Trimming the fat — or not — with Lean Six Sigma
In their efforts to become more efficient, some local and state governments are turning to a program long associated with corporate America: Lean Six Sigma. Lean Six Sigma’s advocates in government say it eliminates unnecessary procedures, speeds up operations and saves money, but others say the program is not a good fit for governments.
Irving, Texas; Erie County, N.Y.; Spokane, Wash.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Ohio have implemented Lean Six Sigma practices in recent years. The program is a combination of the Six Sigma program — which was developed by Motorola and seeks to eliminate errors in manufacturing and business processes — and the Lean Manufacturing technique created largely by Toyota to reduce wasted resources and effort in production processes.
Tommy Gonzalez, city manager of Irving, implemented Lean Six Sigma across the city in 2007 and says the program has dramatically improved operations. For example, it has slashed the review time of a commercial building permit application from 49 days to nearly four days, consolidated printers and copiers to save the city approximately $230,000 annually and reduced energy expenses. The city also has eliminated 110 positions, helping save more than $30 million in total over the past five years, Gonzalez says. “[Lean Six Sigma] is just something that I would really like government to do more of,” he adds.
Not everyone, however, is as supportive of the program. Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County comptroller who was elected executive of the county this fall, has said that he will discard the Lean Six Sigma program when he assumes office in 2012. That is because the outgoing administration has not provided proof of its Lean Six Sigma claims, says Poloncarz spokesperson Mark Cornell.
“The current administration has yet to provide any proven, quantifiable Six Sigma savings data that can be validated in [statutory accounting principles] or county budget documents,” Cornell wrote in an e-mail. “The seeming inability or unwillingness to prove the dramatic multi-million-dollar savings claims raises fundamental questions about the reality of the Six Sigma program and whether it is actually generating savings, process improvements or some other outcome.”
Stephen Ursery is an Atlanta-based freelance writer.