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Lean government is saving money

Fort Dodge city manager reports on impressive early results

July 26, 2009
Messenger News

The purpose of this article is to describe what the city has done to date regarding our Lean government initiative. The initiative, which I consider still in its infancy, is starting to deliver some substantial improvements. Here are a few examples of some of our more noteworthy improvements.

Police eliminating waiting time and reducing fuel usage

Various reports completed by police officers and signed by victims and witnesses must be notarized, but only law enforcement supervisors were registered notaries. This meant that every time a patrol officer completed a report requiring a citizen's notarized signature, they had to call and wait for a supervisor to make a special trip. Capt. Quentin Nelson brought up the idea that by notarizing all officers, the city could convert more than 2,700 hours of waiting and special trips annually - more than the equivalent of one officer - into important police work. A nice byproduct is $9,000 a year in gas savings.

Public Works reducing raw materials costs by recycling

Al Dorothy came up with a big hit with a public works process improvement. The city normally purchases stone locally for use in alleys and other street repairs, as well as water and sewer repair projects. Instead of buying the stone, the city is going to contract with a company to recycle our old broken concrete from prior street repairs. If the council approves the contract on Monday, the cost saving for using recycled concrete in lieu of purchased stone is $20,850 this year. Additionally, the city will save significantly in fuel costs in not having to drive to the local mine. We also estimate saving hundreds of hours of personnel time.

What's Lean all about?

Fact Box

Lean savings at a glance

Four months into the Lean initiative the city has eliminated waste that will have an annual estimated savings of:

4,500 hours of personnel time valued around $85,000.

$30,000 in materials and supplies.

Lean is about identifying and reducing waste, by thinking about how we do our jobs while focusing on the customer's needs and eliminating waste. It is about many, small improvements that lead to an overall significant change for the better on how we operate. It is about using the intuition and common sense of the people who do the job to find ways to do it better.

Why is being, and thinking, Lean is so important now?

The city of Fort Dodge is faced with a difficult challenge - operating expenses are growing faster than revenues. This trend has existed for many years and it is due mainly to artificially reduced tax values produced by the ''roll back.'' I won't dwell on the roll back here. That's a topic for another column. My point is that the city's financial condition is structural and permanent unless something significant changes. It is not due to the recent economic downturn. I don't want to sound too alarming. We are not in a financial crisis, and the city's overall financial condition is fairly strong as evidenced by our recent A1 rating from Moody's. However, we need to change our spending ways to maintain our strength.

I am not advocating that we reduce our investment in infrastructure and other capital projects. The council recently approved a significant five-year capital plan. The plan calls for major spending on roads, utilities and facilities. Specific revenue sources that can be used only for infrastructure have been allocated to these projects. This spending is needed to improve the quality of life for our citizens.

Lean event results

We have conducted two Kaizen events. Kaizen is a Japanese word that translates as ''good change.'' A Kaizen event is when staff who are involved in a specific activity, get together and focus on how to eliminate the waste from the activity. It involves 1) understanding what the customer needs, 2) observing the current process to identify wastes and 3) developing the new process with as many wastes as possible eliminated and implemented immediately.

The first Kaizen event involved property maintenance investigation and reporting. The three-day Kaizen event was designed to streamline our Nuisance/Property Maintenance Enforcement process.

The event was a great success. Steps in the process were trimmed by more than one-third. The length of time to respond to a complaint was cut nearly in half. We now communicate with the complainant (customer) more effectively so they know what to expect. We more effectively communicate with the violator so they understand the consequences. We also expect to reduce staff time for each complaint by removing wasteful steps, hand-offs and needless waiting time. We freed-up police officer time to perform primary duties.

A couple of our key goals are to 1) complete the initial inspection the same day as the complaint, 2) reduce the total time for abatement of general nuisances (i.e. grass, junk, brush, junk vehicles) to 10 working days and 3) create a higher percentage of owner-abated complaints .

City employees held a second three-day Kaizen event at the Public Works Central Garage facility. The event focused on two different Lean tools, Total Productive Maintenance - TPM - and 5S. Employees looked at ways to catch small items early on in order to prevent them from becoming larger, more expensive repairs in the future. The goal is to enable a dump truck to operate safer, longer, with fewer breakdowns and repair costs, and utilize the productive work time of both vehicle operators and the mechanics to a higher level of efficiency.

Employee-initiated Lean process improvements

Fort Dodge employees have responded with many employee-initiated improvements. Some are small. Others are large. All are important.

Tony Salvatore from the Parks Department found a way to save transportation waste by taking wood chips directly from the location the tree was removed and chipped to the playground in which they were needed.

The Business Affairs Department now requires building permits to be visibly posted on the property. This way the building inspectors know right away if the project is permitted if they see work being done.

The airport has created a maintenance list for minor repairs within the terminal. Then a maintenance person is called to handle several tasks at once. Before, the maintenance people would respond to every maintenance request as soon as it was made. Under the old scenario, the maintenance person was creating a lot of motion waste by going to the terminal each time something needed to be fixed.

Heidi Kalvig in Engineering moved the department's fax machine from a back office to right behind her desk. She was the one sending all the faxes. Now she has eliminated the waste of motion by putting the fax machine close to where she sits.

The Parks and Recreation Department eliminated waste by reducing the steps in processing seasonal employee time sheets. Ryan Maehl had an idea to cut the number of steps in half. Three steps were eliminated. Parks has so many seasonal employees that these needless steps consumed many hours every other week.

The Sheriff's Department on the jail floor now shares booking photos with the Fort Dodge Police Department electronically by e-mail and they are downloaded directly into the city's database with a few clicks and keystrokes. We are saving about three hours per week in staff time and about $1,200 annually in colored ink cartridges. Thanks to Sandy Spencer, Capt. Quentin Nelson and Sgt. Mark Hubbard for this idea.

Cheryl Hurdle and Joyce Peterson in the Police Department have really attacked waste in their jobs. They eliminated manual typing of index cards for police reports and criminal records. They stopped printing and manual filing of criminal records, dispositions and photos. Altogether, these savings resulted in about 27 hours a week of their time that can now be put to better use. The annual value of this time is more than $23,000. Additionally, they eliminated the need to spend almost $1000 on office supplies.


Our Lean/Continuous Improvement process is still in its infancy. The city of Fort Dodge is not even four months into our Lean initiative. In that time, we have eliminated wasteful processes that used more than 4,500 hours of personnel time annually, with a value of approximately $85,000. We have reduced expenses for materials and supplied by $30,000. These numbers only reflect what is listed in this article. There are many more improvements going on. These are positive results for being so early in the process. More importantly, however, for Lean to be successful, it must be a cultural change. We are becoming an organization with a mindset that looks to eliminate waste while improving customer service.

David Fierke is city manager of Fort Dodge.



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