Using Lean Six Sigma to Attack the New Normal

When property values declined a number of years ago, local governments were required to cut back. They were forced to face a new norm- they were still expected to maintain a high level of service, but with diminishing resources. Traditional methods were used to cut back: requests for proposal to lower costs, leaving vacant positions open, delaying capital improvement projects and reducing or eliminating employee raises, to name a few. However, the pressure to maintain a certain level of service to their citizens created a strain on their resources and employees.

In the business world, companies are constantly examining different ways to accomplish work-force tasks. If they stop innovating, they immediately fall behind their competition and risk facing extinction. Local governments on the other hand have less competition, and up until recently, there was less pressure to evaluate their processes to determine how they can be doing more with less.

Lean Six Sigma (lean) is a set of management tools, and more importantly, a cultural way of running an organization in order to provide the most value possible. Lean succeeds by eliminating anything that does not provide value. Businesses, specifically manufacturing, have been using lean for decades to reduce waste, increase capacity, reduce employee stress and improve customer service with the fundamental goal of increasing profitability. A local government isn’t in the business of “making money”, however, they have an important duty to efficiently use and manage citizen entrusted resources.

Now local governments are using lean to improve their operations and to go beyond the “low hanging fruit”. They are using lean to eliminate waste in their processes to provide better services with fewer resources, and to save money. There are now numerous examples of local governments around the country adopting lean practices in an effort to save hundreds of hours of employee time and to save millions in costs.

Here are just some examples of symptoms of inefficiency:

  • Variation in process cycle times to customers/citizens
  • Waiting for customer information to filter in
  • Variation in processes between employees
  • Numerous and repeatable mistakes
  • Complex filing structure or an inconsistent filing system
  • Excessive management time in the minute details – not enough time spent for high-level activities
  • Low employee morale
  • Management performing duties below their level
  • Working ever harder, not smarter

If you can relate to any of these examples, it’s time to attack the new normal with a different approach. Lean Six Sigma is something your management team should explore. It has worked for manufacturers, banks, hospitals, CPA firms, insurance agencies, and now, for local governments.

About the Authors

Mike Sibley and Katie Davis are passionate about creating thorough and sustainable systems to help organizations become Lean Enterprises. In addition to writing and speaking on Lean Six Sigma, Mike and Katie work directly with an organization’s members to evaluate an existing process and identify solutions that eliminate waste, as well as build efficiency and quality into the process. Mike and Katie have applied these approaches for manufacturing, construction, professional services, and governmental entities.