’ll talk about, and look forward to seeing where they’ll take it. I’ll put a link into Corey’s LinkedIn profile if you want to connect with him. With that, Corey, you want to take it away?

Corey (C): Awesome. Thanks, Brion. A little bit about CLN if you have not heard of them. We are a nonprofit. It is really aimed at helping aspiring and current practitioners advance their process improvement skillset.

So just a little plug, the 2021 Summit is going to be virtual, so you folks, I heard we had a couple of folks from Canada, I think there’s a few from over the seas as well, so you’ll be able to attend this. It’s not limited just to Colorado. It will be October 14th through 16th and tickets will be launching pretty soon. We’ll put a link for more information as well as the agenda in the chat there. And if you are not already a member of CLN, you should join today. I’ll put a link in the chat and it is completely free. If you join, then you’ll be the first to know about these webinars as well as the upcoming summit. Hope to see you at some of the events.

With that, I’m going to jump into Public Safety’s IDEA Center. Hopefully, everyone can now see the IDEA Center. Can I just get a thumbs up from Gary or Brion that you are seeing what I am? Okay, perfect. Cool.

So the IDEA Center, it stands for Innovation Driven by Employee Action, so that’s where that acronym comes from. Inside of it, it basically lives on our central intranet. As our employees log in to Google Chrome for the first time in the day, it will load with the intranet and give them a link where they can come directly to the IDEA Center to submit any ideas that they have maybe had in the shower in the morning or anything like that to really capture ideas throughout their work at Public Safety.

Here’s a cool little diagram of what we hope to capture inside the IDEA Center. We’re not really just looking for ideas. We want to know your ideas, things that you are currently working on, maybe you’re struggling on something, maybe you’re working on it and it’s going excellently, and also your completed projects. We don’t just want ideas, we want to know everything that you’re doing at Public Safety. If you’re working on something and maybe you’re stalling somewhere, we want to know about it. If you’re working on something and it’s going excellent, we want to know about it. If you’ve completed a project, we would love to know about it as well. The reason we want to know about everything is because, a lot of times at Public Safety, someone might be working on a project or an idea over here and it can directly impact or be copied over or influence something that’s getting worked on by a different division. By collecting various ideas and completed projects, we can really help one another with what we are working on and kind of reduce that rework and really build off of one another’s projects and ideas to really make the most of it.

The way that we capture these ideas, active projects, and completed projects is we have kind of a little database of all the ideas going on here. Under employee engagement, under the IDEA Center, here we have the projects and ideas database. This is viewable by everyone inside of Public Safety and really inside of the state government. If Gary from Colorado Department of Transportation wanted to see these, he’d actually be able to pop in here, if he’s logged in with his state account, and see what’s going on at Public Safety.

We use a tool called Awesome Table to make this filterable, quote/unquote, database of all the ideas and projects that are going on inside of Public Safety. You can filter by stage if you want to see just completed projects, maybe you want to see just ideas, you can see the different improvement types, any different metrics, as well as the different divisions. Maybe you’re interested in things that are only happening at we’ll say the Colorado State Patrol. You can filter to just see what’s going on within that one division, or you can look through everything and then toggle through them.

A couple of cool ones in here. We have a wide variety of active projects and ideas as well as completed ones. This one was one of my more recent ones and I like it a lot because it was kind of a quick and easy one, sharing an enterprise Zoom license across the different divisions. We’ve figured out that we have different divisions and some of them are paying for individual Zoom licenses and we thought if we just use a central one, we could actually save a little bit of money by sharing one account and then let everyone kind of borrow it when they need to have those large meetings.

Another cool one. Virtual picnic was an idea to- EDO would have our picnics in person where we’d gather and the idea was to take it and make it a virtual picnic and still have a lot of fun doing it. That was another successful, cool idea. Another one that I like a lot because I like to use it when we were back in the office was to get a picnic table at our office out in front of the building there. We realized we didn’t have a lot of outdoor space that was well utilized, so someone came up with the idea of using some end-of-year funds to get a picnic table to make it a little bit more nice out there and you can go outside to have the meetings. So we have anything from improvement ideas to improving the facilities and things of that nature. We welcome anything and everything inside of this system because we want to know about it and share it with others.

If you have an idea, you can just click on this button and you can share it to this system. I actually have one queued up already. This is one that I’ve been meaning to add for a couple of weeks now, so I’m actually going to add it here and we can see it happen live. You should be able to see a Google Form. Inside of the state of Colorado, we use Google for just about everything, so it makes this nice and easy. I’m going to go ahead and click “Next.” Actually, I’m going to talk about it first.

