November 3, 2010

Getting Better All the Time

On September 23rd, Bread for the City started implementing our Client Choice model in our Northwest Food Pantry, based on its great success in our Southeast Center.

I’m pleased to report that Northwest client choice is running smoothly, thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers and the willingness of clients to try something new. Gone, now, are the days of prepackaged grocery bags, repetitive meals and wasted food! Instead, our pantry has a spiffy, spacious new layout that’s more like a grocery store than a warehouse.

It’s a pretty major change that pivots away from the way our food pantry has worked for decades—and it was undertaken gradually, methodically, and to widespread satisfaction. Feedback tells us that this new system is favored over our old system by clients, volunteers, and staff!

All part of the plan. Specifically, the plan for Quality Improvement. Quality Improvement (QI) is a specific organizational development model that we’ve adopted at Bread for the City in order to assess and improve our own services. The basic idea of QI is that we can improve our services by making slight changes, tracking measurable data that reveals the effect of that small change, and then continuing to tweak and assess accordingly.

For example, in the food pantry, we’ve been tracking “cycle time”, or how long it takes one client to enter the pantry, get processed in our computer system, and go through the pantry to pick out their food. Cycle time before client choice would hover between 4 and 5 minutes.

As you can see in the graph below, our “cycle times” in the the Southeast food pantry shot up when we first implemented Client Choice, but they consistently improved thereafter, to the point where it was just as fast as it was before Client Choice -- even faster!

We had a few hiccups that taught us useful information, like that the cycle time depends heavily on volunteers. Using the QI method, we determined that if we don’t have enough volunteers on any given day, the cycle time shoots up (like it did in early April) -- but as our volunteers learn the new system over time, cycle time gradually decreases.

Once our staff and volunteers knew the best ways to run the system, it was easy for them to help transfer the model to our Northwest center. We’ve been running client choice in NW for almost a month, and cycle time started off at and has hovered around 5 minutes.

This is just one of the QI initiatives that Bread for the City has taken on. We’ve also used QI to improve both staff and client use of our phone system, wait-time for our medical clinic patients, and ways that our staff shares information. (Special shout-out here goes to BFC's Special Projects Manager Julia Eddy, our Super QI Enfabulousinator.)

Bread for the City: good work is good, better work is even better!

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