April 24, 2017
By Jessica Stump
State Parks staff recently received training in Lean methods and strategies from their peers from the City of Denver Zoo. The training was made possible with support from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and leadership from the Division of Parks and Recreation.
The Denver Zoo delivers its Peak Performance Program to train employees on how to improve zoo services using Lean methodologies. Sophia Ernst, Denver Zoo’s Peak Performance Manager, and Molly Kainuma, Zookeeper at the Denver Zoo, travelled to Delaware and gave an overview of their program’s success as guest presenters during the 2018 Parks School.
In addition to exposing all Delaware State Park staff to the Peak Performance Program, Sophia and Molly also delivered Denver’s full Green Belt training to the Brandywine Zoo staff.
The Brandywine Zoo has been in operation since 1905. It sits on the banks of the Brandywine River. Despite its small footprint of 4.5 acres, the zoo attracts an average 54,000 visitors a year and features exotic creatures such as red pandas, capybaras, and golden lion tamarins.
The past year has brought a lot of change for the Brandywine Zoo. They hired a new Zoo Director and have been working on updating their master plan. To help aid their transformation, zoo staff agreed to work with the Denver Zoo’s Peak Performance Program.
Zoo staff received a four-hour training which covered a variety of Lean topics to help identify and eliminate waste, develop standard work, and deploy innovation tactics to solve problems.
The training focused on elements key to the Government Efficiency and Accountability Review (GEAR) Board, the spearhead of Governor’s Carney’s initiative to increase efficiency across state government and develop continuous improvement practices.
Colorado is a leader among states using Lean methods to improve state government services. The Denver Zoo is no exception. Every zoo employee is required to take the Green Belt Lean training which provides employees with the skills necessary to improve their work processes, find innovative solutions to everyday problems, and increase the value they deliver to the animals and guests.
Denver Zoo employees have produced many improvements. Early on, staff were struggling to find appropriate crates for animal transportation. Their storage shed was unruly and crates were either impossible to locate or difficult to retrieve from the overstuffed sheds. Often staff ended up purchasing crates they already had because they were unable to retrieve or locate them in time.
Using the Lean method of “6S,” a methodical way to improve a physical space and standardize work processes, they were able to reorganize their animal crate storage to make all their equipment easy to locate and procure. Staff even created an online catalogue which tracks each crate’s physical location and scheduled use.
Employees at the Denver Zoo have also been able to improve the care they give to their animals using the Lean technique of visual boards and information displays. Employees track health data and activities of animals in their care using a prominent board that all zoo employees can reference to find the most up-to-date information.
Response to the training was positive. Parks Operations Administrator Eric Dawson said, “The staff was really excited about the training and felt empowered to affect change at their work location. I think we will see great improvements at that location as a result of the training that they received.”
Not surprisingly, employees at the Brandywine Zoo wasted no time putting their Lean training into practice. They’ve already found a solution to the long-standing problem of travel authorizations for animal feed. The zoo’s two red pandas require fresh bamboo, which is only available from out of state. Out-of-state travel, however, requires additional authorization and the paperwork consumed valuable time that staff could be spending with animals or guests.
Using the “A3” problem solving method, a Lean practice which involves the comprehensive documentation of the problem, possible solutions, and benefits of installing the solution, staff were able to work with DNREC leadership to create blanket approval for their bamboo orders.
Now with the red pandas well fed and happy and the Zoo staff encouraged by their early success, Brandywine Zoo employees plan to tackle the physical layout of their Education Center storage areas. From costumes to craft supplies, Brandywine staff want to reorganize their inventories, so everything is easily accessible.
“People [here] are more enthusiastic,” said Zoo Director Brint Spencer. “I think its two-fold. People are more excited for themselves and what they can do and that it’s something supported by the state.”