Inside of this form, we have different paths that your idea will go. If you say it’s an idea that you’d like to suggest, you’re going to be asked different questions than if it’s an idea or a solution that has already been implemented. So depending on your first response here, you’re actually going to see a different set of questions and that helps us who manage the IDEA Center really drill down and know more about the idea from this first initial form.

I’ve already filled this one out. It’s basically a way to distribute invoices to our federal partners in a more efficient way using Smartsheets and some Google site tools that allows us to also track the invoices once they get sent out and received. It’s an easier way for our team to know this it’s been out sent out and not have to manually send them out over email. That’s basically what the idea is. I’m going to go ahead and click “Submit.”

Once you submit it, it gives you a link back to the IDEA Center so that you can see the progress of it, so we’ll go ahead and open that up and, hopefully, it has- oh. So that link has moved. It’s good to test it every once in a while. Clearly, I need to update that, so a little bit of improvement here for me to do after this meeting. It should automatically populate in here, and there it is: Automated invoice distribution system. So now this idea is live for everyone inside of Public Safety and anyone from a different department to see.

You can see who submitted it. What’s cool here is it kind of allows folks to connect with the idea submitter without having to go through a bottleneck. They can go directly to Corey, who submitted this idea, who just happens to be me, but for a different idea, maybe it would be directly to say Alice or Amy and they don’t want to talk to Corey, they just want to know what’s going on with the idea. They can reach out directly to them. They can see the review status as well as the stage of it as well. And then if they need to edit it, they can actually click on that and come back in and edit their idea. It allows them to come back and update it as they need to. Again, they don’t need to go through any bottlenecks. We didn’t create a bottleneck by having just Corey be able to edit these. They can actually come in here and edit it themselves to add any new information or anything like that that’s going to help someone else adopt this idea.

What it looks like from the back end, this is what myself and my team sees. So it’s essentially a Google Sheet that collects all of these ideas. I would have gotten a notification that this idea has been submitted as well as some of the key points along with it. Over here on the left, I have a way to track it. When it first comes in, it just shows up as red and says “new submission”, then I can drop it down after I review it and say what I have done with it as the person who has seen this idea inside of our system and took action on it. Since this one is implemented, I’m going to go ahead and mark it as “implemented, no further action needed.” It’s already shown here as complete.

And then what we like to do here is make a note about what we, as the internal person, is doing with it. And then actually from this system, one of my teammates, Anthony, he actually took the Google Sheet and wrote some code into it so that we can actually send mass emails from this Google Sheet that will include some of the key points here. So if there were a flood of new ideas coming in, I could actually go ahead and send my reply from this Google Sheet, allowing me to kind of answer them all or make a update to many ideas and then send that update to everyone without having to manually email everyone.

Let’s see how this works. I am Corey Niemeyer, the person reviewing it. This idea has been implemented, so I’ll just put in a note that this idea has been implemented and I’m going to share it with other divisions to see if they can actually use it because I know that DFPC is not the only group, Division of Fire Prevention and Control, sorry for the acronym, they’re not the only group who are going to be dealing with invoices. If I type in “Yes” right here, go to custom scripts and say “Send email”, it’s going to go ahead and process that and it’s going to send it directly to that person who submitted the idea, which, in this case, is myself.

Let’s see if it worked. All right, so I just got an email here from “Update your idea submission.” You can see that it has populated this email with some of the key points from the original submission as well as what I have typed in myself. The IDEA member who reviewed it is Corey, so they can reach out to me if they have questions, and then there’s that note that I put in saying that I’m going to share it with other divisions. And then, of course, a nice inspiring quote from Simon Sinek.

B: Hey, Corey. There might be a question about if someone wants to learn more about an idea that’s in there, do they just reach out directly or is there a link to a procedure or a document that they might have created or pictures or something like that? how would someone get details about one of those ideas that they’re interested in learning more?

C: Yeah, so great question. Right here, we have a decent amount of information about each idea, but what we want them to do is really reach out to that individual and start talking about it. If they want to loop me in, that’s great. I would love to hear about that conversation, but really we want them to go to the least common denominator and go directly to that individual because if they talk to me, I might know a little bit about it, but then I’m going to just have to go to that person anyway. So cut out the middleman, go directly to them and gather that information through that individual directly. Great question. Any other questions that are directly pertaining to what I’m showing now?

B: You said that the platform looks like a Google site, but you also have Awesome Tables – is that what you called it? – that connection, the back up?

