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Basic Information about Continuous Improvement at EPA

Continuous Improvement at EPA is currently being implemented by the Office of Continuous Improvement. OCI is located in the Office of the Administrator and coordinates agency-wide implementation of the EPA Lean Management System (ELMS).

ELMS consists of six elements: (1) Problem Solving, (2) Leader Behaviors, (3) Standard Work, (4) Business Reviews, (5) Cascading Measures, and (6) Visual Management. The system uses Lean principles and tools, paired with routine monitoring, measurement and engagement to identify problems, solve problems, and sustain improvements.

ELMS is being deployed to all levels of the agency, from work units to senior leaders. EPA has set a strategic goal of 80% of the agency using ELMS by 2020 and 250 processes improved by 2022. At the end of fiscal year 2020 both goals were successfully met with the agency reporting over 500 processes improved and 83% of personnel using ELMS.

We work with process teams across EPA to:

  • create and use flow boards to display the status of work, and performance boards to identify and monitor progress toward targets,
  • track process-level metrics to help determine if organizations will meet long-term strategic goals,
  • use problem-solving tools when targets and/or timeframes are not being met.

Teams also have routine stand-up meetings, or huddles, around their visual management to monitor the status of work, identify issues, and escalate any issues that require management intervention. Teams are encouraged to create standard work or SOPs, to ensure timely delivery, consistent quality, and improved predictability.

Senior leaders are engaging in ELMS by:

  • meeting regularly at Monthly Business Reviews to discuss organizational performance against monthly targets for key measures
  • establishing countermeasures when monthly targets are not achieved
  • conducting gemba walks (visiting the visual management established by work units).

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Some ELMS accomplishments to-date include:

  • ELMS has been deployed to more than 11,000 EPA employees representing 83 percent of the agency.
  • EPA is improving its processes due to the deployment of ELMS. EPA has improved over 500 processes to date. Some examples include:
    • EPA’s Region 9 ELMS to significantly reduced the time firms and renovators take to get into compliance with residential lead-based paint requirements by 71 percent.
    • EPA Region 2 also used ELMS in a cross-divisional effort to reduce the backlog in National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits in Puerto Rico by 88 percent.
    • EPA’s Office of Water used ELMS to reduce backlogs of EPA actions taken on state-submitted lists of waters not meeting water quality standards by 96 percent and associated state-submitted pollution reduction targets for those waters by 99 percent.
    • Under the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, the National Enforcement Investigation Center (NEIC),  EPA’s accredited environmental forensics center, used ELMS to increase the amount of laboratory reports that are completed in the required 60-day timeframe from 33 percent to 81 percent or reports – increasing the agency’s ability to take timely enforcement and compliance actions.

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