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Building Bridges for Process Improvement Globally: The Transportation Lean Forum

Building Bridges for Process Improvement Globally: The Transportation Lean Forum

By Michael Avery, Office of Process Improvement Intern
July 28, 2017

What began five years ago as a phone call to the state of Iowa from CDOT's Gary Vansuch, director of the Office of Process Improvement, has turned into an international collaborative forum for process improvement innovators known as the Transportation Lean Forum (TLF).

The success of the TLF has been shaped by continuous improvement and impressive collaboration—something that has helped people within transportation agencies connect with one another.

"The fact that other people are borrowing ideas from other people and implementing them into their organization is terrific," Vansuch said of the TLF.

The saying "the sum of the whole is bigger than the sum of each part" could not be more accurate when describing collaboration among agencies to create value. This synergy can result in increased awareness, shared resources and a coalition that benefits all participants.

Managers in government are often faced with laws, regulations and policies that challenge forward-thinking—many of which are from the previous administration. As with managers in the private sector manager, government leaders' performance is judged on their abilities to create added value; they must acquire the skills to change, adapt and continuously improve processes.


Building like-minded teams across multi-national transportation organizations does have its shortcomings (for instance, the challenge of global team participation, and the time and resources required to facilitate meetings). CDOT has recognized the challenges as opportunities to forge relationships with other transportation entities—demonstrated by the growing number of participants—to share their stories and add value to CDOT's Lean Interchange Network site.

Highlights from June 2017 Transportation Lean Forum Webinar

"Continuous Improvement (CI) needs to be a movement, not a moment,"

—Joe Raasch, Minnesota Office of Continuous Improvement

CI is not new to Minnesota; it dates back to 1913, with the founding of the Economy and Efficiency Commission, into the 2011 Dayton-Smith Administration's Better Government for a Better Minnesota initiative.

What has changed is the external influences that drive their urgency for change. For example, increasing customer expectations, declining budgets, and a shrinking workforce force require government agencies to provide better services more efficiently and at lower costs. 

"Making government more effective, efficient and elegant means listening to our state employees, and learning from them how we can do better."
—Gov. John Hickenlooper, State of the State Address, 2011

Colorado's most recent reinvestment into the Lean program began with Gov. Hickenlooper envisioning Lean across all state agencies. Annie Kitch, the chief operating officer of the Colorado Lieutenant Governor's Office, is proud of improvement across the state agencies in Colorado. She presented at the June forum teleconference and had some inspiring facts about Colorado's Lean initiatives.

One example: A 70 percent reduction in the onboarding process at the Public Safety Agency shortened the process from 17 days to five. Colorado has several Lean support resources available to all state employees, including the Performance Management Academy, Lean champions and Lean Fellows to increase the knowledge and leadership skills of the Lean champions.

Another example: The Iowa Office of Lean Enterprise required a lead time of, on average, 62 days to grant air quality new source construction permits. However, according to Marcia Tope, the office's leader, process mapping and cutting out unnecessary steps reduced the lead time to just six days, with handoffs cut from 18 days to four. That's a 70 percent reduction in permitting applications lead time.  The process also became more customer friendly with the addition of a 1-800 number.

"Connecting people so they can kick-start inspires people to start things and make progress."
—Gary Vansuch, director of CDOT's Office of Process Improvement

Breaking down business silos and adopting a collaborative culture is far from the traditional command-and-control cultures of classical government policies, and is exactly what is required for managing the transportation systems of the future.