C: Yeah, so Awesome Table is the tool that is basically taking that information, and I just put the link there in the chat. it’s the tool that takes the information and puts it into this easy to view, what I call a database. It’s not truly a database, but this table, essentially, it makes it easy to view and understand and gives us these nice filterable options here. That is through Awesome Table and it essentially connects to this back end Google Sheet to populate it. You saw that as soon as that form was submitted, it essentially populated here in row 155, and then did some magic. I have it connected to another sheet that actually populates that table, so there’s no manual update from my end. It basically goes directly from Form to Sheet to that Awesome Table, which is hosted on our Google intranet, and that is a Google site.

B: Great. Very cool.

C: Cool. Any other questions? and feel free to type them in. We’re going to have Q&A at the end as well. All right. Well, with that, I’ll turn it back to Brion.

B: All right. Thanks, Corey. Yeah, we’ll come back to Corey with other questions, so if you think of something, hold on to those until the end. I’d like to switch over now to Gary.

Gary Vansuch, he describes himself this way. I’m the most fortunate person on the planet. I have a wonderful wife and we just celebrated 42nd anniversary. Congratulations. Two terrific grown children, who are making important contributions to society in education and science. He’s part of the very best team on the planet, and he has the very best job on earth as Director of Process Improvement at the Colorado Department of Transportation. Welcome, Gary.

Gary (G): Thanks, Brion. I appreciate that. Give me a thumbs up if you can see Pikes Peak.

B: Looks great.

G: All right, that’s great. Thanks, folks. My name is Gary Vansuch. I am the most fortunate person on the planet. Appreciate the opportunity to present to you today. You actually see, in the background there, Pikes Peak. Catherine Lee Bates was inspired to write America the Beautiful on a trip up to Pikes Peak back in 1893 and that’s really kind of the theme of our session today, inspiring everybody to innovate. A few lessons learned here from CDOT. The inspiration is wonderful. Everybody remembers purple mountain’s majesty. We hope that inspires our Colorado Rockies. I have my Colorado Rockies tie. They are 37 and 50 this year, so everybody send great, positive vibes to Denver to help them into the playoffs later on this year.

I appreciate the opportunity to present today. We’re going to talk a little bit about CDOT, our goal for innovation and improvement here at CDOT, how our Lean Everyday Ideas Program works, you see our logo there, and then a bit of a summary.

Colorado Department of Transportation. I know we have folks from a lot of places, I saw Ryan from Utah, I know we have folks from a lot of different places. We’re the state agency in the lead for the transportation system in Colorado. We help to plan, build, operate, and maintain the Colorado transportation system. Key roles in some parts of that, the highway system supporting roles and other parts, for instance, the aviation system. We are 3000 people scattered at 200 different locations across Colorado. 104,000 miles of wonderful, beautiful state. You actually see what I call our dot map. I actually engaged one of our interns a few years ago to put dots every place that we have somebody at CDOT, and the numbers of people. And by the way, in the Denver metro area where you see a lot of dots, we had to take dots off. We have people at 200 different staff locations planning, building, operating, and maintaining the Colorado transportation system.

We have some drivers for improvement at CDOT. We have a long-standing excellence value and we actually have something that we call the SMART Government Act. We have, like many organizations, values at CDOT. We call them the SPICER values. That’s the first letter out of each of the key values. Many of you know that organizations that are value-driven will beat other organizations any day hands down, and that’s what we’re striving to be at CDOT, values-driven. Our excellence value is almost the exact definition of Lean process improvement. We are leaders and problem-solvers continuously improving our products and services. It’s great to have that standing value. That value has been around at least 45 years. I’ve talked to people at CDOT who have been here 45 years and they say, “Oh yeah, I remember the values when I came in.” It’s wonderful to have multi-generational values that provide some stability and provide great impetus and we love the excellence value. My staff, the Office of Process Improvement, are the stewards and the champions for the excellence value across CDOT.

Additionally, here in Colorado, we have these SMART Government Acts. SMART stands for State Measurement for Accountable and Responsible And Transparent government, or SMART government. I think that’s a lot better than having dumb government, by the way, so SMART government’s wonderful. It includes an admonition to incorporate Lean continuous improvement to increase government efficiency. Of course, we’ve been trying to do that for a long time at CDOT. Two key drivers are excellence value and the SMART Government Act.

Our people at those 200 different staff locations are developing great innovations. We encourage people to do that and we also ask ourselves how do we take innovations developed in one place and help spread that across CDOT, and in fact, help spread that to other organizations that could benefit from the innovative abilities and creative abilities of our folks on the frontline. To help drive this even further, we have been recognized by a couple of other organizations. Harvard University’s Innovation American Government award recognized our Lean Everyday Ideas Program as a top 25 innovation in American government in 2018. Also, in 2017, we were the winner in the Employee Engagement Awards in the Government category. And most recently, we were the winner of the Innovation in the Workplace award from the Inspiring Workplaces Award Program. Part of that comes with a commitment to share our story and that’s what we’re doing today, sharing our story about how we’re engaging folks and how we’re spreading those innovations not only across CDOT but across other organizations that could benefit from those innovations.

