In August 2015, a southeast U.S. city’s Office of Buildings (OOB), the agency that issues permits for new construction and facility improvements and generates over $300 million in fees annually, was suffering from substantially negative customer opinions. OOB timeliness received an average score of “1” on a scale of 1-5, and overall satisfaction with OOB processes was rated as a “2.” To address this issue, the city commissioned a Strategic Business Plan to identify opportunities and strategies for process improvement to benefit the Department of Planning and Community Development’s (DPCD) OOB permit customers.
In February 2016, Mike Brink led a consulting team to present this Business Plan to the city. Brink’s team conducted a thorough analysis of OOB operations, and he served as the primary author of the Business Plan, which included five immediate priorities and 46 additional options for the city to improve permitting process performance and overall applicant satisfaction. Many of the best ideas came from the OOB employees themselves. Brink then led the effort to implement several of the performance improvement strategies selected by the OOB.
From the Business Plan, the OOB selected and implemented several key strategies. First it organized the plan review process around separate work streams focused on the particular needs of each class of customer, including self-service, express, residential, light commercial and commercial/major projects. This effort included creating an enhanced concierge function that connected the permit applicant with the right processes and resources upon initial contact. The implementation effort also featured a partnership with a contractor to provide additional plan review and building inspection resources and expertise. Finally, the OOB standardized plan review processes, created timeliness standards for each customer work stream, and improved training for plan reviewers, permit technicians and inspectors.
There are still challenges with the city’s permitting processes, but key stakeholders indicate that the improvements made over the past three-plus years are significant:
- The OOB now handles about 40% of its permit volume (excluding self-service) through its express work stream, which takes a customer, on average, just over 30 minutes.
- The average overall customer service score has improved by almost 50%.
- The average score for the “perceptions of process timeliness” has improved by 70%.
- The OOB’s regulatory reform effort led to a reduction of 10% of the permit transaction volume while reducing the total amount of permit revenue by less than 1%.
- Four of the previously lowest-ranked functions — plan intake, plan review, site development and inspection — each saw customer satisfaction gains of more than 20%.
- OOB revenues continued to increase at a rate of more than 15% annually.