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Passport “Processing Time” or Waiting Time?

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PassportI recently heard this on a cable news channel that was blaring in the airport:

“The current passport processing time is 3 to 6 weeks”. Well, that's not right from a Lean perspective. In this post, I'll talk about breaking down these times and how Lean can help — for passports OR for patients.

The current waiting times are shown online. From a Lean standpoint, that 3 to 6 weeks is really the total lead time. There's a big difference. Most of that time has got to be “waste.”

Total Lead Time = Processing Time + Waiting Time + Transportation Time

Let's say the total lead time is 3 weeks. Let's assume 3 days of shipping/mailing in each direction, so that ‘s 1 week of transportation time.

That leaves two weeks left for processing and waiting. It's a general rule of thumb that if the total lead time is weeks, the actual “processing time” – how long it takes to review the application and physically make the passport is counted in hours.

It's commonly found that the processing time, or “value add” time in a process is less than 5% of the total lead time.

Where does the rest of the time come from?

  • Waiting as “raw material” — the application and mailing to the Passport office has arrived but work has not started yet. Raw material waiting comes from an imbalance of customer demand and capacity. A good Lean factory like VIBCO is able to process all orders “same day or next day” because they have enough capacity.
  • Waiting as “work in process” — the passport application work has started, but the product is waiting in between processes. This is often due to batch processing, something we would work to reduce or eliminate in a Lean system — how can we set up the system for single-piece flow? This is a space design and organizational design issue. Are we organized to do a small piece of the work as a silo? If so, we'll have batching and waiting.
  • Waiting as “finished goods” — the passport is completed and is waiting to be mailed.

It seems reasonable to me that the actual processing time is measured in hours.

To look at the true capability of a process, you want to look for the time required for “Expedited” service. Oh yes, the Passport office offers this option if you pay more. As of late May the waiting time was 4 to 6 weeks for regular service and just 2 to 3 weeks for expedited service.

How would they expedite the service? They are using overnight shipping (which YOU are paying for in addition to the $60 extra fee). So that takes out a day or two. They are probably letting expedited passports jump the “raw material” queue. If the expedited time is only 2 to 3 weeks, I'd guess it goes through the SAME batchy process as the regular service.

Additionally, as more people choose the expedited option, this slows the process for those who are unable or unwilling to pay the expediting fee. For a government that's concerned about fairness, this is very unfair – and inefficient. An expediting fee/process is a workaround to a bad process.

If they had a Lean process with capacity that matches demand and single-piece flow, you'd expect a one week or two week total lead time for all passports, max. Here's a great opportunity for “Lean Government.”

You can use a similar 3-way view of waiting for a patient. If the total “length of stay” in the emergency room is 8 hours, the waiting can be viewed as:

  • Initial Waiting (waiting to be registered or triaged)
  • In-process waiting (waiting in between the diagnosis or treatment steps)
  • Waiting for discharge (everything is done, but you're waiting on something administrative)

With passports or patients – I think it's helpful to not just view the TOTAL time, you have to break it down into components. That creates an opportunity to better understand where the waste occurs and what you can do to reduce that waste.

I'd love to visit a passport processing center sometime. I can't go to the gemba, alas. Does anyone have experience to share?

Creative Commons License photo credit:  seantoyer

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent book is the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus. He is currently writing his next book, tentatively titled Measures of Success.

10 Comments
  1. Matt Wrye says

    I like the way you present breaking the time down into buckets. That is how I try to get people to see where to eliminate the waste. I use the wait, move, and process time buckets on a Pareto chart. I almost always see that waiting is the biggest bucket by far. The Pareto chart does a nice job of making visual the gap in the three categories. Once people see the gap visually, it is usually very easy to get them to work on eliminating/reducing the wait time.

  2. US Get Passport says

    You provide a good read, thanks for your post..I also agree that it seems reasonable to me also that the actual processing time is measured in hours.

  3. Juan Jose Sandoval says

    I have question’s about my I.D, pass port card. I have a major problem with my waiting time. I bought my card in January 23-11. It’s june 3-11. Can you provide me with information, why dose it take so long to recieve it. I bought a pass port I.D card with wallet size birth certificate wich it ofcorce extend the process, but then I recorrect my mistake and send them a full page birth certificate. I’ts been almost 6 month’s of my waiting time. Why?

    1. Mark Graban says

      Juan – I can imagine it’s frustrating. I can’t imagine why it takes so long. There’s probably a poor process to blame…

  4. b.c. says

    I’ve been doing some research because of my inevitable trip to Spain. Boy it seems like its going to be a lengthy process to get my passport. Thank god my trip isn’t til next year.

  5. […] problem and where else can we reduce time and improve quality in government services? I think the Passport office is an obvious opportunity. Please leave a comment and participate in the discussion. […]

  6. […] use “Lean manufacturing” techniques and tools in a very tactical way to reduce the time spent waiting for passports or wounded veteran benefits, but I’m not expecting the government to have a “Lean […]

  7. Mark Graban says

    I had to renew my passport here. I got ,my new passport back yesterday after not quite even three weeks.

    I’m glad it didn’t take long and they did better than the current 4-6 weeks time that’s currently be quoted for routine renewal.

    I did appreciate being able to go online to check the status last week. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I’d get it by the 10th, and it arrived on the 8th or 9th (I was out of town).

    I was worried that, if there was a delay, it would mess up my next Lean Healthcare Study Trip to Japan in late February.

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