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SFUSD Lean Leaders reduce PPE delivery time by 95%

Updated: Jan 9

How SFUSD heroes Cadi Poile and Amy Chan reduced emergency PPE delivery time to school sites from six weeks to two days.

In early 2022, San Francisco Unified School District Executive Director of Facility Services Cadi Poile and Senior Administrative Analyst Amy Chan were struggling to keep up with a deluge of pandemic supply requests from school sites. In the midst of COVID chaos, they joined the Lean Leaders cohort to address critical bottlenecks in distributing emergency PPE and keeping kids safe in school. Amy and Cadi sat down with PPI staff to talk about their experience, how they addressed their problems, and why Cadi opted to send more of her staff to the next cohort.

Cadi Poile, SFUSD Executive Director of Facility Services
Amy Chan, SFUSD Facilities Senior Admin Analyst

PPI: Can you describe the problem you were trying to solve in Lean Leaders?

Cadi: During the COVID-19 pandemic, SFUSD Facilities was tasked with procuring, storing, and distributing $5 million worth of personal protective equipment and other supplies -- face masks, shields, cleaner -- to bring kids back to school. Our average turnaround time between a request and a correct delivery to a school site was about six weeks. That's beginning with someone in the district telling us, "We need to get test kits out to this school," then we need to go through the procurement process, arrange delivery, find labor to break apart the boxes and reassemble them, and then find drivers to pick up the material and move it out to the school site.

Amy: On top of that we had to re-order four times, correct a significant number of mistakes, and field a lot of questions -- we estimated 450 questions.

PPI: What was the consequence of those errors, questions, and long turnaround times?

Cadi: We had really low staff morale, really high stress levels. Schools sites weren't getting the supplies they needed when they needed them, so school sites were frustrated, my staff were frustrated. We spent a lot more than we needed to, between labor and gas, because we were duplicating effort: sending either too much or too little out, sending the truck out more than one time.

Amy: These were personal protective equipment -- they're supposed to help keep students and staff safely learning in school. Delays are not good.

Cadi: I'm getting PTSD! No one can even say "KN95" without a shiver going through me...

PPI: During Lean Leaders, what did you learn about the problem and why it was happening?

Cadi: My tendency is to say, "We need more people, more resources." We had four consultants working on this, we had two different moving companies. We had disaster service workers assigned to us, we had volunteers assigned to us. But it wasn't making it go any faster.

When we were asked to take a step back and ask why it was taking so long... at first, I said "We don't have time to do this!" But the result in the end is that it saved a lot of time. Amy and my time looking into this was a better investment than just trying to make solutions quickly.

Taking time looking into this was a better investment than just trying to make solutions quickly.

We had certain assumptions about what was taking so much time, but by working through the Lean Leaders process, we realized that it was actually other areas: It wasn't that the warehouse wasn't packing efficiently, it was that we were changing the rules on them every five minutes! Pack this many -- no, pack this many!

Amy: Small actions way upstream have big impacts later on. We saw that we could be tackling something differently in a spreadsheet and spend five extra minutes that ultimately saves us days or weeks. That was a huge turning point for us.

SFUSD warehouse -- not Raiders of the Lost Ark

PPI: So what were some of the solutions you implemented?

Cadi: One of the things that was best received by the warehouse workers who this impacts day-to-day -- and we're implementing this not just for PPE and emergency response, but in general -- was standardizing the way deliveries come into the warehouse. We're requiring donors and vendors to give us information in a standardized format, so the warehouse doesn't have to guess what's in a box. That's made things a lot faster. When we need to redistribute, we know exactly how much is in each case or pallet without opening every box.

We're requiring donors and vendors to give us information in a standardized format

We also pre-ordered materials that we were anticipating. Amy, was it the test kits?

Amy: It was the wipes. We just happened to have a lot of wipes, and so when an urgent request for wipes came in, we already had plenty.

Cadi: Right. So we talked to our procurement team -- and this is a next step I'm now working on with our emergency response director -- about stockpiling supplies for predictable emergencies: outbreaks of coronavirus or norovirus, wildfire smoke. Instead of waiting to order those supplies when the emergency arises, we'll order it beforehand and have it in the warehouse, so that all we have to do is deploy it. We realized that procurement was a giant time suck, so we'll mitigate it as much as we can.

PPI: Everyone struggles with procurement! But I love how you didn't let that hamstring you here, but you worked with what you could control.

Cadi: Yeah! I went into this thinking, "How are we going to fix procurement?" Do we need some kind of policy change, or an exemption to the rules? But the answer was much simpler: just predict and have it beforehand.

PPI: So what was the result at the end of all this?

Amy: I have the metrics! Our goal was to reduce our distribution time from six weeks to two weeks. Our most recent distribution took two days -- and that's with someone calling out sick and the truck breaking down.

There was no need to reorder. It was low stress for everybody. We had no delivery corrections, nobody asked any questions. It was amazing.

Cadi and I spent 30 minutes on planning. Maggie spent two hours making packing slips. That's something we'd still like to work on, our printing time.

PPI: How did Lean Leaders change the way you approach your work?

Cadi: Um... I don't go into every call with a sense of dread?

It was so overwhelming, I couldn't even go through the process... because there was no process! But now if someone calls me and says, "We need to get 500,000 masks out next week!" it doesn't feel like an insane task anymore.

In general, I'm trying to not just jump straight to, "How are we going to solve this?" but instead ask, "What is the real problem we're trying to solve here, and what's the root cause of that?" That's not my personality, but Lean Leaders provided me with evidence that it's a better approach!

Amy: When we were planning our last deployment, we kept on asking each other, "How can we make this easier for other people as well?" For example, we used to set a very specific amount of PPE, but we started to round the numbers in our spreadsheet so it would be easier for the warehouse workers to pack and the drivers to deliver.

We kept on asking each other, "How can we make this easier for other people as well?"

Cadi: Now we're thinking three steps down from the action we take today: How does this affect not just the person I'm giving this to, but the person they hand it off to, and the person they hand it off to.

PPI: Cadi, you sent more of your team to our Spring 2022 cohort! What would you say to someone considering joining the Lean Leaders cohort, or to a leader considering sending their team?

Cadi: What I told my staff was: I know it seems like a time investment. But you have all these little things that are driving you crazy that are really frustrating -- resolving those saves not only that frustration but a ton of time. We were spending so much time on trying to resolve this supply distribution, I just couldn't move it past it to spend time on anything else. Now I barely think about it.

For my team, the things I suggested for their projects were the very things they've been talking to me about for a year plus.

PPI: Anything else you want to add?

Cadi: As an aside, the skills we built in Miro are now my secret skill! (Note: Miro is the collaborative whiteboarding tool we use for PPI training) Now my boss has decided that she loves to use Miro boards. Every leadership meeting now is in Miro boards!

Amy: After this process, there's this sense of empowerment: After you've taken the messiest thing and gotten it to a better place, it feels like nothing is unsolvable anymore.

Finally, Cadi and I went through this training, but there was a very big team behind us -- everyone at the warehouse came in with open minds and put in hard work. I want to give them a shout out too.

Do you or your team want to join a future Lean Leaders cohort? Check out our next cohort below!

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