Homes and Communities Agency

UK Government

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) is the UK government’s housing, land and regeneration agency, and the regulator of social housing providers in England. Around 900 people work at the HCA in offices across England. The Agency is responsible for:


  • increasing the number of new homes that are built in England, including affordable homes and homes for market sale or rent
  • improving existing affordable homes and bringing empty homes back into use as affordable housing
  • increasing the supply of public land and speeding up the rate that it can be built on
  • regulating social housing providers to make sure that they’re well managed and financially secure, so maintaining investor confidence in the affordable housing sector and protecting homes for tenants
  • helping to stimulate local economic growth by using our land and investment, and attracting private sector investment in local areas


The HCA’s Lean Continuous Improvement programme was launched during May 2016 with a programme of awareness raising delivered during the Summer. Eight improvement projects commenced during Autumn 2016 to progress a first phase of processes improvement projects, which are largely due to complete around Spring 2017.

A Personal Perspective from the View of the Leader

This Study takes the form of an interview…

Mark Canning talks to Catalyst about the practicalities and benifits of running a Lean Programme in the HCA, embarking on a Lean Six Sigma journey from scratch and leading the way to significant efficiency improvements and more capable staff.

Mark Canning

Senior Project Manager at Homes & Communities Agency

Video Interview with Mark Canning after a Green Belt show & tell

Why did you start your Lean Programme  – what prompted you to get going?

There were two key prompts which stimulated the HCA’s Lean Continuous Improvement Programme:

Delivering Efficiency Savings


The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), like all Government Departments, had been required by HM Treasury to devise a set of proposals to make efficiency savings across its department and Arms-Length Bodies (the DCLG Group). The efficiency saving required had been agreed between the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Chief Secretary to the Treasury.


The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement announcement on the Spending Review on 25 November 2015 also provided details of the Governments housing priorities for the next four years. A fundamental objective of future HCA activity was to help deliver these priorities while still making the efficiency savings required and yet maintaining a motivated and skilled work force. The expectations of the HCA were a full commitment to, and engagement with DCLG in delivering successful continuous improvement by sharing in both the investment costs and the capability development of staff.

Responding to the HCA Review


In 2011, the Cabinet Office announced that all non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) should go through a substantive (Triennial) review every three years to assess their capacity for delivering more effectively. The purpose of these reviews is threefold:

  • To provide a strong challenge of the continuing need for individual NDPBs, both their function and their form;
  • To review their capacity for delivering more effectively and efficiently, including identifying the potential for efficiency savings and their ability to contribute to economic growth; and
  • To review the control and governance arrangements in place to ensure that the public body is complying with recognised principles of good corporate governance. This should also include an assessment of the body’s performance.

The HCA Review was completed in early 2016. The introduction of Lean Continuous Improvement principles and practices was embarked upon to help to support the successful delivery of the Review.

Before you started what did you think / what previous experience had you had?


The Homes & Communities Agency had zero prior experience of Lean Six Sigma, which was a totally new concept for the Agency. However, the Agency had been made aware of other Government Departments who had embarked upon such Lean programmes and who had good success with their approach, and this knowledge was shared.

How did you get started?


With regards to early governance, the Lean Programme in the HCA was taken forward by a dedicated Programme Board reporting to the Chief Executive and Directors, with a Director acting as Senior Responsible Owner (SRO), supported by a PRINCE2 trained Programme Manager. A series of 8 Champions were trained to support the 8 pilot projects, and these Champions, along with the SRO and Project Manager formed the Programme Board.


The leading experts in Lean Continuous Improvement, Catalyst, were appointed as the training providers in February 2016.


The agreed training programme included Champion, Green Belt, Yellow Belt and Change Management training courses of between one to six days duration. The wider engagement programme to establish advocates through a series one-day awareness work-shops was made widely available to all staff to introduce core tools and skills.

What were you trying to achieve?


The core Aim of implementing a Lean Continuous Improvement approach at the HCA was to equip staff with the skills, tools and expertise necessary to make the Agency more efficient and effective and support the implementation of new ways of working.


The individual objectives of the HCA Lean Programme are to:

  • Support the Government’s spending review to make resource savings by focussing on what adds value.
  • Support the implementation of the HCA Review recommendations to improve core processes, eliminate waste, increase efficiencies, utilise resources more effectively and focus on adding value.
  • Make available the tools and materials that will help staff to use Lean Continuous Improvement in their work.
  • Identify a network of Lean ‘Advocates’ to share knowledge.
  • Provide development opportunities for staff through accredited training.

How did you go about it?


  • An awareness raising campaign on Lean Continuous Improvement techniques was run through events and communications.
  • Capacity Building on Lean Continuous Improvement techniques was developed through direct accredited training. The proposed Lean Continuous Improvement methodology adopted was Lean Six Sigma. Today, Lean Six Sigma is used as an all-encompassing business performance methodology, all over the world, in organisations as diverse as local government departments, the armed forces, banks, and multi-nationals corporations. The methodology will be introduced via a series of one day ‘White Belt’ workshops.
  • Efficiencies were secured through undertaking a series of 8 Phase 1 Pilot Projects and implementing the outcomes e.g. streamlining processes, eliminating waste, reducing bureaucracy.

