PROVIDENCE – As part of a broader state effort to improve the regulatory climate, the Department of Environmental Management has initiated a Lean staff training program to improve customer service, streamline business processes, and make its permitting programs more efficient. The training is based on the Japanese method of "Kaizen," or continuous improvement, and is aimed at eliminating waste and backlogs while streamlining the use of staff time and resources. The Kaizen (pronounced ky-ZEHN) method dates back to the flow production of the assembly line that was pioneered by automaker Henry Ford in 1913. Today this method is being used extensively by businesses and state government agencies throughout the country to improve performance.
"Improving customer service to Rhode Island businesses is a top goal at DEM," notes DEM Director Janet Coit. "As part of this effort, we are engaging DEM employees to identify and prioritize areas for improvement, and looking at both the quality of permit submissions and at DEM responsiveness. We are engaged in an ongoing effort to cut out unnecessary steps and increase efficiency. Our focus in implementing Lean is to use a proven approach to eliminate things that are wasteful and don't provide meaningful value to our decision-making processes."
In previous years, on a voluntary basis, staff in DEM's waste management, customer and technical assistance, and compliance and inspection programs were trained to apply Lean strategies to evaluate and improve the regulatory processes under their supervision. DEM is now expanding the effort into a comprehensive, Department-wide initiative to implement business process improvements that are generated from in-house evaluations and discussions.
DEM has engaged a contractor, Exceeda Consulting, Inc., led by Tom Pesaturo, to help with this effort. In November, Exceeda completed training of the DEM Lean Team members to facilitate the Lean process evaluations. The team consists of an implementation leader and nine facilitators from throughout the Department including the Offices of Customer and Technical Assistance, Compliance and Inspection, Water Resources, Waste Management, Planning and Development, and Director's Office. The nine facilitators receive support from Exceeda staff, experienced and expert in Lean, as they lead the evaluation of select DEM regulatory programs.
The process reviews led by DEM's Lean Team facilitators are based on the Kaizen model. The evaluations are designed to identify wastes, including backlogs and bottlenecks; common errors in documents, reports and applications that frequently need to be resubmitted and reviewed that result in rework; unnecessary process steps, waiting, and the transfer of documents. Opportunities for streamlining processes and standardizing work are being sought throughout the evaluations.
"Kaizen helps and encourages workers to take ownership of their work and reinforces teamwork," notes Tom Pesaturo, principal of Exceeda. "It looks at the performance of a process and attacks the root cause of problems so they can be forever eliminated by improving and then standardizing the work. Training has been conducted at DEM with all Kaizen participants in Lean Overview, Kaizen and Business Process Mapping. The training sessions went really well with lots of great conversation and participation."
The DEM Lean Team is evaluating three major and three less complex processes over a three-month period. Working with Exceeda Consulting, Inc., facilitators in December guided the review of processes employed by the Office of Waste Management's site remediation program, which regulates the investigation and remediation of contaminated sites. The program also oversees the identification, evaluation and cleanup of brownfields so they can be brought back to beneficial reuse.
Facilitator Michaela Brockmann notes, "It was a great experience to watch a group of people somewhat reluctant to participate in the process become engaged and excited. There were several 'aha' moments and lively discussion that all led to creating a better and more efficient methodology to their work. I feel that because they were motivated to create the improved process, their momentum will carry over into implementing the process."
During six half-day sessions, Lean facilitators worked with Office of Waste Management staff to create a business process map that identified both value-added and non-value added steps currently used in the site remediation review process. During the Kaizen event participants looked at the full scope of program operations – essentially from the time the program is notified about a hazardous substance release to the time it signs off on the completion of the cleanup. Next, they developed a list of action items that eliminate waste and help improve the process, and categorized them into 30, 60 and 90-day implementation schedules. The action items include creating templates for frequently used letters and forms, developing more robust checklists, and updating specific guidelines. This is a work in progress, with staff assigned to carry out the action items in coming months.
Office of Waste Management staff who participated in the Lean reviews also expressed their enthusiasm for the effort. Lou Maccarone said, "As a 12-year employee, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be involved in crafting a new, more client-friendly, site remediation process from the ground up. The trust and engagement provided helped create a passionate environment in which my colleagues and I were able to contribute new ideas openly, resulting in a sense of ownership and investment in the process."
Participant Ashley Blauvelt added, "As a relatively new employee, it has been fulfilling to be able to offer a slightly different perspective of the site remediation process and to have the chance to honestly ask, 'why is this the way we do this?' To be given the opportunity to assist in streamlining and revamping the process from the ground-up removes those 'whys' and ensures that we as a group follow through in streamlining the site remediation process."
The second major program review is getting underway this month, with the review of the wetlands preliminary determination process administered by the Office of Water Resources. A third major process, to be determined, will be reviewed in February.
In addition to the major programs being evaluated with the assistance of Exceeda Consulting, Inc., DEM conducted a review of the stormwater engineering process during four half-day sessions held in December. This review used business process mapping to identify value-added and non value-added steps. Several long-term and short-term follow-up action items to improve efficiency were identified, such as increasing staff training and revising checklists and guidelines so that they clearly reflect the program's expectations from the customer.
Members of the DEM Lean Team are currently leading a review of the Department's switchboard/front desk operations over a series of three half-day sessions. To date, processes for handling incoming phone calls and walk-in customers have been mapped. A Department-wide customer service plan has been recommended and will be reviewed during the sessions.
DEM Director Coit said she is confident that the work underway will improve efficiency and predictability of permit programs and the delivery of customer service to the Department's clients and the public. She noted that important goals of the project are to improve overall quality of permit applications, integrate a culture of continuous process improvement into the Department, and improve overall relationships with the regulated community and permit applicants.
"Improving efficiency and customer service are all upside," added Coit. "Our Lean effort is part of a continuous process at DEM. The important thing is to get everyone working together to deliver a better service. I welcome feedback, and am certain we will see positive results."