Process improvement – the best tool in our survival kit
Every process has at least three versions. What you think it is : what it actually is : and what you would like it to be. The first step of process improvement is to at least synchronise the first two versions. Here is a real-life case study to describe the current working of one simple process. Equally it demonstrates how our predisposition or ‘einstellung’ compels us to keep functioning the way we always did, rejecting more appropriate solutions even where they do exist in plenty. This report is not intended to be disrespectful or critical of any one. Its only aim is to help understand processes from a customer’s point of view, to suggest that government processes need radical improvements and to hope that it would trigger a debate on process improvement at every level and department of the government.
The world over, customer convenience is recognized as the foremost factor while designing processes and services that relate to citizens. Not so in Pakistan. The bureaucracy continues to cling to a morbid belief that misery, confusion, hurdles, delays and repeated visits to public offices are good for the health of citizens. For the ‘Raj’ to continue it is necessary to create circumstances for citizens to remain entangled in an absurd maize of bureaucratic procedures. Intended or not, such arrangements also create fertile opportunities for ‘under the table’ transactions.
Let us recount a real-life case study. A citizen named Ghulam Ali (GA), wanted to get a No Demand Certificate (NDC) from a government department called ‘Couldn’t Care Less’ (CCL) for House No. H-27. While all facts of this case study are true, the names of individuals and departments have been changed to protect privacy and to keep the focus on the system instead of individuals.
Citizen GA, needed an NDC from CCL as one of the many dozen requirements needed to complete the formalities relating to transfer of his house. Around the middle of September 2014, GA decided to make his first visit to the CCL’s office to inquire about the procedure for obtaining an NDC. He was pleasantly surprised that CCL had a readily available printed leaflet that outlined the five documents needed to be presented for obtaining an NDC.
GA prepared all the five prescribed documents and made his second visit to the CCL. Alas his hopes and confidence were not to last too long. He was told to get all the documents attested by a Notary Public (NP) and come back another time. GA looked for an NP and found one sitting on a footpath with large number of stamps and an eighteenth century typewriter. Without asking a single question, the NP asked his junior to stamp all pages which he then signed without looking at any of them. This utterly non-value -adding mindless exercise made the NP richer by Rs.1000, and adequately fulfilled a purposeless requirement of the CCL. (Even the Indian government has asked to do away with such attestations)
Equipped with the complete set of duly attested documents, GA made his third visit to CCL. It was surely a blessed day as it took only half an hour for GA to submit his documents, have them scrutinised and obtain a receipt to collect the NDC after seven working days.
GA, hoping that the worst was over and all that was now left was the collection of the NDC, made his fourth visit to the CCL exactly seven days. He was shocked and taken aback when instead of the NDC, he was given a letter to obtain yet another document called “Change of Ownership” from yet another department called DZA. On his creating a ruckus as to why was this requirement not included in the original list of requirements presented by the CCL , GA was politely told that it was an over-sight and that he simply needed to get on with fulfilling the new requirement.
GA made his fifth visit, this time to DZA , presented the CCL’s letter and requested for a “Change of Ownership” (COO) document. One must admit that the DZA was efficient and polite. They accepted the CCL’s letter and asked GA to come back after three days. When GA went to collect this document three days later (his sixth visit), he was horrified to learn that he would not be given the COO as CCL had made an error in their request letter. Instead of writing House No H-27, CCL had erroneously written House No. H-72.
This required DZA to thoroughly re-examine the entire case and re-check the entire history of all documents before coming to a fair conclusion. Finally the “Change of Ownership” document was handed over to GA on 14th October 2014.
Equipped with ‘Change of Ownership’ document, GA went back to CCL (his seventh visit on the subject) and requested for the issuance of the NDC. He was told to come back after 7 days to pick up the NDC. Seven days later when GA went to collect the NDC (his eighth visit), he was told that the work on this case had not yet been initiated and that he would need to come back in 2-3 days. (Why was he earlier told to come back in 7 days is completely un-understandable.)
Three days later, on 24 Oct 2014, GA went back to the CCL for the ninth time. This time he was told that the NDC was still not ready as a certain transfer fee was still outstanding – something that could have been told to GA on his very first visit. GA dashed to the designated bank, deposited the amount and presented the receipts to the CCL as the evidence of having fulfilled yet another requirement. But by now it was 12:30 pm and being a Friday, all work had to be suspended. GA was told to come after three days and try his luck again.
Giving a fair margin of time, sufficient to avoid yet another disappointment, GA proceeded to CCL for the 10th time on 29 Oct 2014. To his utter disappointment, he was told that the NDC was still not ready as two CCL officials had not yet signed the document. GA was given the choice to wait for about 2-3 hours or come back the next day. GA opted for the lesser evil, waited for three hours and was finally handed over a piece of paper called NO Demand Certificate. What was done in 10 visits stretched over 45 days could have been accomplished in one hour and one visit. We have a great opportunity to reform our processes and become a modern progressive state. Alternately we could wait for the day when the citizens refuse to be treated like slaves and the bureaucrats begin to behave as the servants of those who pay their salaries.