King County Employees reduce project lead times by 2 years through Lean

In Sept, King County Wastewater Treatment Division (WTD) celebrated the hard work of hundreds of employees who have been streamlining how WTD operates the regional system and how it builds new facilities needed for our growing population.

Employees explained to coworkers how they used Lean techniques to improve efficiency, standardize processes, and save time – thereby saving ratepayers money – during a 4-hour open house.

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During an open house Wastewater employees explained to coworkers how they improved efficiency, standardized processes, and saved time – thereby saving ratepayer money

WTD has a long history of continuously improving our business using employee ideas.

Over 1.5 million people in the region depend on WTD for award-winning wastewater treatment. WTD operates, maintains, and upgrades over 400 miles of pipelines, five wastewater treatment plants, 46 pump stations and 26 regulatory stations. The division faces a 63 percent increase in the capital improvement program to continue providing safe, reliable sewer service to a growing region and to meet combined sewer overflow control requirements by 2030. With this in mind, the division made a special effort to streamline how they deliver the projects they need to build.

The division launched an ambitious effort to use Lean techniques to find ways to deliver projects in less time. Lean focuses on delivering more value to our customers by defining processes and eliminating inefficiencies.

“Our employees are incredibly innovative and creative and are sincerely interested in finding better ways to deliver high quality services,” says Sandra Kilroy, WTD Assistant Director and sponsor of the division’s Lean efforts.

Areas improved include:

  • how projects are launched,
  • how we get permits we need,
  • how we purchase properties needed for a project,
  • how we look at alternatives when designing a project,
  • how we design / engineer projects, and
  • how we manage our contracts.

Project teams are pilot the new methods they develop on one or more projects to test how the new methods work and whether they need any tweaks.

If the proposed improvements are all successful, WTD will save 2.5 years of time when completing a capital project.

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WTD has a long history of continuously improving our business using employee ideas. We keep improving our business by asking employees for their ideas to improve the work we do.

Gary Kurihara, King County’s Lean Transformation Director shared the county’s perspective with the packed room and encouraged employees to continue to practice Lean.

With the early success in the capital program, Lean approaches to continuous improvement are being used in other areas throughout WTD; the Industrial Waste program was able to modify a permit process from 3 months to 1 week – by talking to employees, asking customers what they need, and developing new standards.

“I think these [Lean improvements] help us understand the real needs [of a process or project],” noted Michael Popiwny, capital project manager IV. “I recently used the new procurement consultant evaluation process we developed – and it is WAY better. It made me a ‘Lean-believer’.”

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