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Lean Initiatives at State Environmental Agencies: Iowa Department of Natural Resources Lean Six Sigma Business Process Improvement Initiative

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State Agency: Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Methods Implemented: Kaizen Events, Value Stream Mapping, 5S, and Design for Lean Six Sigma

As part of a major commitment to increase efficiency and foster continuous improvement, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has conducted sixteen Lean business process improvement events since June 2003 using primarily kaizen events. Iowa DNR first targeted air quality construction permitting and has since conducted events on processes such as

  • Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) corrective action reporting and implementation
  • clean water construction permits
  • National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater permits
  • a number of administrative processes. 

Iowa DNR has achieved compelling results from its Lean Six Sigma Business Process Improvement initiative, reducing most process lead times by more than half. 

The Department received guidance and assistance in its Lean initiative from

  • Iowa Coalition for Innovation and Growth
  • Lean consultants
  • Anumber of companies in Iowa that have significant Lean experience, such as Pella Corporation, Rockwell Collins, and Vermeer Manufacturing.

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Process Improvement Activities

Iowa DNR conducted kaizen events on the following projects:

  • Air quality complex permitting (2004)
  • Air quality new source construction permits (2003)
  • Animal feeding operations construction permits (2005)
  • Clean water construction project  permits (2004)
  • Floodplain permits (2005)
  • Land acquisition (2005)
  • Landfill permits (2004)
  • Leaking underground storage tank (LUST) corrective action decisions (2004)
  • Legal service:  administrative orders (2005)
  • Magazine production (2005)
  • Manure management plans (2005)
  • NPDES wastewater permits (2004)
  • Sovereign lands permits: environmental reviews (2004)
  • State revolving fund (SRF) cross-cutters (2006)
  • Vehicle fleet management (2005)

In addition, Iowa DNR conducted a Design for Lean Six Sigma event on this project:

  • Magazine redesign (2005)

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Project Initiation and Key Drivers

The Iowa Coalition for Innovation and Growth’s Business Process Hot Team approached the Iowa DNR about cutting the lead time for air construction permits.  The Coalition recommended that the Department conduct a kaizen event.  With the support of the Iowa Business Council, the Coalition also paid the initial consultation fees for the kaizen event and assisted with the process. 

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External Involvement and Technical Assistance

Consultant/Facilitator: Iowa DNR uses Guidon Performance Solutions, a company that specializes in business process improvement and has experience in the public sector.

Iowa Coalition for Innovation and Growth: The Coalition for Innovation and Growth’s Business Process Hot Team represents Iowa’s primary industries, including Pella Corporation, Rockwell Collins, Alliant Energy, and Vermeer Manufacturing.  The Hot Team invited DNR staff to participate in industry kaizen events, and was instrumental in initiating Iowa DNR’s Lean Six Sigma efforts, as noted above.  Coalition representatives continue to participate in Iowa DNR’s process improvement events.

Pella Corporation:A top Iowa business, the corporation chaired the Business Process Hot Team and offered on-going support to the Iowa DNR following their first kaizen event.

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Iowa DNR has achieved compelling results from its Lean Six Sigma business process improvement initiatives.  The events have resulted in both organizational and cultural changes in the Department, as well as specific process changes identified during the Lean Six Sigma events.

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General Results

Iowa DNR has conducted sixteen process improvement events, most of which have focused on reducing lead times as shown in the table below.

Kaizen Event Projects

Before Process Improvement

After Process Improvement

Air quality complex permit


180 days

Air quality new source construction permit

62 days

6 days

Animal feeding operations construction permits

66 days

36 days

Clean water construction project permits

28 months

4.5 months

Floodplain permits

-  Pre-design meeting and outreach strategy
-  Database design
-  Permit redesign

Landfill permits

187 days

30 days

Land acquisition: best case
Land acquisition: worst case

24 months
22 years

9 months
6.3 years

Leaking underground storage tanks corrective action decision

38 months

3 months

Legal services: administrative orders

-   Consent orders
-   Unilateral orders
-   Attorney General referrals

-   40–90% improvement in    
-   lead time reduction     

Manure management plans

Incomplete submittals reduced by 50%

NPDES wastewater permitting

425 days

15 days

Sovereign lands permits: environmental reviews

163 days

86 days

SRF cross-cutters

-   Delays reduced by 40%
-   Steps reduced by 32%

Vehicle dispatch

Pool vehicles reassigned to Department of Administrative Services-General Services Enterprise

Magazine production

Allows on-time quality production while meeting day-to-day communication needs

One of these events focused on a new project and used Lean Six Sigma Design tools, as described below.

Lean Design Projects


Magazine redesign

New Iowa DNR magazine designed for January 2007 launch

In addition to lead time reductions, Iowa DNR’s has seen:

  • The overall quality of permit applications increase;
  • An increased ability to focus on “mission critical” work;
  • A continuous process improvement culture integrated into the department; and
  • Improved relationships with the regulated community and permit applicants.

As a result of these successes, Iowa DNR has committed to continuous process improvement by:

  • Dedicating 1.5 full-time employees (FTEs) to focus on Lean Six Sigma development and facilitation; and
  • Training twelve DNR staff at Six Sigma green belt level to support future Lean Six Sigma events.

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Iowa DNR, Air Division Results:

Success stemming from the first kaizen event in air construction permitting has fueled subsequent process improvement initiatives within the Department.  Results of this project include:

  • Dedicating a team to address the air permit backlog;
  • Eliminating sixteen process steps (23 to 7);
  • Reducing permit handoffs from 18 to 4;
  • Moving staff offices for better work flow;
  • More complete air construction permit applications submitted; and
  • 600 air construction permit backlog eliminated.

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Future Plans

  • Iowa DNR plans to develop greater in-house capacity for leading lean six sigma events by training a staff member to the Six Sigma black belt level.
  • Iowa DNR will begin using value stream mapping techniques to identify priority projects for process improvement.
  • Beyond Iowa DNR, the Iowa Department of Management will add an Office of Lean Enterprise.  This Office will have a full time staff position charged with supporting Lean implementation throughout Iowa’s executive branch.

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For More Information

Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Air Quality Division—Air Construction Permitting Event Exit broken link Exit broken link Exit broken link

Iowa Department of Natural Resource, Land Quality Division—LUST event Exit broken Contact:

Teresa Hay McMahon (
Performance Results Director
Iowa Department of Management
State Capital Building
Des Moines, IA. 50319
(515) 281-6537

Liz Christiansen (, Deputy Director
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
502 E. 9th Street
Des Moines, IA. 50319-0034
(515) 281-3388

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