Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Lean Government

Lean Initiatives at State Environmental Agencies

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Minnesota Six Sigma Process Improvement Initiative

State Agency:  Minnesota Pollution Control Agency       
Methods Implemented:  Six Sigma Process Improvement, Design for Six Sigma, Customer Focus, and Lateral Thinking

As part of a continued commitment to increase efficiency and effectiveness, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (PCA) has initiated 21 Six Sigma agency projects (15 improvement, 4 design, and 2 discovery) and nearly 50 division projects focused on process standardization, all addressing both regulatory and non-regulatory processes at the agency.  The Agency Commissioner recommended Six Sigma improvement methods in response to an increasing number of industry complaints and an audit by the state legislature drawing attention to permitting process inefficiencies.  The first two projects—a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater permitting project in 2003 and an air construction permitting project in 2004—both occurred in conjunction with a Six Sigma training program administered by the University of Minnesota.  The Agency has since developed internal Six Sigma methodology training and leadership capacity, and has used lean tools in addition to Six Sigma process analyses. Minnesota PCA has also started to concentrate the time frame to complete its Six Sigma projects.

Process Improvement Activities

Minnesota PCA has used Six Sigma process analysis on the following projects:

  • Air construction permits (2004)
  • Administrative Penalty Order (APO) issuance (2004)
  • Board item process (2006)
  • Communication (2005)
  • Contracts (2004)
  • Data management strategy (2006)
  • DELTA (regulatory database system) discovery project (2005)
  • Employee performance management system (2005)
  • Feedlot inspections (2005)
  • File management (2005)
  • Individual sewage treatment systems (ISTS) county support  (2005)
  • NPDES compliance determinations (2005)
  • NPDES wastewater permits (2003)
  • Office of Environmental Assistance/PCA grant effectiveness (2004)
  • Pollution prevention discovery project (2004)
  • Spills information and data tracking (2005)
  • Storm water program compliance (2004)
  • Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) operator need to know (2004)
  • Water quality funding gap (2005)
  • Water quality grant data entry (2004)
  • Watershed pass-through funding (2004 )
Project Initiation and Key Drivers

The Minnesota PCA Commissioner used Six Sigma successfully at the 3M Company, and initiated an Agency-wide Six Sigma process improvement initiative to address industry complaints, improve Agency efficiency, and reduce permit backlogs.  In addition, the Assistant Commissioner provided a leadership role and significant guidance and support to Six Sigma project teams.

External Involvement and Technical Assistance
University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management

The Carlson School of Management trained Minnesota PCA staff as champions and coaches at the Six Sigma green and black belt level.  Together with trained staff, University instructors assisted in the development of deployment models for the NPDES project and the air construction permitting project. 

Internal Consultant/Facilitator

Certified green and black belt Minnesota PCA staff to facilitate the Six Sigma process improvement projects.

Results

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has achieved compelling results from its Six Sigma process improvement.  Six Sigma project success is commonly measured by the project’s progression from Stage 1 (define) to Stage 5 (control), in addition to specific improvement metrics.  The following is an overview of both organizational and cultural changes in the Agency, and specific process changes identified during the Six Sigma process analysis.

Minnesota PCA Six Sigma Project Status and Sample Results

Minnesota PCA has used Six Sigma Process methodology on 21 agency projects.  The projects are each in various stages of progress as shown in the table below.

Six Sigma Projects

Define

Measure

Analyze

Improve/
Design

Control/
Validate

Air construction permits

 

 

 

 

X

Administrative Penalty Order Issuance

 

 

 

X

Board item process

 

 

X

 

 

Communication

 

 

 

X

 

Contracts

 

 

 

 

X

Data management strategy

 

X

 

 

 

DELTA discovery project

 

 

X

N/A

N/A

Employee performance
management system

 

 

 

 

X

Feedlot inspections

 

 

 

 

X

File management

 

 

 

 

X

ISTS county support

 

 

 

 

X

NPDES inspection

 

 

 

 

X

NPDES wastewater permits

 

 

 

 

X

OEA/PCA grant effectiveness

 

 

 

 

X

Pollution prevention discovery

 

 

X

N/A

N/A

Spills information and data tracking

 

 

 

 

X

Storm water program compliance

 

 

 

 

X

(WWTP) operator need to know

 

 

 

 

X

Water quality funding gap

 

 

 

 

X

Water quality grant data entry

 

 

 

 

X

Watershed pass-through funding

 

 

 

 

X

In addition to project progression through the five Six Sigma stages, Minnesota PCA has improved permitting timeliness by:

  • Issuing 75 percent of NPDES permits within 180 days (historical baseline of 9 percent);
  • Reducing the NPDES reissuance permitting backlog from nearly 50 percent to 8 percent;
  • Issuing 75 percent of air construction permits within 150 days (baseline of 33 percent);
  • Public noticing 88 percent of air construction permits within 120 days (baseline 44 percent); and
  • Administrative Penalty Orders issued and case closed 69 percent within 165 days (baseline 23 percent).
Agency-Wide Results

As a result of Six Sigma project process improvements, Minnesota PCA has experienced:

  • Greater staff ownership of projects and processes;
  • An increased ability to focus on “mission critical” work;
  • Improved internal Agency communication;
  • Improved communication with external stakeholders;
  • Integration of a continuous process improvement culture into the Agency; and
  • Improved relationships with the regulated community.

The Agency successes have led Minnesota PCA to commit to continuous process improvement by:

  • Training all Agency managers and supervisors at green belt leadership level;
  • Training all Agency executives at black belt leadership level;
  • Trained 4 certified black belt level Agency staff to support the process improvement efforts at both the agency and division level;
  • Developing internal capability to train staff at a green belt level;
  • Trained 35 staff at “internal black belt” leadership level; and
  • Successfully trained and certified 183 employees at the green belt level.
Future Plans
  • Minnesota PCA will continue to follow the deployment plan to reach project objectives.
  • The Agency will integrate a process management approach into the agency’s leadership.
  • The Agency plans to further its process capability and to continuously seek out improvement and standardization of mission critical work at the division level.
  • Minnesota PCA plans to maintain long-term gains and improvements through the incorporation of a culture change mentality. 
For additional information, contact:
James Warner, P.E. Director
Industrial Division
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
(651) 296-7333
jim.warner@pca.state.mn.us

Top of page

Jump to main content.