Jul 19, 2008

Standardizing the Prosecution System (Department of Justice)

Here are pictures of my recent work. This time, it's with the Department of Justice. I'm helping them standardize and improve their basic procedures for filing cases and complaints.

It turns out that in all these years, among all the prosecutor's offices, there was really no standard way to file cases and complaints.

I can validate this because several years back, a bus rammed into my car and I had to go through the process of filing a case. There would be days when the judge, the accused or I would not be available. Every time this happened, we had to postpone the hearing for another month. There were no options to allow us to find a closer, synchronized date. I've never heard from that case again.

I had no idea what the steps where and there was no Information Desk. Lack of clarity on processes is a fertile breeding ground for corruption. ('Nuff said).

Flash forward to today. DOJ is embarking on a project to change this. It set up a Technical Working Group (TWG) composed of senior prosecutors (aka senior fiscals) who put their heads together and steadily built the manuals from scratch. Then I reviewed the flowcharts they drew to describe their system. I also helped revise and simplify the manual that will be distributed to the administrative staff.

In revising the Administrator's Manual, the Technical Working Group asked me to simplify it further to a point where anyone can understand the steps.

Problems and realities:
  • Shortage of staff in the prosecutor's offices.
  • When they do have staff, the staff lacked the needed skills (eg computer skills, filing skills -- yes, lack of filing skills for staff who are supposed to do filing work, go figure).

Lessons I Learned about Government Employees:
  • There are nice, hardworking government employees who are genuinely pushing for change (In most government agencies I've worked with, I've seen this pattern).
  • These people are very driven, in spite of the general perception against government employees.
  • In the DOJ TWG, for instance, they worked from 8:30 am until 7:30 pm for FIVE DAYS STRAIGHT. Meals and snacks were served while working. And this was not easy work -- the members had to read through each sentence to check the legality and fix loopholes.
  • Despite being very driven, the fiscals and DOJ staff were actually fun to work with. They were very efficient and pleasant. We debated heatedly about the contents, but everything was kept at a professional level.
Lessons I Learned about Improving Processes:
  • First, concentrate on mapping the whole process, from process start to finish. See the big picture first (by using boxes-and-arrows diagrams).
  • Follow the steps and not the people. In DOJ, the first draft of the manual tended to follow the specific staff who were assigned to do each step. This led to dense sentences that were difficult to follow. It took me a couple of days to read through the intricacies. In the end, I simplified this by focusing on the steps, not the people.
  • One sentence, one step. In the first draft of the manual, a step was often 2-3 steps subsumed in one sentence. I disaggregated these complex sentences and improved the readability of the manual.
  • Rule of thumb: make sure that the first word of a step is a verb. (If you need to put the person who is responsible for the step, you can add this later.)
  • Avoid complicated flowchart symbols. When drawing flowcharts, use boxes and arrows. Avoid additional "computer-based" symbols like diamonds, printouts, etc. They only add to the confusion.