I 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 an experience to share?
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