The Danish Prosecution Service

Lean as a lever for transformation

Since the police reform came into force, the Prosecution Service has been in the process of a comprehensive transformation towards a completely new way of thinking and working – combining an extremely high level of legal expertise with efficient operations management and a new management paradigm

Lean has been a central lever in this transformation, which in itself is one of the most comprehensive transformations carried out in the public sector in recent years.

With the Danish police reform, which came into force on 1 January 2007, the Danish Prosecution Service was given a more independent role at the administrative level in relation to the police, where, in addition to the subject matter responsibility, they also assumed full responsibility for their results and resources. A new decentralised organisation of the Prosecution Service was introduced constituted by a Senior Chief Prosecutor and, as a general rule, five Chief Prosecutors in each of the twelve police districts. Existing managers from the police and the Prosecution Service filled the management positions.

Turning over a new leaf

The Director of Public Prosecutions formulated a development plan for 2007-2009, and in this connection he asserted himself as the head of the Prosecution Service in both subject matter and administrative fields. The plan was a stepping stone to a comprehensive and ambitious transformation of the organisation. During the first twelve months, focus was aimed at getting the new, merged districts established and put into operation and simultaneously enhancing the Director of Public Prosecutions’ ability to support the future development, i.a. by building an HR function and a development function.

People and efficient processes in focus

Early in the transformation process, a central focus area was to further develop the people of the organisation, e.g. by inquiring about wishes for the future organisation at workshops across Denmark for all employees. This was a new initiative, and new training offerings were launched in an appealing design, showing the employees that they have every reason to be proud of their workplace. This investment was without a doubt advantageous for the launching of the work with optimising work processes, which was another key element in the development plan.

Seen from the outside, it is clearly a strength that synergy between different development initiatives had been taken into consideration. In this context, other companies could draw inspiration from the Director of Public Prosecutions.

When are you ready for Lean?

Already in 2008, focus was, in accordance with the plan, aimed at the administrative procedures. Contrary to the police, who had chosen to emphasise thorough descriptions of administrative procedures, the Prosecution Service – inspired by the Danish Court Administration’s best practice model – chose an approach where the employees were let loose in the work with improvements. The Prosecution Service went one step further than the courts and increased the level of ambition by choosing Lean as an overall, holistic approach to optimising work processes and by making a determined effort to transform the entire culture in the organisation by developing the managers in the role as operations managers.

”We chose to go large-scale from the beginning as the production of cases had decreased significantly following the reform. Production decreased by more than 15%, which created a burning platform in relation to, as a minimum, increasing production to the same level as prior to the reform. Therefore, it was never a possibility to start on a smaller scale,” Public Prosecutor Svend Larsen says about the introduction of Lean. ”However, in the police and the Prosecution Service, we were extremely busy with all of our many projects as a result of the reform, and the local managements actually asked us to postpone the introduction of Lean by six months to the autumn of 2008. Otherwise, we would just have started.”

We know from experience that pilot projects can provide a good foundation for the implementation of Lean, provided that there is a clear management decision stating the purpose of the pilot. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see organisations that following a successful pilot do not complete the roll-out, which naturally gives rise to doubt in the organisation whether the management is committed to Lean.

Development in several dimensions

The Director of Public Prosecutions’ development plan provided the basis for a transformation with interaction between different development initiatives. In relation to more efficient administrative procedures, the Lean approach was chosen. At the same time, it was a point of attention that the implementation of Lean involved considerable challenges for the managers, and that it was actually just as much a development project aimed at the managers and the culture and not merely an introduction of new tools. Furthermore, the Director of Public Prosecutions was aware that the implementation of Lean could be carried out consecutively with other ongoing management development initiatives, thus having an even larger impact on production as well as motivation and job satisfaction.

At the beginning of the project, the Chief Prosecutors and the steering committee decided to strive for simultaneous achievement of positive results for ”the customers”, (the charged and injured parties), an improved work environment for the employees and increased productivity – the project’s ”triple bottom line”.

”If we increase the demands made on the managers, we need to help them”

”We admit that we are quite tough when it comes to measuring the performance of our employees, which they have gradually learned to live with, and which the young employees find natural. We started out rather heavyhanded with this performance regime, because we need to know whether or not the employees are productive. Simultaneously, we have provided the districts with some tools, and they maintain their freedom to choose how they will meet the goals,” Chief of Finance and Controlling Karsten Bo Larsen from the Director of Public Prosecutions says, who, as a former employee in the Ministry of Finance, knows the meaning of tough management.

”And it does not make sense to provide the districts with descriptions of administrative procedures prepared at a central level which they can pass on to the employees thinking that everything is fine,” adds Svend Larsen, who is head of organisational development at the Director of Public Prosecutions. ”As part of the Lean project, we therefore chose to design a special management development track at which we, through a number of training sessions, large workshops with all approx. 100 managers and pit stop meetings for the Senior Chief Prosecutors, prepared the managers for the challenges to be faced in connection with the implementation of Lean.”