It’s always good to have a goal. Our goal for Lean Everyday Ideas is to foster a culture of improvement where new ideas are valued and tested and shared by engaging everybody in improving the business and trying to rally everybody at those 200 different staff locations to take that to heart and to take that seriously. A key reason for this, beyond that goal, is that our frontline folks see problems that management doesn’t see. We’re all limited. Management is the same way. There’s an important job for management and management does not see all the problems that can happen in an organization in trying to provide good products and services to customers. The frontline sees all those problems. When we can empower folks to take care of those problems, it makes everybody’s job easier, including management’s job. Management sees some issues and they take care of them, but we also want our frontline folks to take care of issues also.

Of course, we’re also inspired by other folks. Many of you know Dr. Grace Hopper, who’s a computer pioneer. We live by this motto, “The most dangerous phrase in our language is we’ve always done it this way.” We want to encourage people to do things differently. To help us on that goal, we ask people, just like Corey mentioned, and by the way, it’s hard to follow Corey. Corey has such a wonderful program at Colorado Department of Public Safety. We’re inspired by that, Corey, so thank you. We ask everybody to work on something that bugs them and that bugs their customers. Our Division of Aeronautics actually helps distribute excise taxes. Our aeronautics group collects taxes off of planes that depart from Denver International Airport and other places, and it helps other airports across Colorado. The before process, it’s hard to describe. It’s on the left-hand side there. They took it to heart some complaints they got from customers to say this is a really clunky process and they made it into a two-step process. It’s a wonderful example of innovation by our folks listening to their customers to work on what bugs them.

We also have folks that say, you know what? I work in some inherently unsafe conditions. We have highway workers. I know that Corey in Colorado State Patrol has folks in the State Patrol that work on our highways. People speed by on our highways. It can be very unsafe and so when we ask our people to work on what bugs them, they very often work on things that improve safety. This is an example for work that we do very often with guardrail to make this job safer. And guess what? it actually made it faster. We found, at CDOT, that things that are safer that are developed by our frontline are, very often, in fact almost always, faster and more efficient and save money. It’s a wonderful combination there.

We’ve also had people in our frontline help develop things that stay organized. This is an improvement and this is actually what we call an Idea card. We put Idea cards on our external website. And by the way, you see subliminally in the corners, it’s very hard to notice, Very subliminal, right? we want you to go there and you’ll be able to see some of the wonderful ideas that have been implemented across CDOT. We put together Idea cards that just describe, at a high level, innovations like this one, and then we actually have a “Click here for more details,” and that takes you to a Google site – we’re also a Google site driven organization – that provides details that if you want to replicate this in your own organization, all the details are there, including some contacts for people that actually developed this, in this case, Taj Schakel.

It’s important that we do this because we’re asking employees, not just in government but elsewhere, to do more with less in a field that’s rapidly changing. If you do that without empowering people, you get frustrated people and, eventually, you have people that leave the organization. We have wonderful people at CDOT. We want to keep them within the organization, so we empowered them to do this, to actually work on things that bug them. And by the way, when we work on big ideas, this helps that too because we’ve had people succeed with smaller ideas that can, therefore, then work on bigger ideas to help CDOT move into the future.

This has a long history at CDOT. This is our original team that developed the Lean Everyday Ideas Program. You see the team members here, some of the folks are still around. The gentleman in the tie is Mark Eike. He led this team, actually based on some successes that he had in northwest Colorado. This is great teamwork to develop something to help other teams across CDOT. They developed the Lean Everyday Ideas Program and they’re wonderful folks to do that back in 2013.

Ideas are happening every day in our workplace. It’s a challenge, particularly in an organization like CDOT, to be receptive to them, to recognize them, and to, more importantly, share them across the organization. This is actually from that 2013 team. We had a sponsor coalition together, executives that helped sponsor that team that developed Lean Everyday Ideas. This is actually quotations from our Executive Director at the time, Don Hunt.