These projects were:

  • Requisition for Purchase Orders: The HCA often fails to achieve the 5 day Prompt payment statistic (currently at c50% whilst DCLG are at 90%) and there is no standard approach across HCA to raising Purchase Orders.
  • Managing Learning & Development: How will employees source resources to improve professional, technical and personal capability in a compliant way which meets the business need?
  • Managing Housing Contracts – Provider Take On: The time taken to process applicants for access to IMS is inconsistent and on occasions takes too long and the data once captured has too many errors.
  • Programme Support Process: Programme reports generated by the Operating Areas need to be created more quickly, with reduced variation, and with a reduced need for clarifications.
  • Gateway Approvals: The internal process can delay acquisitions and disposals, plus decisions can get stuck in a loop.
  • Managing E-Mail: Many staff find the number of messages overwhelming, and find it difficult to focus on other workload, or are unable to send messages due to a full inbox.
  • Commissioning Process: The current DCLG/ HCA commissioning process will often take place too long after ministerial announcements and in the absence of comprehensive guidance being in place.
  • Monitoring Information Review: Our borrowers are not consistently providing the necessary monthly/quarterly monitoring information required under our agreements.

A separate communication plan has been developed. This is helping to communicate with staff and partners, to achieve their ‘buy in’ and involvement in the programme and explain how it will impact on them i.e. managing the impact of change, improved and streamlined processes, improved service, greater job satisfaction, and career development opportunities. A poster campaign was run throughout all offices to promote visits to the Intranet landing page. Three HCA Lean News Stories run on HCAnet generated 2,000 views, whilst eight Blogs generated 2,500 views.

What were the greatest successes?


Benefits to date have included:


  • A significant contribution towards required efficiency savings through:

o          Elimination of waste in day to day ways of working;

o          More efficient  delivery of Government programmes;

o          Improved satisfaction of Partners;

o          Improved value and reduced costs of delivering HCA activities.

  • A staff culture where Lean Continuous Improvement techniques are starting to become business as usual.
  • Even more capable and agile staff who are even better able to respond quickly to requests to implement new programmes and products to support Government objectives.

With hindsight, what would you do differently?


A lesson learned exercise undertaken after the completion of the phase 1 pilot projects yielded the following advice:


  • There is a need to carefully select the improvement projects to be worked upon through a tightly defined problem statement. Scope creep can be a real danger with project teams trying to improve everything.
  • Improvement teams should fully understand the process they will work upon at the outset before seeking to improve it.
  • Not all lean benefits are derived from lean projects – lean is a mind-set that can bring incremental improvements which can bring wider benefits overall.
  • The Lean Six Sigma methodology need not be slavishly adhered too – utilising just the parts you need to get the job done can work too. The HCA worked with Catalyst to develop Lean Light (captured on a single side of A3) which has delivered many positive results via rapid improvements that sat outside of the much larger Lean Phase 1 projects.
  • It is worth engaging those parties who will help deliver the ultimate improvements at an early stage in the process to ensure their engagement

What advice would you give to other leaders?


  • Need to promote cultural change – train all staff and include Lean in all staffs annual objectives
  • Need to recognise and accommodate for varying levels of lean improvements:

o          Those taking just a few hours to complete – the ‘Just Do It’ project

o          Those taking a few days – Rapid Improvement Projects

o          Those taking weeks / months – DMAIC Six Sigma Green Belt Projects (as per the current 8 projects being progressed in the HCA).

  • Embark upon a strong PR campaign through your Comms Staff – communicate, communicate, communicate – get your messages of success out there.

Next Steps


The HCA Lean Continuous Improvement Board will continue to reinforce and embed the Agency’s Lean Capability across the performance culture of the Agency. Next steps to successfully deliver this will include:


  • The programme being supported by a full-time project manager.
  • Direct reinforcement and integration of lean through the Agency’s performance management process with each employee having a clearly defined annual lean objective.
  • Directors being tasked to identify Lean Advocates to lead and promote lean within all teams.


Further activity will include:


  • The identification and roll out of phase 2 projects: The Lean CI Board maintains a schedule of staff suggestions, with 26 being recommended to date, and 5 under active consideration including: the staff performance management process, opportunity cost analysis and the Annual Land Valuations and Validation Exercise.
  • Lean Communication and Road Shows on Phase 1 Projects: These will be led by the Green Belts and Champions through the Summer of 2017.
  • Return On Investment data: Through working with Government Departments, robust estimates of the return on investment will be assembled and provide clear evidence of the success and value of continuous improvement.

Anything else you’d like to say that might be helpful?


The Lean Continuous Improvement Board noted that there are probably three very different types of Lean improvement project:

  • Those taking just a few hours to complete – the ‘Just Do It’ project
  • Those taking a few days – Rapid Improvement Projects
  • Those taking weeks / months – DMAIC Six Sigma Green Belt Projects (as per the current 8 projects being progressed in the HCA).


The Lean CI Board accordingly recognised the need to have some form of a simple tool kit, which did not readily exist, which enables everyone to apply Lean principles to their role and to be empowered to act to save time and money  through ‘Rapid Improvement Projects’.


Given the above, a bespoke Lean Rapid Improvement tool has been developed – Lean Light. This is essentially a bringing together of the HCA’s current approach on its large Lean projects, distilled down to a technique captured under 3Cs (concern, cause, countermeasure), that has then been captured on a single side of A3. This rapid improvement tool is being rolled out via the current training programme, with a demonstrator example of this approach being illustrated to staff – the HCA finance code generator project, which was a simple two day Lean business improvement project that will realise savings of £10k per annum. This Lean Light approach has proven very popular with staff.

This interview case study is an excerpt from our book Lean Six Sigma for Leaders

You can find the book and learn more about Lean Six Sigma on Amazon.

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