Another important part of the preparation of the local managers has been the training in Lean of local process consultants, who can support the implementation in the districts. This investment has turned out to be so favourable that the managers have requested training of more process consultants to help ensure that the goals are met.

Basically, we believe that they are more proficient at running the work in the districts than we are from a central level. We believe in maintaining freedom and not in a highly centralised model. Thereby, we also emphasise that the responsibility for making it work is decentralised. In return, we make ambitious demands as to the results

Svend Larsen

Management makes the difference – in the top management

For the Director of Public Prosecutions, it was important to set the right team to drive the extensive transformation of the entire decentralised Prosecution Service in the districts. ”We enjoyed the privilege of starting almost from scratch, i.e. to build a new organisation and culture from the ground up. It is vital to gather a small, efficient management team, who can supplement, support and inspire each other and who share a common vision of making the organisation a great place to work characterised by high quality and excellent service. We all know what is going on, we know each other, we can communicate the same – and we have a good time together and are comfortable in each other’s company. It is also important that we are very different and at the same time able to work effectively together,” Svend Larsen says. Thus, the experience of the Director of Public Prosecutions is completely in line with the recommendations in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great about the mportance of setting the right team.

Communication enhances the impact

For the Director of Public Prosecutions, it was clear that the communication in relation to Lean was to be crystal-clear and unambiguous from the beginning. ”Communication is extremely important – it starts with commitment – it is vital that we believe 100% in the new initiatives and are unshakable in our beliefs. It is also important to execute fast and maybe even relatively brutally. When you know what you want, it must be communicated very clearly and in a direct manner. We say it as it is. We communicate in different ways, but the direction is always the same. We acknowledge good performance and praise the employee again and again, and this is a rather untraditional approach in our system. Similarly, we aim at being very precise and firm when something is not good enough,” Svend Larsen says.

Part of the communication consisted in large-scale events for all the managers with a good mix of external contributions, involvement in specific tasks and testing of Lean tools – which took place in an atmosphere signalling that change is both possible and desirable. It was evident in the process that these events made a difference to the managers as more and more expressed that they could see that this was going somewhere. Thus, communication finds expression in many ways where the staging of specific activities in itself contributes to creating the desired change environment. All the way from energetic staging of large-scale events to the festive reception where a Blitz group celebrates that it has carried out and implemented a specific improvement, e.g. a new Heijunka planning shelf system.

Management makes the difference – in the districts

Experience from other Lean projects carried out in service companies shows that management is the largest challenge, i.e. it is the most important factor in relation to the obtained effect, cf. the article dealing with Service Operations in this Viewpoint. At the Director of Public Prosecutions, they knew how important a role the managers played in succeeding with Lean. ”We knew from the start that all of our initiatives stood and fell on the managers and the management team. And when we introduced Lean, we knew that we had to put emphasis on management,” HR Manager Ida Sørensen says.

And now a couple of years after we initiated the implementation, it is evident that this prioritisation has been a success. This is what really ensures a lasting impact. There are a number of managers who have made steep progress and grown incredibly, and we have more managers with a clear ambition of transforming the Prosecution Service into the best workplace.

HR Manager Ida Sørensen

One aspect is management and the individual manager’s execution of his role, another aspect is the management context where each district has a management team constituted by a Senior Chief Prosecutor and five Chief Prosecutors. Lean gave rise to emphasising the development of the management team as the focal point of operations management in the districts. “Early on, we chose to put emphasis on the Chief Prosecutors, our middle managers, where we experienced an enormous need for improvement. Some of them were not in favour of the reform, and this merely emphasised the need. Therefore, we clearly communicated the expectations for the team during the implementation of Lean, and it is very satisfying to see when it works,” Svend Larsen says.

The work with Lean in the districts has revealed that considerable parts of the daily work resemble mass production. High-volume cases, which are relatively simple, constitute the majority of the daily caseload, and the handling of these could be more optimal if based on common production methods with-out it affecting the subject matter quality or the rule of law. In some of the districts, this has inspired the management to change the organisation to reflect this approach.

A breakthrough that increased the progress

From the beginning, Lean was received very positively by both managers and employees, however, also, as expected, with some scepticism. When the first positive results were received from the different districts, the scepticism was reduced markedly and much curiosity arose to find out how others had achieved good results. The perhaps largest breakthrough was when the local prosecution service in South Zealand and Lolland-Falster Police succeeded in turning an almost hopeless situation characterised by backlog of cases and stress into taking the position as Denmark’s best operational unit measured on production simultaneously with significantly improved job satisfaction among the employees.