At CDOT, how it works is actually very similar to what you’ve heard from Corey. We actually have two channels, and this is on our external website again, You can say I’ve actually developed something that works and I want to let other folks know it, so we ask people to push the “I fixed it!” button. Sometimes, we have people that say, “Gosh, I’ve got an issue. I’m not quite sure. I’m at one of these 200 different staff locations. I don’t know who in CDOT could help me, but I have a suggestion for doing something different that I can’t do myself.” We ask them to push the “I suggest!” button. Behind the scenes for “I fixed it!” means somebody submits it, it’s a fairly straightforward Google Form, it populates a spreadsheet similar to what Corey was talking about at the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

For some of these ideas, we need to go through vetting. Even some ideas have been implemented, if they have safety implications for the highway or for personnel or some other things, we actually vet them. Almost all of those are well vetted on the front end anyways, and when they are actually vetted, we actually then develop an Idea card like what we described before.

For the “I suggest!” where somebody hasn’t actually been able to implement something but they have a great idea, something that bugs them, something that they need help with, they submit the suggestion through the “I suggest!” process. We do have a similar vetting process. We say what is this about? how is this going to help CDOT? can we actually then connect that person with an idea to somebody who’s a subject matter expert that can do something about it? so we have both “I fixed it!” and “I suggest!” and it drives our innovation here at CDOT.

The Idea card that we talked about will have a descriptive title, very often, have some kind of photo or graphic that relates to the card, a description enough to get people interested and knowledgeable about whether this is something that’s similar to an issue that they’re facing, and if they do, they can click that wonderful blue box that says, “Click here for more details,” so that they can actually replicate this in their own organization, whether that’s somewhere else in CDOT or, since we have this on our external website, it might be another transportation agency. It might be another government agency. It might be somebody else someplace halfway across the world that can benefit from the innovative and creative powers of our folks here at CDOT.

We actually have these gathered and there actually is a QR code there. I encourage you to try it. We have 358 Idea cards out there. You’re welcome to look at any or all of them and borrow. Please, please, please borrow from us here at CDOT. We would love to know that something that we’re doing can benefit you also. By the way, 358 is a lot, so we actually have a database of these where you can put in some kind of keyword and search to narrow down out of those 358. For instance, guardrail. Something about guardrail at CDOT’s pretty common. If you put in guardrail, you’re going to get about a dozen and a half different ideas – carrying guardrail, fixing guardrail, installing guardrail – that make makes life faster, easier, safer, cheaper, and could benefit other people across CDOT and across other government agencies.

This is a great example of one. I’ve described a lot in our maintenance organization, but we also have some in our engineering and construction organizations. This is a great one that actually helps us design highways more effectively and efficiently. There’s a quick scan there that can help you find this one on our website.

We found that some of that’s kind of static. There’s actually some of our CDOT interns on the call today. We’ve actually started developing some videos that bring some of these ideas to life. For the Earthwork tool, for instance, we interviewed some folks, Karen Berdoulay, Jacob Rivera, and one of our gentlemen at our CDOT headquarters office, Jerome Estes, about this idea. This was actually developed in several different places. Jerome and Karen are up in the mountains in Eagle, Colorado, Jerome is in Denver. They worked collaboratively to develop and implement this idea and we had some interns interview them about the idea to get more knowledge out there about this idea in a video manner. We actually have a number of different videos out there where the innovators themselves describe the impetus for how they innovated and what the innovation actually helps them with.

This is one from our maintenance organization. I love this one. We have innovation in every place, including on the road. I told you that we had 200 different staff locations, but a lot of those staff locations are maintenance bases and, in fact, those people aren’t at those bases. They’re, very often, on mowers like this or in trucks or other places. Innovation happens every place; not just at CDOT official locations, but on our transportation system every day.

This is one out of our headquarters organization, recycling. It seems like it’s small, but think about if we can recycle in one place, that’s great. If we can recycle in 200 different staff locations, that’s 200 times better. That’s what we’re promoting across CDOT. Let’s innovate and then let’s spread these ideas so that other people can benefit. We’ve even improved our Lean Everyday Idea system. Those of us in the innovation improvement profession should be taking our own medicine. This is a great example of some folks from a few years ago, Geneva Hooton, Chavirat Burapadecha, and Karl Onsager, who actually improved our Idea card system.

We’re working, at CDOT, to engage everybody to improve our business and we hope we’ve inspired you to do the same. Thank you for listening to us today. This is my email address, and I’m sure that Corey and Brion will be pushing those email addresses out afterwards. Thank you. I’m going to stop sharing and I’m going to turn it back over to you, Brion.

B: All right. Thank you so much, Gary. That was great. Looks like someone’s already been looking through the database and finding some great ideas from there, so already getting some benefit out of that. That’s excellent.

I had a question, Corey and Gary, if something gets added to there, is there any kind of notification that would go out or people just asked to go check it regularly and see if anything new pops up? other than the people behind the scenes who are getting the notification when it’s submitted, is there anything for the users to see or get notified like on an email distribution that something got added?

