Passport Processing

I recently renewed my Canadian passport. Expected completion and delivery of the passport was indicated to be 20 working days from the point the application was received by mail. Unfortunately, my case extended beyond this expected delivery date and I started the process of contacting the Passport Office to inquire about the status of my application.

I found the 1-800 number on the government website, but was surprised to see a disclaimer below the number stating that callers should expect that inquiries as to the status of their application are likely to cause further delays. I elected to take my chances and call, seeing as my delivery was already late.

When I called, as expected I was greeted by an automated queuing system. However, after negotiating through the menu I listened to a message that told me, “at this time the number of people in line has exceeded allowable limits. Good Bye.” Then I was disconnected!

I was able to get into the queue later in the day. I was quite impressed with the system this time around, as every couple of minutes I was told how many people were ahead of me. This feedback certainly helped maintain my patience as I waited through the 18 people ahead of me in line.

After inquiring and understanding what was going on with my specific application, I asked why it was that inquiring about status delays processing. Turns out, only one activity is permitted to act on an application at a time. Every time an enquiry is made against any specific application (or file by this point) it ‘loses it’s spot’ in processing to be available for inquiry, then needs to start over again in the processing loop.

This whole experience was very unsatisfactory for me as a customer. There are many hints of opportunities for lean improvements, just within the small areas of the process that I experienced directly:

1. Processing: Why 20 days to process applications? How many non-value add steps are included in the process? What are the batch sizes? Is there an opportunity for one piece flow?

2. Defects: How many applications are not processed in time? (i.e. what’s the defect rate?) What are the common causes? What’s the root cause?

3. Information Flow: link processes and people together. Feedback should be immediately available, without having to disrupt flow. This should also help to more readily bring problems to the surface.

4. Reduce Inventory: The phone queue has had some thought put in it, but why the long lines? Are there not enough customer service rep’s? Do they not have the information they need at hand to reply to inquiries? Are there opportunities to implement some standardized tasks and best practices for how to deal with specific issues or problems?

I’m also reminded of something I heard from Jim Womack last week during the LEI webinar on Lean Solutions. He said, “Every customer contact is a Kaizen opportunity” and he recommended that organizations use highly trained customer service employees to explore root causes with the customer. Quickly eliminating the root cause will prevent future customers from having to call.

I wonder what the application fee will be in another 6 years when I need to renew again? With continuous improvement I should expect that it be considerably lower than I just paid – and maybe, just maybe it will be completed on time, and in less time. I hope they’re listening.

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Luke Van Dongen

Luke, an auto industry engineering veteran, blogged here from 2005 to 2006.

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