Last year was a pivotal one for Wisconsin’s efforts to keep lakes, rivers and fish healthy and to slow the spread of aquatic invasive species. DNR’s Clean Boats, Clean Waters (CBCW) program that provides small grants to partner organizations for boat inspection and boater education efforts on their lakes, became the first DNR grants program to undergo the steam-lining efforts.
The review used the Lean Six Sigma process, which combines the methods of Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma to streamline business operations and increase efficiency. Practitioners of LSS are often assigned different colored “belts,” as in karate, based on their level of experience. Pamela Toshner, DNR water resources management specialist and Jane Malischke natural resource financial assistance specialist donned their belts and went to work. In broad strokes, the Lean Six Sigma process identifies each step in a process and determines if value is added or not. Then, as many non-value adding steps as possible are removed. The resulting shortened process is tested for workability.
For the Clean Boats Clean Waters grant programs — a process that took at least 15 steps — was karate-chopped to a mere six steps. The streamlining reduced by 92% the time needed for the DNR to handle and review grant applications, process final reports and make final payments. Similarly, there was an 87 percent reduction in the time it takes grant recipients to administer the grants they receive.
The slimmed-down process was rolled out in 2013 and put to a real-world test during two rounds of grant applications. Last year, 55 applications were awarded a total of $298,000 across the state. Afterward, 20 percent of the applicants were polled on their experiences with the streamlined application process. Every one of them expressed satisfaction. Bill Wilcox of Nelson Lake said, “I really like the new process. Thank you very much for the time you spent making it easier for me.” Similarly, Less Schramm of Lake Metonga reported, “Receiving the grant award this soon helps us plan and budget [for the] extremely important program to prevent the spread of AIS into Lake Metonga.”
Customer satisfaction isn’t the only positive outcome. Environmental protection outcomes were impressive as well. For example, the demand for Clean Boats Clean Waters grants grew by 100 percent. The increased participation resulted in new coverage for lakes in the southern part of Wisconsin and added important coverage for Lake Superior and the Mississippi River, a “super-spreader” with many invasive species and high boat traffic. This year, 60 CBCW grants have been awarded through the stream-lined process.
Not resting on its laurels, DNR has identified additional improvements that might improve the CBCW process and is working to implement them. Stay tuned.
The impressive gains for the CBCW program are summed up by John Richter of Town of Plum Lake, “The lakes people [who] have taken on this AIS responsibility have been feeling like they came to a gun fight with a knife. This program is sent from Heaven for us. Your north woods stewards are so thankful for this effort.”