How Lean Six Sigma Reduced Travel Expense Approval Time by 94% in King County

King County streamlines the travel expense process with Eunjoo Greenhouse, the Deputy Director of the Finance and Business Operations Division (FBOD).

Valerie Ceban, a Budget Analyst for the Department of Information Technology, wanted to help too as she oversaw the lengthy travel approval process and wanted a good project to pursue her Green Belt Certification.

Initial cycle time data indicated the travel pre-approval process took an average of 15 days, but further digging showed that lead time averaged 30 to 45 days—not 15.

Cycle Time Distribution

Long lead times were driven by rework—there was a 70% defect rate for pre-approval submissions. Every error on a form required manual rework—it had to be redone, reprinted, and resubmitted—using 4 separate forms.

In order to understand all the resubmissions, they dug a little deeper into the top reasons for rework:

Travel Packet Rejection Reasons

During the Process Walk the team discovered that different groups had invented their own steps. Everybody invented their own “best way.” Hidden forms, extra steps, multiple handoffs, duplicate reviews and no Standard Work added two weeks—to a month—to the total lead time.

The Improvements

The team trimmed 4 forms down to 1 electronic form. Instead of six review and approval steps, they required only 2 people to look at the form and all documents could be saved onto a Sharepoint site. They also created an annual travel plan with the Division Director and the Department Director.

They reduced their lead time from a high of 45 days down to 1.6 days—a 94% reduction. Their error rate—initially 70%—was reduced to zero.

Some lessons they learned was the need to scope the project down to a manageable size, involve the right people, and sit down with employees within their division who were directly involved and impacted by this process.

Their experience was so profoundly positive that they created a Process Walk video to highlight the takeaways from their pre-approval process.

Watch the 30 minute video, or read the transcript at