While I consider myself a project manager, I can also play the role of business analyst. Situations often occur in life that scream for the need to re-engineer the business process.The Little Weed has attended the same summer sports camp here in Agincourt for the past couple of years, and each year there are many inefficiencies related to the initial first day of camp: registration. I have written about these in past posts, but today I will re-engineer the registration process that I participated in this year, 2012. Note that I do not work for the camp nor am I in anyway related, other than the Little Weed participates, and therefore I am only a consumer. Please note that this and other articles on this camp should not be considered a criticism of the camp. The Little Weed and I have verified that this camp is largely well run, the kids have a lot of fun, and to me, this is much more important than the inconvenience and inefficiencies that parents experience on registration day.
Goals of the Registration Process: All processes need an ultimate goal or product. My best guess, as I do not work for this camp, of the goals for this summer camp include:
- -Collect relevant personal information about this kids, including address, doctor, parental consent, etc
- -Kids must be registered in a local Toronto District elementary public school, grades 1-6
- -There are a limited number of spaces available, and there is no possibility to register more kids than planned. We, however, want to be as fair as possible to all kids
- -Registration should be done as inexpensively and as efficiently as possible
- -The camp is free to those who register, but a donation is gladly accepted
Environmental Considerations: This summer camp is sponsored by the Ontario government, the Toronto District School Board, the Boys 2 Men Institute and the Cabbagetown Youth Centre. It is, by definition, a locally sponsored and run event for local kids. Kids from Markham, China or elsewhere should not be allowed to take the place of a local kid. This is a critical criteria for the registration process.
Agincourt lies in one of Canada’s most Chinese of enclaves. Most of the kids in local schools and therefore those that attend the camp, are Chinese. I would guess at least 80% of the kids attending this camp are Chinese. Many Chinese parents and grandparents speak little or no English. This is a social problem that the camp needs to overcome every year, and is especially important in the registration process.
Summer camp organizers cannot reach kids individually. There are over 500 kids registered each year. Camp organizers need to rely on the local public schools to distribute, advertise and collect registration forms. These schools are under no obligation to cooperate. There is, therefore, a matrix reporting structure here, with the kids’ overall well-being tieing everyone together, everyone doing the “right thing” for the benefit of the kids.
This year, 2012, the last week of school started with a holiday (Victoria Day, May 21) and ended early with a PA (professional activity, kids have no school) day (May 25). This severely shorted the week from the typical 5 days down to only three days. The last week of school is one of the most chaotic of the year. School admins have to deal with student transfers and returnees, cleaning up the school, and preparing for the summer closure. School admins are more than distracted during this time of the year.
Current Business Process: As far as I know the current registration business process starts around mid May, where, if your child was registered last year and you kept the contact phone number, you could call the organizer and ask for the status of registration. Note that there is no online information about this camp whatsoever, so if you did not know of this camp previously, you would not know it existed. Camp organizers do answer calls and provide registration info, but parents really need to wait until camp organizers deliver registration forms to the local schools.
The process is that camp registration forms are delivered to local schools. Students would receive the form in their regular Wednesday envelope for parents. Parents would read and fill out the camp form, and this form was to be returned to the school no later than the last day of school. One the last day of school camp organizers would personally pick up these forms and process kids for registration.
The registration forms are in unilingual English, and are easily understandable for those with a good grasp of English. There is no Chinese or other languages on the form.
Kids arrive for the first day of camp and line up to be processed. Kids and their parents enter the school and find their school name at a long table, where their forms are found. The kids are then registered. They go to the gym, line up by grade, ready for the camp to start. The parents can then leave. The actual registration process lasts only about 3 minutes at max.
Inefficiencies that I noted: While I called the camp organizer the week of May 14 2012, forms were not delivered to my local school until May 22, the last week of school. This was unfortunate for many students because on that week the Monday was a statutory holiday and all schools were closed. While I personally called the school, picked up a camp registration form on Tuesday, and returned the form back to the school on Wednesday, the registration forms for the kids in the rest of the school were only sent out on the last day of school, on Thursday. Because Friday was a PA day and therefore no school, this left no time for parents to fill out the form and return it to the school. As a result, many parents were unable to preregister their kids on time.
