With the election of Mark Poloncarz as Erie County Executive hopefully new ideas for improving how government operates will emerge. Poloncarz has already stated that he plans to scrap the Six Sigma program implemented by current County Executive Chris Collins. As a certified yellow belt in Six Sigma, I believe that Six Sigma methods can have a positive impact on improving government. However, Six Sigma with its heavy emphasis on statistical analysis is not the best fit for measuring and improving government performance.

A better fit for government is to utilize the concept of Lean. First pioneered at Toyota over 50 years ago, Lean is a philosophy and long proven approach for organizations of any size or type to continuously improve. With Lean there is a focus on eliminating waste, improving productivity, and achieving sustained continual improvement in an organization. Lean is built on the philosophy that small, incremental changes routinely applied and sustained over a long period result in significant improvements overall.

Lean is a much easier process for folks to grasp as a key part of it is to simply map out the steps of a particular process in a visual way for all to see. Lean does not utilize different color belts or the heavy statistical analysis of Six Sigma. Lean seeks to foster a culture where employees are empowered to identify and solve problems. Lean organisations empower their members on the front lines by teaching them how to identify ‘waste’, or anything that doesn’t add value to the process.

Eight Common Wastes

Any process, whether it be to meet client needs or creating products, is susceptible to eight common forms of waste that are often roadblocks to efficiency:

1. Overproducing: unneeded reports, doing work not requested.

2. Waiting: time for approval cycles, waiting for information or decisions.

3. Transportation: unnecessary movement of reports, storage of documents.

4. Inventory: backlog of work, (permits, plan approvals) excess materials/info, obsolete databases/files.

5. Unnecessary motions: trips to printer and copier, unnecessary movement to find files and supplies, travel to meetings.

6. Processing waste: spending time on unnecessary processes that do not add value to the customer.

7. Defects: data errors, missing info, errors in documents, wasted effort on inspection or re-doing work that was already done.

8. Unused human potential: not fully utilizing employee problem solving skills to add value to the customer or the company.

Every program/department in government can be improved by addressing the eight items above. Government employees who have to live with overly bureaucratic procedures have lots of ideas as to how operations can be improved, they are unfortunately rarely asked or made part of any decision making process.

While the arrogant personality of out going County Executive Chris Collins has left a bad taste for many people regarding Six Sigma, I believe that it would be a mistake to eliminate Six Sigma without developing a process to engage employees in improving government performance. There is no process in most organizations for obtaining employee ideas to improve operations. While Chris Collins had difficulty working with others, his Six Sigma effort did have some success in improving government operations.

Lean is a proven way to engage employees and improve organizational performance. In addition to private sector companies such as Toyota, Lean has been implemented at the following municipalities and governmental agencies: San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency, King County, Washington, Brown County, WI, Fort Wayne, Ind., Hartford, CT., Cape Coral, FLA., Jacksonville, FLA., Grand Rapids, MI., Florida Dept. of Revenue, Washington State Dept. of Licensing, Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources, Maine Dept. of Labor.

What do you think about utilizing Lean to improve government?