Small things add up: the Denver Peak Academy approach: Denver Peak Acdemy guides employees at all levels to improve the way government works, making improvements that have saved city taxpayers $ 15 million since the program's 2011 inception.

Author:Field, Melissa

Denver Peak Academy is the process improvement team for the City and County of Denver, Colorado, created under the budget office and mayor's office to train and coach employees at all levels to improve the way government works. The team guides employees though process improvements that have saved city taxpayers $15 million since the program's inception in 2011.

The Peak team has trained 5,000 employees in the principles of continuous improvement techniques. The tools that the team promotes are simple, including process mapping, cause-and-effect diagrams, the A3 template, standard work, the 5S methodology, and visual management. (See the Terminology sidebar for definitions.) Instead of implementing these changes from the top down, Peak promotes a decentralized approach. It trains employees to apply the tools and techniques to the small, simple things they do every day--the things they are personally responsible for. Ultimately, the small things add up, leading to large-scale change.


Whether we realize it or not, most of us go to work each day with a long list of the things we believe the people around us--our bosses, coworkers, and partners agencies--should change. We think, "If only someone else did X differently, my workday would be so much easier." The problem is that often, we don't have the full story. The only processes we can truly improve are the ones we fully understand and control.

Every employee controls something. One person may not have the power to bring about organizational change, but she can, say, streamline a complicated form, shorten wait times, or redesign her desk space in a way that inspires others to do the same. Applying process improvement tools to personal productivity is the best first step toward implementing a big change. Governments are not transformed overnight; change happens one step at a time.


Two of the greatest continuous improvement success stories we've seen at the City and County of Denver, Colorado, came from the Denver Animal Shelter and the Department of Excise and Licenses. Both agencies were part of what we call a Peak Partnership, in which a Peak process improvement employee is sent to work in an agency for a period of six months. The specialist works with agency leadership to study data sources including 311 calls, budget documents, and performance metrics. After shadowing employees and analyzing data sources, the Peak employee works with the agency to narrow...

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