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An Elephant in Miami: How to Bring the Right People in the Room

If you ever find yourself standing next to an elephant, you’ll notice you can only see one part of animal. You might be looking at the trunk without noticing what’s going on with the tail. Now, picture the elephant as you think about a process, or a problem with a lot of moving parts and people.

Back in early March, Kiran Jain, Chief Strategy Officer for Neighborly and former Senior Deputy City Attorney for the City of Oakland, came to speak to our fellowship class about “drawing the elephant” – a process mapping exercise.

When she was with the City of Oakland, she got all of the relevant stakeholders in the room, and they drew out a process from their perspective. Everyone left that meeting knowing the process and their co-workers a little better. They also identified actionable changes that can be made to streamline the process. The bonus outcome was catalyzing a cultural shift towards more collaboration on process design, and an earlier incorporation of the user perspective.

An Elephant in Miami

After learning about the very detailed permitting process in Miami-Dade County, and witnessing the fragmentation and confusion in the process, our team decided to bring the elephant to Miami.

Choosing the Short Term Event Permitting process as our prototype, we started by combing the Miami-Dade County website for all of the public-facing information on the process, and mapped out the journey as it was presented.

Next, we passed this document around to all the department contacts involved in the process, asking them to fill in the knowledge gaps. The ensuing debate made it clear that 1) this process was not clearly communicated to the public, and that 2) there was lack of internal clarity between departments on how the process worked.

The Session

On our return trip to Miami, we scheduled a half day design mapping session from 9am to 1pm, reserved a room, and ordered breakfast and lunch. We bought drawing supplies and spent time identifying the correct departmental representatives and confirming their attendance. Once we had everyone in the same room, things started to come together.

We kicked things off with introductions, then did a warm up by having everyone draw their morning coffee ritual. Then, we gave them 15 minutes to draw the Short Term Event Permitting process from their perspective, and opened up the space for discussion. This is where things went a bit off script. The original plan was to have everyone share their drawings of the current process, then form small groups to draw the ideal process and finally to identify any efficiencies that were surfaced.  We chose instead to let the lively and productive conversation around mapping the current process continue (with guided facilitation), documenting what was being discussed along the way.

In the end, we achieved three important objectives:

  1. Mapped out the entire Short Term Event Permitting Process from start to finish
  2. Identified some efficiencies and branches that would require further follow-up and discussion
  3. Got County staff excited and engaged in improving a process, breaking down silos along the way

What’s Next?

This is really just the beginning. Next, we will send out the compiled notes and process diagram created during the session, and set up follow-up conference calls to discuss implementing process improvements. We’ll also touch on process branches that we weren’t able to cover in the session in order to make sure that the processed is addressed comprehensively.

The hardest part of leading a design mapping session is finding the right people and getting them to show up. The actual session is fairly easy, just identify clear goals, be flexible and follow up with your participants.

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