G: From CDOT, not yet. When something new gets added, I get notified and so do my staff and that helps kick off do we need to do some vetting, but it also kicks off us trying to identify places across CDOT to push this to help replicate, but there isn’t something automated. Perhaps something that we should have on our list, again, as innovation improvement professionals to take our own medicine. Perhaps that’s one of the next innovations there. Corey, don’t know about you at Public Safety.

C: Yeah, we’re the same at Public Safety. Essentially, right now, it goes to myself and my team to actually share it with relevant individuals. So like that accounting example, I would share it to other folks that I know deal with invoices. However, you just sparked a great idea of maybe if we had something where you can opt-in to those notifications so if someone wants to learn about every idea that comes in, they can get added to that distribution list and then get auto-notifications when a new idea comes in. Great idea and I think we will run with that.

B: I also had a question about is there anything that kind of encourages or drives management or leadership to encourage their teams to continue to submit and take the time? I know you’ve had some training for people on how to use it, but are there any like not necessarily metrics, but is something else driving people just to remind their teams to go in there and put those ideas together and submit it into the system? because it does take, even if it’s very simple what you’ve shown, it does take a few minutes for someone to document those things.

G: Brion, just like most organizations, we also have turnover at CDOT. We have about roughly 3,100 people. We’re probably turning over 400 people a year. People retiring primarily, but also people leaving the organization and, of course, we have then 400 new people coming in. In any organization, that would something where you’d need to update folks, those new folks at least, and let them know about this. If all those 3,000 people were in one place, that’s one level of difficulty. At CDOT, we have people at over 200 different staff locations and I know that’s true for Corey. The State Patrol, particularly, has people located just everywhere and so there’s a couple things.

We do have an infrastructure of having Lean Everyday Idea leaders and committees in our five regions. We’ve divided CDOT into five regions. There’s a headquarters staff, but there’s also where the work gets done, the maintain, the building, the planning gets done at most of those other 200 different staff locations scattered across the state. We have Lean Everyday Idea committees to, first of all, help promote the idea that everybody should be able to improve something at CDOT, and then secondly, we can borrow stuff from other regions. I’m in Grand Junction. I should be able to borrow something from Greeley or from Colorado Springs or Alamosa or something.

We have that, plus we have a new employee orientation at CDOT. Lean Everyday Ideas, encouragement of that is part of that new employee orientation. I can’t tell you that it’s perfect. It’s one of these continual struggles to say are there different ways that we can encourage managers to encourage their folks to do this, and also to find out from the frontline what’s going on. So it’s we have some stuff, but it is also a continuing issue here.

C: Yeah, and from Public Safety’s side, we also do it. Every new employee learns about the IDEA Center from the very beginning. Really, it’s instilled in our culture here. Our Executive Director talks about it a lot, about innovation and continuous improvement inside of Public Safety. We also, pre-COVID times, we actually gave everyone a lanyard with our logo on it so whenever you were in the office, you’d see folks walking around with their lanyard and you’d know that they had submitted an idea. That actually came from CDOT. I borrowed that idea from CDOT.

Something else that we did pre-COVID, and I haven’t figured out a way to adapt it for this new hybrid work environment, was we would give a certificate when an idea got completed to the supervisor’s boss to actually give to them at a staff meeting. By them awarding their employee in front of their peers, giving them that little certificate that our Executive Director would sign, would show their support in front of the rest of their peers, so it would help foster that innovative culture is really coming from the top down as well as the bottom up.

B: Was there some recognition, as well, that some people were getting or just the certificates or was there awards, internal awards?

C: We do have an internal award for innovation, but that’s a large department-wide award that I’m not necessarily in charge of. For us, each division actually kind of did it differently. The division of criminal justice, their leadership actually wanted those certificates and would actually do the handing out of the lanyards. They were kind of a smaller division that had a lot of staff meetings, so he was able to actually do that at the all-hands meeting so you’d get more recognition in front of more of your peers in that way. So it’s really dependent on each division how that would play out.

G: Yeah, and from CDOT, there certainly is the recognition that we try to provide in terms of publicity that you’re now on a video, like Karen and Jacob and Jerome were, or you have an Idea card that has your name on it. I know that’s small, but people tell us that that’s important. Pre-COVID, we actually did have an internal competition, a friendly competition, for ideas, and we actually had a large award at the CDOT-wide level before COVID. We put that on stasis during COVID. We just weren’t quite sure how to how to handle that kind of competition. We plan to pick that back up here in 2021 and perhaps into 2022. That competition is kind of a fun thing. It’s a friendly kind of thing between different groups across CDOT, those 200 different staff locations, and we think that helps some of what you’re talking about, Brion. But frankly, during COVID, that recognition was thrown for a loop.

