Stimulus Success Story

Published December 2012

During the recently completed campaign season, candidates on both sides vigorously debated the merits of two huge government programs:

  • The $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, popularly known as the Bank Bailout, which resulted in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)
  • The $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), also known as the Stimulus Bill

While I donít want to revisit the politics of these programs (my nightmares caused by the campaign just recently stopped), Iíd like to share how a local and popular organization made great use of stimulus funds.

4-H Youth Development is the iconic branch of ISU Extension and Outreach. 4-Hís primary focus over the years had been on the content of the materials used for their various learning projects. As a result, they realized that the processes for producing and delivering those materials were lacking.

During the latter half of 2009, 4-H applied for and received $25K funding to explore and implement Lean methods. During 2010 they utilized the funding to hire an external resource to develop managers on leading a Lean culture and to facilitate three Rapid Improvement Events (kaizens). These activities resulted in significant savings and fundamentally changed how 4-H works.

One of the Rapid Improvement Events addressed an improved process for delivering project materials, the educational resources which 4-H provides to its members to support their learning activities.

4-Hís decades-old paradigm was to purchase booklets from National 4-H. Roughly 175 different titles, from beginning dairy to advanced robotics, existed to cover the wide range of interests and skills levels required to meet the needs of 4-H members.

A team of nine experts from across the state, representing all levels of the organizational chart, came together to find a better way. Working as equals for three days, they designed a new process which resulted in a significant win-win for members, their families, and the 4-H organization.

The team started by identifying what their customers desired from project materials. This activity uncovered the facts that todayís youth prefer online learning to books, and that their families expect free, instant access to information that doesnít require a trip into town during regular office hours.

Next, the current process was mapped in detail. Tens of thousands of booklets were printed nationally (based on a forecast) and stored in a warehouse in the Washington, DC area. State organizations, such as ISU Extension and Outreach 4-H, placed an annual order for the publications they anticipated needing. These were stored on campus and delivered to county 4-H offices when ordered. Membersí families finally made the trip to the local office to pick up booklets.

Waste in the current process was noted:

  • ISU Extension and Outreach 4-H placed an annual order for roughly 20,000 booklets, costing almost $100K, with the majority of this expense recouped as project materials were resold to members
  • Like any forecast, however, there were invariably stock-outs, resulting in members anxiously waiting for materials to start their project.
  • Like any forecast, there were also over-stocks. The campus distribution warehouse held over 90,000 booklets worth almost $300K that had accumulated over the years
  • Enormous resources were required at every level of 4-H to manage the production, distribution and inventory of booklets

The team designed a new process built around internet access to project materials. Follow-up meetings and projects were required to implement the necessary changes to the 4-H website and to ensure that all project materials were research-based, as ensured by the ISU Extension and Outreach brand.

The teamís dream became reality within several months and 4-H members and their families began receiving 24/7, instant access to project materials at a fraction of the cost of booklets.

The following year, the team was recognized and asked to tell their story at the 4-H North Central Regional Conference. Today, their solution is becoming the benchmark nationally.

This single project resulted in an annual savings 2-3 times the one-time $25K ARRA funding. The two other Rapid Improvement Events delivered similar, but smaller benefits. 4-H took advantage of the situation to develop an internal resource to lead future improvement activities.

Better customer service and a great return on investment Ė thatís something any businessperson would be proud of (and any politician would gladly claim personal responsibility for).

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