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Deep dive on operations yields operational excellence

Understanding and improving operations can be challenging. Learn how operational audits can help.

4 min read




At Wayzata Public Schools, we take understanding and improving operations seriously. We started what we call the “Operational Excellence” initiative in 2009. Every year, each department brainstorms a number of areas that could be strengthened. After selecting an area of focus, administration meets with a committee of three school board members to conduct a deep review of the process and measure its effectiveness and efficiency using benchmark data and best practice examples. These findings are then communicated to the entire school board, which then approves the implementation of any new processes or tools to strengthen operations. These audits ensure our time and the community’s money is being used wisely, which was beneficial when there was a downturn in the economy, and they have led to many improvements.

For example, in 2014, we conducted an Operational Excellence audit on our risk management processes, particularly how we report and manage incidents and accidents because, at the time, we were building a large addition onto our high school, which actually made us the largest high school in Minnesota. With so many staff and students in one location, we wanted to ensure that any incidents or accidents were addressed efficiently and as quickly as possible to ensure everyone’s safety.

Our audit team began reviewing our incident and accident process to determine ways to improve it. At the time, staff members were required to hand-write incident or accident reports and submit them to the district clerk who would review them and attempt to determine which needed additional action. The clerk then gave the reports to me to review and approve. I would then send any reports requiring an investigation to the insurance company. The team found that not only was this time-consuming, it left room for human error. If an employee did not fully complete an incident of accident report, administration would have to go back to the employee to ask the unanswered questions so they could begin their investigation. The paper process made administration vulnerable to losing reports and created a large amount of filing for central office staff to manage.

Because this process was inefficient and made the district vulnerable to error, we chose to pilot an online system to manage all incident and accident reporting. All reports were entered online and the system required that all information was provided before the report could be submitted. The system automatically alerted key administrators to take action them to contact the parents and/or emergency contacts of those injured, as well as other key parties like the insurance company, if necessary. Because the reports were stored online, it eliminated the possibility of losing reports and the amount of files our central office had to maintain. As an added bonus, we would have the ability to pull reports to see if incidents or accidents were reoccurring at specific times, locations or with specific employees or students to determine a possible trend, which could be used to create preventative measures.

Since implementing the online incident and accident reporting systems in September 2015, we have reported and managed 241 student and 115 staff incidents and accidents. The automation of these processes allowed us to reduce certain clerical positions, thus saving us at least $50K in payroll costs, all while providing a higher level of reliability. Since implementing the online staff training system at the same time, 2,345 employees completed 4,398 courses.

We have conducted Operational Excellence audits on the management of employee time sheets and purchase orders — both of which switched from a paper process to an online process — as well as our districtwide energy consumption to evaluate if we could save money on energy costs. These Operational Excellence audits are a vital part to our mission as a district and we will continue to conduct them on an annual basis. We strive for excellence in all that we do, so being stagnant is not in our, or the community’s, best interest. By spending this time looking inward, we are improving our processes, but also strengthening our relationship with our school board and community.

Jim Westrum is the executive director of finance and business at Wayzata Public Schools in Minnesota. The district uses the EmployeeSafe Suite from PublicSchoolWORKS for managing incident and accident reporting.


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