B: That’s great.

C: Something else that’s pretty exciting at Public Safety inside of the Colorado state government, we have what we call Wildly Important Goals or WIGs. Every department is required to do them and it’s actually elevated to the governor’s level where these WIGs are tracked at. Public Safety actually included IDEA Center submissions as a lead metric into our employee engagement WIG, so it’s been elevated to kind of the highest level of importance through that channel so that’s pretty exciting for us.

B: There’s a question about the vetting process for ideas being submitted, who vets them, what criteria do they need to meet, how are employees notified if they submitted an idea and they’re getting feedback on that that you saw, Corey, on your system, and then the outcome of those ideas. Can you talk to that a little bit, either one?

G: I’ll talk to it some. We have two different channels at CDOT. We have the “I fixed it!” and the “I suggest!” So the “I fixed it,” somebody’s actually implemented something already and they believe it works, so that’s great and it’s working for them someplace. Before we spread it statewide, we do ask them to push the button. It’s a fairly quick Google Form and that provides us details about whether we need to do additional vetting on this.

We will vet for anything that looks like it might impact employee safety, it might impact highway safety, a few other things. We get people behind the scenes engaged before we actually push this CDOT-wide. It’s pretty rare. I think the last time that I remember was, gosh, about 2014. It’s pretty rare for us to say, “Oh gosh, what you’ve implemented is unsafe,” or somehow otherwise not a good thing. When that happens, then right away, we’re working with the innovator and we get that undone. More often, it’s here’s the additional details that somebody might need that might want to replicate this.

So for the “I fixed it,” we’re just engaging the right kind of people behind the scenes, and my staff helps facilitate that. For the “I suggest,” I have to tell you, it’s not so much vetting by us. My staff is brokering, getting two people together. Somebody has something that they say, “Gosh, this could make something easier during highway operations during the winter.” We do a lot of plowing, a lot of stuff during the winter. People always have ideas. Some they can implement themselves; some they can’t. We’ll take that idea of the person that has the idea, and then we’ll try to broker who’s the right person, typically, at our CDOT headquarters, to work with. 3,000 people, if let’s say you’re in Granby or you’re in Cortez or you’re in Springfield, you have no idea who at headquarters can help you, so we’re working to be that broker to bring those minds together to work on something pretty nifty. So it’s less vetting there and it’s more matchmaking on that side. Corey, you might have something similar there at Public Safety.

C: Our program at Public Safety is quite similar. Yeah, kind of informal, quote/unquote, vetting and it’s really more connecting of those ideas. I think the last one that comes to my mind that was kind of vetted and decided we couldn’t do it was having this idea of getting students helmets. The idea was kind of collecting used helmets or finding organizations that donate helmets and then the State Patrol could donate those to students across Colorado. We decided, one, if we donated used helmets, we kind of put ourselves at a liability risk there, and two, there’s actually other organizations who do this very effectively, so we decided that it wasn’t something that Public Safety should really get involved in and that individual actually started kind of figuring it out on his own without Public Safety’s formal assistance if that makes sense.

G: Hey, Brion, I see in the chat ping one from Jane. Hi, Jane. Thanks for joining us this morning. You have this employee idea bank and you don’t have the capacity to implement all the great ideas. I’ve put in something quick in the chat, but I did want to elaborate on that. Idea systems in the United States have evolved kind of interestingly in two different ways. A lot of idea systems are based on the old Toyota Production System. In fact, Toyota called them idea systems, but they’re really saying, gosh, frontline employees, you have ideas. Implement them, and then they trained their managers to support employees as they implement them. I’ve been around more decades than I care to actually admit right now, but I’ve actually been in a number of organizations where there’s a different take on idea systems. There’s a suggestion box, people put suggestions in, and then somebody else has to implement those.

We have kind of a hybrid here at CDOT. We do ask, through our “I fixed it!” part of Lean Everyday Ideas, for everybody to fix something that bugs them and then let us know about it so we can spread it. The “I suggest!” channel is kind of like an old suggestion box, but we’ve tried to put a Toyota Production System twist on it where we’re just saying, hey, that’s a great thing that you’ve got. You’ve got a great suggestion. It’s clearly an issue. Let’s partner you, the suggester, with somebody that might be able to have the right resources or knowledge or something, typically at our headquarters, by the way, that can actually help you implement it. We try as best as we can to keep the person suggesting involved so that it’s not just, gee, I put something in a box and it died somehow.

