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March 19, 2018
This piece is presented by the USD Beacom School of Business executive education program.
In Minnehaha County government, stretching the public’s dollars is the only way to meet growing needs.
So when county leaders were contemplating whether to build more office space, Commissioner Gerald Beninga suggested pursuing a new strategy.
“We thought we should invest a little money and bring in some experts to evaluate not just our facilities but how we use them,” he said.
That led him to the USD Beacom School of Business, where Dan Tracy, a professor of decision sciences, agreed to take on the project.
“It’s something we do every year,” he said. “If somebody has a project in mind and wants to put some fresh eyes on it, it’s a way for our students to work on a real problem with real profit-and-loss consequences.”
Tracy, an expert on lean projects, brought USD faculty and students together to evaluate the county’s facilities. They interviewed elected officials and staff, and began analyzing work flow.
“There were a lot of conversations that went on, looking at where our new hires were coming from, where we didn’t have space, where we didn’t have storage and where we had safety concerns,” Beninga said.
“It was all evaluated and organized by the Beacom School of Business. They exceeded our expectations. They just asked lots of great questions, got good answers and were able to be neutral and not come in with a predetermined idea of what they really thought we needed or wanted.”
The result was a 75-page report with dozens of recommendations for consolidating facilities, shifting offices and rearranging space so the public could access it easily and so employees who needed to collaborate were closer together. It ultimately led to a plan that allowed the county to avoid costly construction.
“When I opened up the report, I was excited about the opportunities they brought to us,” Beninga said.
“We didn’t have to build a building. We could make some moves to become more efficient. All those things they did were thinking outside the box and had never been done in county government in the way they did it. We’re probably going to end up following 80 to 85 percent of their recommendations.”
Businesses can benefit from the same type of lean thinking. The USD team takes on multiple lean projects annually, and Tracy is offering a two-day course in lean thinking next month.
“The outside perspective can be really valuable,” Tracy said, adding he and students are continuing to work with the county on assessing everything from staff scheduling to parking allocation.
The USD team has several other projects underway, too, from manufacturers to health care and service industry clients trying to “lean up” their processes.
“We try and involve the students whenever possible,” Tracy added. “We’ve done more than 150 projects supervising students, and it’s a win-win for them and the organizations they’re assisting.”
For the county — and its taxpayers — the results of the USD work have been significant.
“In my evaluation, we put off building another building for administrative and operational growth by at least 15 years,” Beninga said. “We can now become more efficient just by doing some remodeling and selling buildings we aren’t using to their capacity. And we’re putting people closer together that work together, saving them time and all of us money.”
It’s an approach he anticipates continuing to use and one he said others in the public sector and nonprofit worlds would find valuable.
“I absolutely think we’ll utilize the USD program going forward and highly recommend it to others,” he said.
When Minnehaha County leaders got together with lean experts at the USD Beacom School of Business, impressive things happened.