The City Archive is responsible for record keeping in the City of Stockholm. To handle a growing workload and respond to the problem of having an ageing workforce, the organisation turned to lean. Stellan Särlefalk, Project Manager and consultant responsible for the transformation, explains how the Stadsarkiv moved from a hierarchical structure to a more horizontal one. 

Staff at the Stockholm City Archive need very high levels of academic knowledge to understand the nature of an archiving request and training them takes quite a long time. The turnover of staff in the organisation was exceptionally low and everybody was proud of their workplace and satisfied with their managers. The number of requests had grown from 5,000 to 25,000 in four years and it kept increasing.

Many of the 110 people employed at the Archive were to retire in the next few years, which would result in a reduced availability of trained staff. To add to an already challenging situation, funding was also expected to decrease in the face of growing demand.

The organisation had to improve and become more efficient – all previous attempts to improve performance had not worked. Hiring new staff had proven difficult due to the high education level of knowledge and the broad experience required. Most applicants were junior people that were considered to be too inexperienced.

The City Archive had less than 12 months to replace the staff that would soon retire and to cope with the booming number of requests it received. It also had to ensure all of this would be done with a smaller budget.

The investigation

The consultants started our investigation with a gemba walk to map the current state, and to understand what the roles and responsibilities were and the flow of requests through the Archive.

The organisation was divided in task-oriented departments, 12 different sub-organisations each with a manager and an area of responsibility. The 12 managers were in the same leadership team and they all agreed that their meetings were not particularly effective and that they did not support the employees enough to make their work more effective and efficient.

Managers focused on their own organisation and on achieving local improvements. The feeling was that each manager was making sure their own requests were dealt with during the leadership meeting but seemed not to care about the problems other departments were facing.

Archiving requests flowed down several different routes, depending on the nature of the issue, and each department had its own set of rules to handle situations.

Altering thinking patterns

To reach the goal, the organisation had to mature its basic thinking patterns. To document the thoughts of the consultants, I sent a letter to myself in February 2008 with a suggestion for a new organisation and a suggested flow of requests through the Archive.

Better thinking patterns were introduced to the leadership team in a bid to solve the problems highlighted and to get the whole organisation to adopt change by involving individuals and establishing a platform for improvement.

Change through cultural analysis

A cultural poll was conducted through the entire organisation. It included some basic questions and gave each person the opportunity to share their view of the organisation using words. The purpose of this initiative was to create a cultural map of the City Archive.

Each person picked three to six words out of 56, to describe the situation today and the desired situation.

Unsurprisingly, the analysis highlighted some similarities and some differences between different parts of the organisation, and helped to identify those who could become drivers of change.

To act on the results of the poll, groups of 25 people were formed. Each group was presented with the results of the analysis of words, and was told how to work with them:

  • Current words – not represented in desired situation: elements to eliminate;
  • Current words – represented in desired situation: elements to keep;
  • Desired words missing in current situation: elements to develop;
  • Two words in each category were selected, to suggest actions to leadership team;
  • Each work-group reported suggested actions to the leadership team;
  • The leadership team collected one list:
    • Corresponding actions, cross-functional actions, etc.
    • What actions were chosen – and why
    • What actions were not chosen at this point – and why

A new organisation

It was also evident to everyone how important it was to change the flow of requests within the organisation. A working group was formed, partly based on the cultural analysis that was conducted and partly based on the need to have all parts of the organisation involved, to come up with ideas of how to create a sustainable future for Stockholm City Archive.

Here’s what they came up with:

  • Incoming work is quicker to handle than the outgoing;
  • Information needs to be made available for several different groups and communicated through several media platforms;
  • The general manager needs to be able to work more strategically to ensure the future of the organisation and cope with red tape;
  • Managers need to be more tactical to be able to plan for changes in demand;
  • Team leaders need to be able to work in an operative manner, but in order to be able to make decisions the organisation needs to be more flow-oriented.

Change suggestions

Working groups suggested the Archive be restructured in a flow-oriented organisation with three flow-oriented teams, responsible for in- and out-flow, and a support team for financial issues, communication and quality.

The teams would work with competence to handle a request from start to finish, and in order to improve communication we planned for them to sit together.

The main reason for the change was to make sure that the end customer’s perspective was always everybody’s main focus and no unnecessary handovers happened.

The anticipated spin-offs of the introduced changes were:

  • Introduction of new staff without the full academic background, since support was always available;
  • Handle complicated requests faster since all competence would be available within the team;
  • The “old and wise” would be able to use time to support the teams;
  • The platform WIKI-information could be used and improved by everyone;
  • Daily buzz in the teams would make the improvement meetings more effective.

All of this was established in the summer of 2008. It was now time to start planning for the change. The envelope with the letter I had sent myself was given to the general manager, who asked why it had not been shared six months before. The answer we gave was that now everybody recognises and accepts the changes that needed to be implemented in the organisation.

Communication and visibility

Large posters were kept up to date with information on ongoing actions and what they would result in.

To make sure the general manager really got his hands dirty, every member of staff got a 15 minute slot with him to answer the questions:

–          What is my personal contribution to the change?

–          What do I need to be able to contribute with this in mind?

The general manager was only allowed to ask the Kipling questions (Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How) and could not share suggestions nor comments.

After a number of meetings, he started to get the hang of it and could be trusted to continue the meetings without a lean mentor preventing him from making suggestions.

In the fall of 2008, communication was focused on the new setup, and on the needs of the new organisation. Change discussions became part of improvement meetings of the teams; what team I would like to work in, who I would like to work with, what part of the flow can I be responsibility for, etc., became regularly asked questions.

5S for change

The platform for change was built to prepare documentation of all needed tasks, as well as to establish the improvement routine. 5S thinking patterns were introduced in every department:

1st S – Sort. Get rid of unnecessary work. Categorise everything:

–          1) Do;

–          2) Don’t do;

–          3) Decide later (with a date when the decision should be taken).

2nd S – Structure. Each thing in its place, find and mark places for requests/statuses/etc;

3rd S – Shine. Clean up your routines; question each step to eliminate waste;

4th S – Standardise. Document the routine and display it visually so it is easy to maintain;

5thS – Sustain. Leadership team as well as lean consultants made sure to constantly motivate and encourage the 5S work.

Implementing the change

In the fall, we also nominated the future teams, and came up with suggestion for re-arranging the physical workplace as well as establishing the line of command in the coming organisation. Detailed planning was initiated, including the re-arrangement of the space during the Christmas holidays.

At Christmas everybody was told that the office they left would be re-built and that at the beginning of January at the latest they would be allowed to start working in the new way.

After the holidays established improvement meetings corrected things that were not working properly. Our work as mentors at the Archive was ending since the coaches now were up to speed and improvement was self-sustaining.

The story continues

The organisation has now been working the lean way since early 2009, with no need for extra changes.

Back in 2007 it took 14 days to handle a request for archiving, in 2009 the time went down to 10 days. In 2013 it is five days. The new way of working makes it possible to recruit new people and effectively introduce them to the work. The organisation now works in a nearly stress-free environment although the number of people in the organisation today is 77, down from the original 120 mainly due to retirements and internal replacements.

The main lesson we learned was the importance of adapting the implementation to the organisation and its unique needs and individuals. We also learned the need to respect the knowledge and skills in the organisation.

We used lean tools like value stream mapping, hoskin kanri and kata, and of course 5S. In some cases, the tools were not visible to the entire organisation, but only represented a way to ensure the right questions were asked at the right to the right people.

A quote from Rudyard Kipling comes to mind:

I keep six honest serving men

(They taught me all I knew)

Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who…