Now, by the way, those suggestions aren’t always implemented. We might get somebody at headquarters to say that’s a great idea except there’s a state law against it, and that happens sometimes. Then we ask them to actually see if there’s something else other than that suggestion that can actually solve that issue. It is an interesting conundrum. You have a lot of folks that have great ideas. The best antidote that I’ve been able to find to that we can’t implement it is actually to keep those employees engaged. I want to take a breath. Does that help at all, Jane, on that?

Jane: Yeah, I think it does. They are involved. It just seems there are a few bottleneck departments that have to be involved in almost any implementation and we have absolutely not adopted, as an organization, this Lean philosophy and improvement, so we’re always chasing a lot of shiny balls. But I do like the idea of a minimum viable product. Okay, we can’t do this gargantuan thing you’ve suggested, but maybe we could scale it back and do something and make some headway. Yeah, it’s a good idea. Thank you.

G: You’re welcome.

B: Yeah, I’ve seen, at other organizations, you will get overloaded if you try to control it too much with reviewing and approving these ideas. I think there is a point to get out of the way. provide some forum for them to connect people together, and then let them go work through those details and then maybe highlight a couple things to be careful and watch out for. But yeah, try to kind of decentralize that. Just to keep track of it, like they’re doing, so that it can communicate and share those ideas, but once you get into this system where employees think they’re putting in ideas and they’re not hearing back, yeah, it will quickly become a system they won’t use anymore and don’t trust because it’s like a black hole. It’s going in there and nothing’s coming out. That’s what a lot of old systems have failed in the past.

C: I do want to share one other thing with everyone. Inside of the state of Colorado, we actually have a similar tool that is for templates and tools and resources. I’m going to chat that out. It’s actually available through this website, available to anyone on the internet. It’s through the Colorado Innovation Center and it’s another kind of idea hub, but instead of ideas, it’s tools and templates. Anyone can submit a tool or a template to this, quote/unquote, database of different tools and templates and I just wanted to share that with everyone. If you are a nonprofit or a state or another government agency, I can actually share the embed link to that with you and you can actually embed it in your website so that it’s readily available for your employees. We’re happy to share that with other governments and nonprofits so you can directly add that to your website or wherever you find it to be useful.

B: Cool. Thanks, Corey.

G: Brion, it looks like we had a question from Kate from the city of Fort Collins. Kate, always glad to see another Coloradan here on the call. “How do you share and communicate the ideas submittal options?” Boy, I think that’s just one of those things you have to just keep at it. We have so many different places and a lot of different preferences and it evolved somewhat over time.

Back when we started this, a lot of our maintenance patrols, in very scattered locations, frankly, just don’t even have very good connection to the internet. We have a maintenance patrol building, for instance, at the very top of Vail Pass, 11,000 plus feet. There is nothing, there are no signals that get up there, so we actually would actually put posters together, 8.5 by 11 posters. They do have printers, so they could print that out. They would have options. We’ve tried QR codes, we’ve certainly tried things in our daily announcements. We have things in our new employee orientation. There’s different things and it’s just a matter of keeping at it, particularly in an organization where we have again approximately 12% to 15% of the organization either retiring or moving on. Corey, you may be trying different things at CDPS.

C: A very similar approach, lots of posters, the lanyards, and really just trying to get it to be kind of word of mouth as well. But our executive director does promote it and hang out with [???] and things of that nature, so we do get it kind of from that top-down approach throughout the year. But really, hitting new employees with it and having it in the halls when you’re walking down to the restroom and things of that nature, I find that that’s kind of the most useful method. Whenever a lot of folks went home, we did notice a drop off on idea submissions, but I think it ties back to they didn’t see that poster next to the water fountain so those ideas just kind of- they had them and they probably wanted to share them, but they didn’t remember to put them into the IDEA Center.

B: It looks like we’re almost out of time now, so I think we should wrap it up. I don’t know if, Gary or Corey, if you had any final comments or statements?

G: Yes, borrow away. If there’s things that we had that was helpful to you, please feel free to borrow them. If anybody wants to chat offline after the session, I know I’m available for that and I’ll bet you Corey will say the same.

C: Yeah, definitely. Get a hold of us, we’re happy to chat. If you are a government, I’m also happy to make a copy of anything that I have. I could copy the form or anything like that and share it with you to give you kind of a starting point, and I’m sure Gary would do the same.

G: Absolutely.

B: Okay, thank you both so much. That was really good information. Thanks everybody for listening. We’ll get the video edited and then I’ll send it out to everybody who registered so you’ll get a copy of that and you can rewatch it or share it with others who might find it useful, which I think a lot of people will. All right, thanks everyone for attending, and check out the Colorado Lean Network Summit coming up in October.

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