On registration day, parents and kids dutifully lined up at the side of the school by the pool entrance to enter the camp. I arrived at 08:45 am for the 09:00 open. It was not until 09:30 that the line started moving and kids were processed. It would have been better and more organized to get all the internal paperwork, people and organization done early rather than have the kids and parents wait outside for 30 minutes. There was no one outside informing parents as to why nothing was happening, and kids were getting impatient.
Many parents of kids that were not registered also lined up. When they eventually got to the front of the line they found out that their kids could not be registered and they would have to return tomorrow. It would have been better to have told everyone in the line that if your kid was not preregistered they would not be able to register today. This would have reduced the frustration of many parents and kids.
It is important to note that the parents of kids who were not registered are not entirely at fault. Forms were only sent out with kids on the last day of school, and these forms were due back at the school almost before the kids left for home. This process flow is entirely unrealistic and resulted in not only many kids not being able to register properly, parents and kids waiting in vain for one hour the day of registration, but also the printed forms that were wasted on kids who could not register. There were no winners and all losers here.
Ultimately it is the responsibility to do the best for their kid. I knew that the camp forms would be sent out near the end of the school year but had to be returned to the school before they closed. This camp is important to Little Weed so I went out of my way to ensure he was registered. Other parents who were not as attentive will probably not be able to have their kids attend summer camp, which is very unfortunate. This also occurred last year.
Recommended Changes to the Business Process: These changed I recommend come from participating in the last 4 years of the camp registration process. Best of all are that these changes require no increase in costs and can improve the process immensely:
- –Early delivery of camp forms: Deliver the camp registration forms to local schools two weeks before the end of school. This would allow sufficient time for parents to read, understand, fill out and return the for to the school. Many parents do not speak English very well and some do not speak English at all. These parents will need to rely on neighbours or friends for translation. While this is not optimal, this is the cultural reality of Agincourt and Scarborough. This change costs nothing but a little more planning.
- –Add a due date to the registration form: Tell parents when they should deliver the form back to their school. School admins would also know when to collect the forms. It is important to have the school receive the forms as this ensures the students are registered at the local school and specifically with the Toronto District School Board, one of the sponsors of the camp. This change costs nothing and once done would be a permanent part of the form, changed once a year.
- –Write an instruction page for school admins. The school admin at our local school had never heard of the program, did not know the registration process and never received any written instructions for processing. Without clear instructions and at a very chaotic time of the year, it is no surprise if something goes wrong. There are about 40 schools affected. Writing a single page instruction sheet that explains the camp and the process of registration and pickup would go very far in getting the cooperation of school admins, as well as to get more kids to follow the registration process.
- –Organize your volunteers early on Registration Day: On the day of registration, have the youth volunteers start work at 08:30am or maybe 08:00am. This will give sufficient time to brief everyone on how the registration process should work. This early start would allow registration to start at the expected 09:00am. This change costs nothing but better planning.
- –Have a volunteer outside on Registration Day: Have a volunteer outside informing people of the process and how long this will take. This volunteer needs to be a good communicator, and should also be able to speak Mandarin. Many of the volunteers at this camp come from the local area, so this should not be an issue. There are also lots of kids that attend the camp that are also fluently bilingual. Take some of the Grade 5 and 6 kids and ask them to help out. This change costs nothing.
The dissemination of registration information to parents while lining up already happens informally from parent to parent, but this communications method may send out incorrect information and is largely not under the control of camp organizers. It also only reaches those that speak the language of the parent in the know, which in this case is Mandarin.
- –Have a registration table OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL to receive forms from those that were not able to or have not pre-registered: This would significantly reduce the lineup for those that have pre-registered, and eliminate the need for the unregistered to line up for an hour, only to find they are not able to register their kid today.
- –Have a volunteer direct late arriving volunteers to go inside: Volunteer camp leaders are young and a bit disorganized. Many arrived late and did not know where to go. A camp volunteer outside wearing a camp shirt would be able to direct them inside so they can get working faster, and not stand around wondering what to do.
Most business processes are usually Ok, but the devil is in the details. Many times changes to a business process are incremental and need not cost any additional cost. This means there is no reason to not do them. All business processes involve humans who are infallible and unpredictable. Close attention to detail can uncover surprisingly small and incremental changes that yield large efficiency gains. This is certainly true for the Summer Sports Camp registration process. Oh well, there is always next year!