Over the past couple weeks our friend Karen Wilhelm at the Lean Reflections blog has been telling us the story of "lean six sigma government" at Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has become so fascinated with this story that she’s writing an article for an upcoming issue of Target, the magazine published by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence. You’ll eventually be able to read the article online, but the upcoming article alone is probably worth the $150 AME membership fee… not to mention all the other great articles, events, and networking that practitioner-based AME gives you.
In her wanderings Karen came across the efforts of Mayor Graham Richard of Fort Wayne, population 310,000. The citizens of Fort Wayne were lucky to hire a mayor who was also a founder of the local TQM Network. He brought that six sigma knowledge to his new job, and later began integrating lean manufacturing tools into his programs as well. The development and implementation of his programs showcase a unique government and industry partnership:
He approached the initial programs by getting the willing employees training and starting them on their way through the belt ranks. The people were chosen because they could see a specific problem they wanted to solve, such as missed garbage pickups or excessive waiting time for land improvement permits. The TQM Network provided bargain-priced training, and companies like ITT and Raytheon lent black-belt level employees to the city to work on improvement teams with city employees.
How many cities do you know of that actually have green and black belts? So what were the results?
The teams have racked up some notable gains. Can your city routinely get a pothole fixed within 3 hours of its being reported? If my city could have done that – this is Michigan – I wouldn’t have blown three tires in a 12-month period on a 5-mile stretch of road I drove every day.
In fact, the City of Fort Wayne website has an entire page that lists 42 lean six sigma projects with reports on their accomplishments. Projects range from potholes to a wide variety of paperwork reduction efforts to increasing waste activation of sludge processing. Speaking of websites, how many city websites do you know of that have a page dedicated to describing six sigma in the first place?
Earlier this week Karen was able to interview the mayor where he told her of other aspects of his government – industry partnership.
Richard says the “convening authority” of the mayor is underestimated and undervalued. “If you’ve got a problem,” he says: Call up five or six CEOs and ask, “Would you give me a person for a half day a week for the next six weeks, to help understand the nature of a problem and make suggestions for improving it?” If you clearly state what you need, show you understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and what is the end point — I’ve never been refused.
Mayor Graham Richard also asks that the communication go in the other direction.
At gatherings of business leaders, Richard asks a few tough questions: "How many people in this room have ever asked a member of the local school administration, the county government or the city government to come and have a brown-bag lunch at your plant, your factory, or your business, and take a tour? Have you ever done that?” And rarely do I get anyone whose hand goes up. You have so much to offer. Maybe one of the cheapest ways you can get your taxes at least stabilized instead of going up is to offer to help improve local government. Just opening a dialogue – not even applying any tools – is the first step. Link the supplier — the city — with the customer — the business that pays taxes and wants services.
Imagine that… a city that thinks of its citizens and businesses as customers, and focuses on maximizing the value delivered to those customers. Mayor Graham Richard and the City of Fort Wayne are a great example of what can be accomplished when lean and six sigma methods are applied to government. Something to think about as you’re getting ready to pay your taxes. Perhaps you should tell your own government leaders of Fort Wayne’s accomplishments.