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Lean Government is a big success in FD

City manager provides an update on the substantial progress to date

September 11, 2011
Messenger News

The city has completed a second full year of Lean Government. Fort Dodge continues to be the leader in the state and one of the leaders in the country on the implementation of Lean Government at the municipal level.

Here are a few summary accomplishments in the first two years of Lean Government.

We saved more than 23,000 hours of staff time annualized.

Seven full-time positions have become vacant. Instead of filling the positions, we eliminated the need and left them vacant. We have filled vacancies in public safety and increased our police staffing by two through a COPS grant.

We saved the equivalent of four other full-time positions. Since we are not laying people off, they are now focusing on duties that add value to the customer.

We have a budgetary savings of $425,000 annualized - $281,000 of the savings comes from the elimination of the full-time positions, reduction in overtime wages and part-time hours and $144,000 of the savings is due to not spending as much on material, equipment or contracts.

What's Lean all about?

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

Our vision

We will become the top-ranked municipal government in Iowa by consistently delivering user-friendly, high quality services:

Within budget constraints.

To pleasantly surprised citizens.

By proud employees working in a great environment.

Why being and thinking Lean is so important now

Like so many cities across America, the city of Fort Dodge is faced with a difficult challenge - operating expenses are growing faster than revenues. While some cities' financial woes are due to economic conditions, Fort Dodge's tight budgets are more structural in nature. This trend has existed for many years and it is due mainly to only modest new construction and moreover, artificially reduced tax values produced by the state's property tax "roll back."

We also emphasize the citizen-customer in our vision. While we reduce costs, we will improve the service we provide our customers. As Fort Dodge competes globally for jobs, we need to make sure we are providing the best possible services to try to attract people to this community.

Our employees are also a very important part of our vision. Lean is about respecting, enabling, and empowering people. Their intelligence and common sense is what will make us succeed.

Budget-cutting Lean improvements

Neighborhood street repair

The guys in the street department have dramatically improved the process of concrete patching through Lean techniques. We created a new method for replacing a concrete panel that is more efficient and "assembly line" like. Now, fewer workers do a given part of the process, so more streets can be fixed with the same amount of people.

We used to contract out this work to support our street department. Now we can do it all in house saving roughly $60,000 per year and fixing more residential streets than before.

One-man recycling trucks

We now operate our recycling trucks with only one person. Before we had two people assigned to recycling pickup. By measuring the number of stops and volume collected and examining the process, we realized that we only needed one person to complete a daily route on time. This change will save the city about $90,000 per year.

Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting

For every commercial flight, the city is required to have a person at the airport on standby during takeoff and landing. Before this was handled by airport maintenance personnel, and because of the flight schedule we paid overtime. Now city firefighters perform this during their normal work hours saving the city about $18,000 per year. This is also a great example of interdepartmental cooperation.

Service deliver improvements through Lean

Monthly meter reading

This year we started reading water meters every month instead of every three months. Making this switch saved about three-fourths of a billing clerk because we don't waste time estimating a bill in between reads. Additionally, we now give the customer a true bill for their consumption each month. Our meter readers also streamlined the read routes to save time and transportation waste. Hand in hand with monthly reading was stepped up delinquent bill collection. We have seen a reduction in our delinquency balance from $214,000 to $117,000 in 4.5 months. That is a 45 percent decrease in delinquencies, a $97,000 reduction.

Library book cataloging

By utilizing Lean principles we were able to dramatically cut the time between when the Fort Dodge Public Library receives a new book to when it is available for patrons to check out.

Pot holes

Last year I wrote about how citizens can now go online to to report a pot hole. The request is then routed electronically to the Public Works Department. We also took actions to store fill material indoors and developed an innovative hot box that rides on the back of the truck and uses exhaust to keep the material warm.

Warm material is much easier to handle than cold material and we are able to fill a hole quicker and it stays in better. As a result of these improvements, we filled six times as many potholes this past season as we have in the past.

Online parks registration

The online registration option for Parks and Recreation activities is substantially more convenient for the customer. Now customers can register for seasonal classes earlier, and thus know what their schedule will be. It allows the city to schedule programs based on current customer demand well before the season. Customers don't have to wait for normal office hours. They can do it from home or work online 24/7. Additionally, we were able to cut part-time office staff hours and we save about $5,000 annually.


This past spring we took a meticulous look at all of the grass we mow around town. We mow a lot of grass. By sharing the load among departments and adapting a smarter strategy, we were able to take on a significant amount of new mowing at the Aquatics Center and along 32nd Street while eliminating one full-time position.

Protecting our investments through Lean

5S projects

5S is a tool for creating a cLean, organized and safe workplace. We've utilized this tool at a number of places including the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Maintenance Garage, the Water Warehouse Crib at the Public Works Garage, and the Engineering office. These areas now rival any found in industry. The result is reduction in time spent searching and fewer purchases for misplaced items. In Engineering, office supply purchases were down 67 percent.

Aquatic Center, TPM and Standard Work

As you know, we invested a lot of money in our new Aquatic Center. We're using Lean tools like Standard Work and Total Productive Maintenance to ensure that the proper equipment checks are completed daily, and that it is properly shut down at the end of each season.

Culture change

In summary, we continue to progress in our Lean journey. We have saved about $425,000. The true benefit is that these are permanent changes so we continue to enjoy the budget saving every year.

Cost savings are important, but also important is our improvement in service delivery. During this economic downturn, many local governments are cutting services to save money, but not Fort Dodge. Not only are we continuing our key services, we are also delivering better service to our customers.

If we want to deliver the best services to our customers we need to be in constant communications with them. City Hall is more open than ever before. For example, citizens can read the entire council meeting packet online. Many services are available online from our website's Action Center or our online recreation program. The city has a Facebook site to provide an additional mode of communication.

The city of Fort Dodge has been recognized statewide and nationally for our Lean efforts. Human Resource Director Jim Vollmer received the prestigious Pace Setter award from the National Public Employers Labor Relations Association for implementing Lean cost savings into a pay-for-performance labor contract. Engineering's Heidi Kalvig was featured in the national magazine for administrative assistants.

We have a long way to go. In fact, a Lean journey is never complete. We are changing the culture of the organization and that is as meaningful as the budgetary savings are at this point in the journey.

David Fierke is city manager of Fort Dodge.



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