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Gov. Ricketts, Agencies Highlight Customer-Service Improvements

Media Contacts:

Taylor Gage, Governor’s Office, 402-471-1970

Stacey Dvorak, Administrative Services, 402-471-4112

Brian McManus, Environmental Quality, 402-471-4223

Leah Bucco-White, Health & Human Services, 402-471-9356



New Center for Operational Excellence helping agencies become more efficient, effective.


LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts and the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) highlighted initiatives led by the Center for Operational Excellence (COE) to make state government more effective and efficient.  The Governor launched the COE earlier this year to lead initiatives aimed at improving customer service, a top priority of his administration.  These initiatives have created significant new time savings, helped agencies refocus on customer service, increased surplus auctions, and improved agency work culture.


“Improving how we do business at the state not only improves customer service, but will also help Nebraska’s job creators and taxpayers grow our communities,” said Governor Ricketts. “The latest round of permitting and licensing improvements will enhance your customer experience at the State of Nebraska and show measurable results that benefit the taxpayer.”


To achieve these results, the Department of Administrative Services’ Center of Operational Excellence utilizes Lean Six Sigma methodologies.  Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste, combining Lean practices and Six Sigma to eliminate the eight kinds of waste:  Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Not utilizing talent, Transport, Inventory, Motion, and Extra processing (abbreviated as ‘DOWNTIME’).  In an effort to help build a culture throughout state government that values process improvement, COE has also created an in-house Lean Six Sigma certification program to provide training to over 14,000 State Employees for white, yellow, and green belt training. 

  • White Belt training introduces employees to process improvement by covering key fundamental concepts.  The goal is to have all State employees white belt certified by the end of the year.
  • Yellow Belt certification provides a more in depth look at the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders and delivers tools to use for daily management.
  • Green Belt certification is key for the advancement of Lean Six Sigma process improvement events.  It provides the training for process improvement coordinators to further learn the Lean Six Sigma methodologies and how to lead process improvement events.  The first certification course was completed on October 14th.  Nine Process Improvement Coordinators from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Correctional Services, Department of Roads, and Department of Administrative Services have completed certification.   

Starting in September, Governor Ricketts directed all code state agencies to have all team members complete the white belt training.  To date, 42 percent of all state employees have completed the course. 


“Training and organizational culture are essential tools in creating more efficient and effective state agencies,” said DAS Director Byron Diamond.  “It encourages all employees to take ownership of their work products and look for ways to improve while keeping the customer in mind.  By allowing teams to have ownership of the changes, it not only improves the product and service delivered, but also enhances the work culture and creates collaboration amongst the teams.”

In addition to providing the white belt training, the COE provides yellow and green belt training to state agencies, who are working to cultivate higher-level Lean Six Sigma skills in their teams.


“In the next five months, with the certification of the Green Belts, we are working to facilitate over a dozen additional process improvement events in various state agencies,” said COE Director Matthew Singh.  “Each process improvement event will result in a more effective and efficient state government for its citizens.”


Recently the COE partnered with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to apply Lean Six Sigma principles to enhance efficiencies and improve customer service.  In the coming months, COE will be working towards leading process improvement activities in other code agencies.



In early September, the COE partnered with DEQ to facilitate a process improvement event which focused on the reduction of time for Air Construction permitting.  DEQ began their process improvement journey with a five-day event facilitated by the COE in early September.  Over the five days, a team of eight from DEQ dissected each detail of the Air Construction permitting process using approximately 45 feet of wall space to map their work process. 


With the help of frontline staff, DEQ identified areas for improvement:

  • The agency identified 110 steps of which only 4 added value for which their customers would be willing to pay.
  • These steps equated to an average of 190 days or more to issue permits. 


With a renewed approach to customer service, the DEQ project team simplified and streamlined the process.  Positive results to date include:

  • DEQ set an introductory goal of 150 days for Construction Permit issuance and since measuring this effort DEQ has reduced the effort from 190 to 183 days.
  • The new process is projected to reduce the lead time to 65 days, which is a 60 percent reduction in time, and removed 88 process steps. 
  • DEQ almost doubled their output of permits for October.  The agency’s goal was to complete 4 permits, but they were able to deliver 7 permits while maintaining a high level of quality.