”The fact that a focused Lean effort from managers and employees in just three months can change the picture from a disaster that lies in wait just around the corner into being a model organisation – that it is possible to move an entire organisation by applying simple methods and by taking an interest in details, cleaning up and gaining control – that resounded in the entire country,” Svend Larsen says. Part of the secret was to show an interest down to the last detail, which up to that point had had little priority, e.g. how papers move around and how to file cases in an easily accessible system etc. ”We never missed an opportunity to praise the district. It gave the local management a natural interest in profiling themselves. As a result, other districts came to visit, and then it spreads like ripples in a pond. The other Commissioners start finding it interesting to follow the example in their own districts – to begin with in the prosecution department of the district – however, some also begin to see the potential in using it in the police section,” Svend Larsen says.

In general, it is a great advantage when a developing organisation has several comparable operational units – benchmarking of results is a powerful, selfregulating mechanism which constantly lifts the ”bottom”.

Lean is much more than tools

Lean has been an important ingredient in the transformation of the Prosecution Service in combination with tough performance management and systematic HR development. Altogether, these initiatives have supported a fundamental cultural shift, which to an increasing degree leaves its mark on the manner in which the employees think, speak and act in the Prosecution Service.

”One of the most important achievements is the cultural shift – not least the experience that you CAN change things. Previously, a widely held view was that new unwelcome initiatives would disappear into thin air if you just waited long enough. Now there is a widespread experience that with the new culture we generate much better results and have a much better workplace,” Svend Larsen says. ”If a problem arises, we take action and invest in solving it – here and now – to avoid long bureaucratic decision paths. Fast execution is to an increasing extent an important part of our new culture based on the motto: We will fix it – we start tomorrow. If the new solution does not work, we simply change it. Another aspect of the cultural shift is that now we work systematically with operations management and that the managers take responsibility for operations.

We now have an entirely new view on operations – all the way from assuming that things just happen by themselves to being occupied with the details in operations. This has really made a difference for us mentally. Many people have developed a great deal – with some people it takes a little more time – and it has become part of our considerations when we recruit new candidates. We are still only halfway

Svend Larsen

A focused effort with strong management involvement pays off

The effect generated by the Lean project in the local prosecution service in South Zealand and Lolland-Falster Police is evident in the district’s case production. The focused effort was initiated in January 2009 and was completed in April that same year. In June 2009, the district’s backlog of cases was eliminated. As a result, the district’s production rose well above the national average. Thus, among the 12 prosecution services, it positioned itself as Denmark’s best police district in terms of realising targets set – merely 4 months after the completion of the focused Lean effort. A similar story can be told about the Western Copenhagen Police. In November 2009, a focused Lean effort was initiated as the district was positioned in the lowest end of the scale in terms of realising targets set. Eight months after the initiation of the project, the Western Copenhagen Police rose above the national average and currently ranks second best in terms of realising targets set only surpassed by the South Zealand and Lolland-Falster Police.

From chaos to number one

Following the reform, the local prosecution service in South Zealand and Lolland-Falster Police encountered large operational challenges. The merger of several local police stations did not provide the expected improvement of efficiency but, on the contrary, an increasing accumulation of cases, which, despite various efforts, was not eliminated. The employees were not able to meet the time limits.

Cases were piling up everywhere on the desks and floors, and a great deal of time was spent on searching for the cases. The belief that, with the given resources, it would ever become possible to manage the workload was strongly on the decline among the employees, and it was evident that a great workload over a long period of time had also reduced the case administration efficiency.

Therefore, the Senior Chief Prosecutor requested help from the Lean project and personally headed a focused effort for getting back on the right track. The effort had two purposes: The backlog of cases was to be reduced, and a solution was to be made which addressed the administration of new cases from a Lean perspective. The case pile was isolated, estimated in terms of time, targets were set and the pile was processed by a number of selected employees. At the same time, the daily operations were stabilised through e.g. standardisation, reorganisation of the work, performance management and implementation of daily operations management.

Following a six months’ intensive effort, the backlog of cases had been processed and everything was under control. The new operations tools and techniques in the Prosecution Service included placing all cases in a new Heijunka planning shelf system, clear standards for 25 primary work procedures, a new organisation of the entire legal secretariat, including new offices and work stations, a task rotation system and a plan for training of new employees. Furthermore, the focused effort entailed filing of several hundreds of cases and a thorough cleanout in all local archives. Today, the local prosecution service in South Zealand and Lolland-Falster Police ranks number one in Denmark in terms of realising targets set, the working environment is markedly improved and the Prosecution Service has become an attractive place to work.

The project has been of vital importance for the implementation of Lean in the police and Prosecution Service on a national basis by documenting that through a systematic and prioritised effort, production as well as employee satisfaction can be improved – and that it is possible to create a model organisation from the ashes of chaos in merely six months if you, i.e. the management, dare and are willing – and take the lead.

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