Viewpoint: Lean Six Sigma works for local government
By Mark McDaniel
In reaction to a decline in tax revenues and increased demand for services, local and municipal leaders have historically had three options: raise taxes, borrow or cut services. The view that smaller government is more vulnerable to fiscal crisis and may have even fewer options has taken root. In fact, the opposite is true. With less bureaucracy and small company speed, local governments can establish a strong service culture by implementing Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodologies.
Since implementing LSS across all of Tyler, Texas’ operations in 2009, the program has helped us to identify the waste and variation that occurs in everyday processes. The program is designed to improve efficiency to save time and money, and the results have been astonishing.
Tyler earned a AAA bond rating, paid off all general obligation debt and maintained the lowest tax rate in the state among cities with more than 16,000 residents.LSS projects have also saved Tyler’s residents more than $3.1 million in hard and soft costs and nearly 17,000 man-hours. We have undertaken more than 58 LSS projects so far, with a new wave launched in October 2012. Those projects have yielded direct benefits including cutbacks to overtime, improved waste collection, reductions in vehicle parts inventory and more effective management of our water treatment facilities. And, city services have improved using a similar number of employees employed in the mid-1980s. This has been accomplished despite Tyler’s population increasing by more than 30 percent over the same time.
The wisdom of widespread LSS implementation in government is catching on. The Department of Defense is using LSS across its operation and Iowa’s Department of Management has used the program for almost a decade. However, Tyler is one of the few cities in the nation to implement LSS throughout the entiremunicipal organization.
Local leaders looking to improve their city’s standing may want to take a serious look at the program, which has benefits beyond dollars and cents. For example, our legal documents are reviewed in half the time they were prior to implementation. The response time for technicians responding to water service disruptions, once up to an hour, is now less than 20 minutes. And, more than 2,300 hours of overtime were cut from the police department’s budget through a project led by an LSS-trained member of the patrol unit.
After three years, Tyler has repurposed existing positions to serve as a Master Black Belt, seven Black Belts, 29 Green Belts, and 123 Blue Belts on the payroll. Today, every department of city government has employees tasked with LSS implementation in conjunction with their normal job duties, including essential services like public safety, utilities, sanitation and public works.
The evidence from Tyler’s experience shows that even in challenging economic times government can eliminate inefficiencies, become better stewards of taxpayer dollars, and enhance services. Still, the indirect benefits of LSS and the city’s overall performance excellence program have been even more remarkable. Employees are empowered partners in building good government, with a sense of purpose greater than them. Departmental silos have been torn down and new channels of communication and strong working relationships at all levels have been created.
Smaller, leaner government can make government more efficient and responsive, and be a strategic asset in times of uncertainty, all without draconian measures or painful sacrifices. By committing to the process and culture of LSS, cities can start to responsibly pare down bureaucracies awash in red tape and red ink.
Mark McDaniel is the city manager in Tyler, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.