Office for National Statistics: Using stats for Continuous Improvement

How do the Office for National Statistics approach Continuous Improvement? Dyfrig Williams went on a visit with the All Wales Continuous Improvement Community to find out.

Office for National Statistics Logo

A couple of weeks ago I made my way to Newport to learn about the Office for National Statistics’ Continuous Improvement work, which won the British Quality Foundation Lean Six Sigma Award in 2014.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for improving processes by identifying and removing the causes of errors and making results more consistent, mainly by using data and stats. The organisation’s improvement is supported by people within it who are experts in the approach.

As part of Six Sigma, we were introduced to the DMAIC improvement cycle, which is a really useful method of approaching problems in a systematic way. DMAIC stands for:

Define: What needs improving?
Measure: What are the baselines you can measure improvement against?
Analyse: What does the data say the problem is and what is its effect?
Improve: Find a solution and put it into practice.
Control: Monitor the process and correct any deviations from your target.

DMAIC ImageLean is a set of tools that were developed to reduce the waste that comes with the flow of materials and information in a process. Because both ideas have a lot in common, they’ve been brought together to create Lean Six Sigma.

Starting out

As Lean Six Sigma is a stats based approach it’s a good fit with the Office for National Statistics’ work and culture. They first piloted the method in 2011 before moving it out to other parts of the organisation.

Much of the work that has taken place is in the Business Data Division, as this is the largest part of the organisation. As there are a lot of common practices within the division, small changes can bring big results.

It’s a people business

The Continuous Improvement team is a small team of three, which supports the rest of the organisation’s Continuous Improvement work. We heard that where the team sits is really important – they’re not based in Finance like in some organisations, so they’re not seen as a vehicle to cut costs. Instead they’re seen as delivering efficiency, which means that changes in staff structure that result from Continuous Improvement work hasn’t seen been linked to redundancy.

The team initially worked with six Continuous Improvement champions, but now the champions cover the whole of the organisation. They trained wider staff to raise awareness of the approach, which garnered so much enthusiasm that people wanted to run their own projects – a nice problem to have!

The team has run workshops with senior leaders so that they can support and understand the Continuous Improvement work, and they have also worked with wider staff on adopting a quality improvement culture. The team had to demonstrate the benefits of working differently to individuals, teams and the division as a whole. By using the 5 Whys tool, they could examine the resistance to change and move forward.

The Business Development Division celebrates staff success through their BuDDI awards, which raise awareness of the good things that people are doing. This has been so successful that other parts of organisation have taken the concept on.

Work flow

We learnt how the Business Development Division is making the most of its capacity. It’s changed the way that it schedules who’s working on its surveys, so that it makes the best use of the staff available. This is the Heijunka approach, which is all about working at a constant rate and reducing waste. To put Heijunka into practice, the division often has lots of people working on its surveys to begin with, and a few people working to clean up and finish off the work at the end.

Where is the All Wales Continuous Improvement Community going next?

The next scheduled All Wales Continuous Improvement Community visit is to the DVLA, which includes a visit to their UX Lab. I’m gutted that I can’t make as it, but if these learning visits sound like your cup of tea, it’s well worth becoming a member of the All Wales Continuous Improvement Community. At the Good Practice Exchange, we sometimes hear the line that “good practice is a bad traveller” (though it’s worth reading Chris Bolton’s blog on why that’s not necessarily the case). Visits like this show that there’s so much we can learn from each other if we’re willing to share our thinking and approaches.

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