“DEQ air permit staff are experiencing increased productivity, because this management technique allows more team involvement.  Problems, missing information, or roadblocks can be identified and worked out quickly.  The initial scope is with construction permits in air, which represent about one quarter of the DEQ permit universe in level of complexity and demand,” said DEQ Director Jim Macy.


Currently, the process is being piloted with wide scale implementation planned for early 2017.  




Thanks to recent process improvement activities supported by the COE, DHHS has simplified applications, streamlined screening processes, and facilitated faster turnaround times for Medication Aide and Mental Health Practitioner licensing applications.  DHHS licenses around 4,600 medication aides a year and almost 800 mental health practitioners. 


The agency reviewed its licensing processes and procedures for both professions and found there were opportunities for improvements:

  • Applicants experienced challenges with applications and instructions.
  • Application processing included dozens of steps and processing time was lengthy.
  • A high amount of applications arrived with errors or without supporting documents which led to longer processing time.  


By employing the expertise of the DHHS Operational Excellence team, frontline staff, and their executive leadership, DHHS improved licensing procedures for Medication Aides:

  • Reviewing all new applications within one day.  People know what is missing and they can get needed information back to DHHS in a timely manner.  The backlog of incomplete applications was 748 applications in February of this year.  Now at the end of every day, all applications are processed.
  • Decreased the amount of steps to process an application from 46 to 23 which decreased processing time from 39 days to 9.
  • Encouraging employers to send in a separate check for each applicant.  This allows for only an application with an error to be held up and error free applications to be processed.


DHHS also improved the application process for Mental Health Practitioners and Certified Social Workers:

  • Simplified applications and provided clearer instructions.
  • Streamlined application processing to eliminate duplication of tasks and scheduled dedicated work time each day to complete application processing.
  • Reduced application review time from 30 days to five and notifying the applicant by e-mail of any deficiencies.
  • Daily staff huddles to plan work goals for the day and those that may have not been met the day before.  Provides an opportunity to immediately address issues.
  • Initiated outreach to students in Nebraska counseling programs. Sharing information about the application process.

“The improvements extend beyond processes and into our workplace culture. Our team is driving the change through a focus on daily communication, problem solving, and outreach so we can better understand our customers’ mindset and make their interaction with us a positive one,” said Deputy Director of Public Health Jenifer Roberts-Johnson.


Here’s what some of DHHS’ customers are saying:


“I like how quickly the Medication Aide applications are being turned over from submit to active.”

“It is nice to have active medication aides so quickly.”

“Wow you are approving more medication aides than ever before.”

“New website design makes it much easier to navigate.”

“Appreciate the opportunity to participate in the application redesign and your presentation provided to our students. Received a lot of good information.”

Improving the application process for professional licenses is one of the priorities in the DHHS business plan.  DHHS licenses almost 176,000 health care professionals in Nebraska a year.  In March, DHHS announced that it was processing nurse licenses more quickly.  DHHS will soon be adding the option for nurses to apply for their initial license online.  Other licensing improvements are underway in the areas of emergency medical services, child care, and long-term care.




Recently, COE has also collaborated with Surplus Property to identify new process improvements.  Surplus Property, a service provided by the Department of Administrative Services, was created by statute to dispose of or sell surplus and unused state property in the most advantageous manner for the State of Nebraska, political subdivisions, and taxpayers.  By eliminating non-value added activities and refocusing on the customer, the leadership staff was able to increase auctions from an average of six to fourteen a year.  The increase in auctions provides citizens, businesses, and political subdivisions more opportunities to purchase quality property at a reasonable price while also assisting agencies in the reduction of wait time to surplus unused items. 

Gov. Ricketts, Agencies Highlight Customer-Service Improvements - 11/1/2016