About Lean Government

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What is Lean?

Lean is a set of principles and methods used to identify and eliminate waste in any process. Lean helps organizations improve the speed and quality of their processes by getting rid of unnecessary activity such as document errors, extra process steps, and waiting time. 

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Why Lean the government?

Though Lean was originally developed in the private sector to target manufacturing processes, Lean methods are applicable to a range of EPA service and administrative processes — from rulemaking to the processing of grants and contracts. Government organizations ranging from the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana, to the U.S. Mint, to all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces are using Lean methods to improve their administrative processes. Multiple EPA programs and state environmental agencies have conducted Lean process improvement events and have achieved impressive results.

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How is EPA using Lean?

EPA is looking for ways to improve Agency performance by dramatically improving the quality, transparency, and speed of our processes. EPA managers and staff recognize that inefficiency exists across the Agency. Using Lean is helping us redesign our work, create new capacities and skills, and increase our organization’s ability to better serve our stakeholders. The results are helping us free staff time to focus on higher value activities that are more directly linked to environmental protection.

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What kind of benefits can Lean activities have?

  • Better environmental results
  • Superior customer service
  • Reduced process complexity
  • Enhanced process speed
  • High quality products and services
  • Improved staff morale
  • Increased sense of staff empowerment
  • Better use of resources on higher value activities and services

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How can Lean improve government operations?

Lean government enables government agencies to work more effectively and efficiently by eliminating waste in their processes. By using Lean methods to identify and eliminate unnecessary process steps and activities government agencies better understand how their processes work and can make adjustments that optimize desired outcomes. Using Lean government ensures that processes function smoothly and consistently, which allows staff to focus time and resources on higher value activities.

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What are some examples of Lean wastes?

  • Defects — Data errors, missing info, errors in documents, confusing instructions or requirements, typos
  • Overproduction — Unneeded reports and copies, excess e-mails messages, performing unrequested work
  • Waiting — Time for approval cycles, waiting for information, decisions, or for people in meetings
  • Not Utilized/Underutilized Resources and Talents — Narrowly defined jobs and expectations, lack of teamwork, poor management
  • Transportation — Report routing, transportation of documents, document storage
  • Inventory — Backlog of work permits and plan approvals, excess materials and information, obsolete databases, files, and folders
  • Motion — Trips to printers and copiers, unnecessary movement to find files or supplies, travel to meetings
  • Excess Processing — Unnecessary process steps, too many signature levels, unclear job descriptions

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Do Lean activities have any regulatory barriers?

While the use of Lean methods has no regulatory barriers, those who use Lean must consider the impact regulations have on the affected processes. The purpose of Lean methods is to question all aspects of a process. However, Lean cannot change regulatory, statutory, or other legal requirements.

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What kinds of government activities can be targeted?

Lean methods are highly adaptable and could be used in any number of processes ranging from rulemaking to processing of grants and contracts. Using Lean, environmental agencies have improved quality, cost effectiveness, service delivery, and responsiveness to the public without compromising environmental protection.

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