How the Public Sector Benefits from Lean Six Sigma

Taking a Peek into the Public Sector

One might be tempted to ask, “Does the public sector really need to integrate Lean Six Sigma into their training requirements considering that they’re a non-profit service-oriented outfit?”

While that’s a legitimate question, a more appropriate question should be, “How can the public sector use Lean Six Sigma so that they fulfill their mission of service to its citizens?”

Whether you’re in the public or private sector, the issues of service and customer satisfaction reign supreme. There’s no excuse for over-bureaucracy and poor performance. The concept of service doesn’t change meaning or make allowances just because you work in the public sector. In fact, service becomes a priority especially because you work for the government.

British writer Norman Flynn said that a clear distinction must be made in the provision of services by the public and private sectors. The public sector, he says, does not sell goods or services to people at a profit; nor are these same goods and services withheld from people who cannot afford to pay for them. The raison-d-être of the public sector is based on the premise that it is not a money-oriented machinery; its role is to provide protection, to help those in need, and to educate (Public Sector Management, Alden Press, UK, 2007).

Hans de Bruin takes this thinking one step higher: the more complex the services that public organizations provide, the more it is imperative to grant them more autonomy in the way they provide such services, while maintaining vigilance over accountability. Accountability here takes the form of questions such as how the money is being spent, where does it go, who does it go to, and who are the people who directly benefit from it. In brief, it implies finding the right reasons to justify expenditure of public funds.

Echoes of Lean Six Sigma:  Public Sector and Quality Awards

When the US Department of Commerce introduced the Baldrige Award to encourage private organizations to harness their resources in achieving optimal performance, it actually paved the way for recipients of the award to host benchmarking teams on an intra-company basis without surrendering control over their respective proprietary information. The thinking prevalent in the 70s and 80s was that the government could learn valuable lessons from the private sector.  This was the purpose of benchmarking in the first place. It sought to measure one organization’s performance against another and to import best practices from the top performing organizations into one’s own turf.

In 1988, the Baldrige Award invited the participation of the public sector. Subsequent moves reflected a gradual “leaning over” to Lean Six Sigma. A couple of these moves were the (a) establishment of the Federal Quality Institute in 1988 aimed to promote process improvement throughout the federal government and to upgrade training in total quality management (TQM); and (b) the reinventing of government, as espoused by the Clinton/Gore team, the overall objective of which was to make the US government do more for less. Let’s not forget the implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. All of these actions echoed Lean Six Sigma principles and approaches, as well as reinforced the government’s decision to use benchmarking as an indispensable tool for measuring performance.

Achieving Quality Minus Waste

A White Paper emanating from Xerox discusses Lean Six Sigma in the public sector with special emphasis on quality without waste. The paper actually narrows its discussion specifically to information and documentation processes and how the government can better manage these functions.

At the outset, Xerox states that government, by its nature, is consistently within the radar of public scrutiny. Taxpayers repeatedly question expenditure and service coverage. To improve the quality of its documentation and information processes, the public sector must learn to utilize Lean Six Sigma teachings so that all the processes that fall under the information and documentation functions are streamlined to better serve the public. Because of the considerable volume of information handling that goes on in the public sector, the government needs a structured approach, no less, no more. This structured approach brings about improvement.

The White Paper goes on to say that improvement implies change. In turn, change implies risk. To minimize risk, the US government must use time-tested processes – processes that have been known to consistently deliver the desired results. These can easily be identified with Lean Six Sigma.

Newton Peters who wrote the Xerox White Paper said that Lean Sigma is many things to many people. When one asks the question, “what is Six Sigma?”, Peters says that the answer depends on who is answering it – how much exposure that person received to  Six Sigma. It has been called a goal, a statistical tool, a metric, a philosophy, even a way of life, according to Peters. When it was introduced into the government, some aspects of it had to be tweeked to align with unique government roles and objectives.

Whatever form, shape or method each government department decided to adopt, one thing stands out: Lean Six Sigma has saved the government millions of taxpayer dollars, because uninterrupted work flows make it a leaner, tighter machine. Even though some government leaders have said that Lean Six Sigma tools are complicated to deal with because these tools were originally designed for a manufacturing environment, an increasing number of government departments are finally reaping the benefits generated by Lean Six Sigma strategies and principles.

Peter Peterka is the President of For information on Six Sigma trainingSix Sigma Certification or Master Black Beltprograms contact Peter Peterka.

Author: Peter Peterka Google

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