In 2018, the Miami-Dade Public Library System utilized Six Sigma methodology to improve upon the time needed for the transporting of library materials. The utilization of Six Sigma to meet the needs of this type of organization is an exciting example of just how versatile these tools can be.

When we go to the library, it can be frustrating to find out that the item we are looking for is not currently at the branch we visit. Thankfully, libraries offer the option of having the material delivered to the branch you visited from a different branch that does have the item available. In recent years, our society has grown accustomed to being able to get nearly anything and everything delivered in record time. In order to stay competitive, the library system is finding it necessary to make sure that its patrons can get ahold of materials faster than ever before. The Miami-Dade Public Library System was able to meet the needs of its customers by utilizing the Six Sigma methodology and its DMAIC process.

The Miami-Dade Public Library System Had a Problem

The Miami-Dade Public Library System is one of the largest public library systems in the United States, serving a population of approximately 2.7 million throughout the county. A total of 50 branches comprise the county’s public library system, with an annual circulation of nearly 4 million items. This number includes over half a million items moving through the hold process. MDPLS has a longstanding mission to maintain and improve upon its services in order to reflect the ever-changing educational, informational, and recreational needs of its valued and diverse community.

In 2018, the Miami-Dade Public Library System developed an ambitious five-year plan to reach strategic goals that addressed several key challenges facing the system. One of these challenges was one that many library systems throughout the country were finding difficult. Patron expectations were ever-growing in regard to the on-demand availability and delivery of materials across the wide spectrum of modern and traditional formats. These materials were also expected to be available through various software platforms and devices. The MDPLS determined that failing to meet these expectations was out of alignment with some of its objectives. The relevant objectives were a dedication to providing easy access to information/services, having an organization that was customer-oriented, and having an improved relationship between the community and government agencies.

The MDPLS found that there were many consequences to not having materials available and then not being able to fulfill requests for their patrons in a timely manner. On the customer end, too many incidents of patron dissatisfaction would lead to many seeking out their informational needs elsewhere. This could not only result in reduced library utilization but also a drop in funding through public donations as operational expenses increase over the years. As far as how the staff was affected by this issue, in a 12-month period, 47,000 items had to be reshelved after not being picked up. This was because, by the time the library received an item requested by a patron, the wait was so long that the requester either lost interest or got the information elsewhere. The processing and logistics of dealing with these 47,000 items cost the library over $118,000.

The MDPLS decided that it needed to reduce the amount of time that it took for a patron to receive a requested item stocked at another branch to two days.

MDPLS Opted to Use the DMAIC Process

In order to address this issue, the MDPLS put together a team for the project. This team featured two team leaders, Leo Gomez, and Will Fowler. Other members of the team included Gigi Bolt, Philip Berry, Jessica Jarra, Jeff Rosenberg, and Juan Rodriguez-Galan. The team was sponsored by Six Sigma Black Belt Ray Baker. The team was tasked with following the traditional Six Sigma method known as DMAIC. As part of following the DMAIC method of Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, the team worked on identifying a performance gap, stratifying the available data to arrive at an actionable problem statement, finding root causes, and establishing countermeasures. Then came developing an action plan as well as a process control system. The recommendations would then be presented to management and implemented, with progress tracked by the county’s performance management system. The entire length of the project lasted from November 2017 to May 2018.

The first phase of the DMAIC is Define. This phase is all about describing what the problem is and establishing a goal. With the MDPLS project, this translated to establishing a method to monitor progress, defining the problem and establishing a goal, displaying the gap in the process performance, constructing a process flowchart, identifying the process needs of stakeholders, and identifying the costs that come with delivering poor quality. The team completed this first phase of the project in mid-December 2017.

The second phase of the DMAIC process is the Measure phase. This phase serves to establish a baseline for the process, determine process capability, and validate the measurement system. This is also the point at which data collection occurs. For this project, the Measure phase specifically consisted of developing a data collection plan, stratifying the problem, developing a problem statement out of the available data, and finalizing the target. This phase took less time than projected and was complete by early January 2018.

The third phase is Analyze, which involves identifying problems in the current process that are leading to defects. With the library project, this meant identifying the potential root causes, verifying them, and assessing their impact. As a credit to the team, all three potential root causes were verified as being responsible for the problem.

One suspected root cause was that there was no formal written policy that ensured that the shipping branch pulled the requested materials prior to pick-up. This was verified by the team reviewing both library and standard operating procedures, which found that no such formal policy existed. Another potential root cause was that the Polaris automated library system did not consider routes in its software that allowed for selection. Verification for this root cause was obtained by the team consulting with the Polaris IT department and finding out that the software had not previously been set up for this application, but that it could be done. A third root cause was suspected to be poor alignment of driver routes with the operating hours of library branches. This was confirmed by the team’s examination of the routing schedules and their finding that routes were established based on workload and resources, with no consideration for pick times or the timeliness of the materials to patrons. The Analyze phase completion date was January 19th, 2018.

The Improve phase of DMAIC is when changes are actually implemented. For the MDPLS project, this involved identifying and selecting countermeasures, identifying both barriers and aids, developing and implementing the action plan, and confirming/documenting the effectiveness of the pilot improvement plan.

There were four countermeasures identified and selected for this project. The first was the establishment of a system wide policy of coordinating material pull times with route pick ups. A second countermeasure involved having the pull process include the pre-sorted pull list from the Polaris library management system. The third countermeasure was to reprogram the Polaris software with a revised pick up algorithm. The fourth and final countermeasure was to modify the routes and other relevant processes in ways that optimized costs and timeliness. The responsibilities for carrying out these countermeasures were split up between the team. Some aspects were worked on individually, while others were attacked by the team as a whole. Barriers identified included Polaris IT limitations and opportunity costs relative to other initiatives. Aids identified included cost savings and increased customer satisfaction, as well as making it simpler for staff to pull materials. Another aid turned out to be that Polaris IT was able to make the needed changes to the program. The initial Improve phase of this project reached implementation by mid-August 2018.

In the DMAIC process, the final phase is Control. In this phase, the focus is on maintaining the improvements that have occurred and preventing the same defects from occurring again. In this project, this meant confirming and documenting the performance results, standardizing the improvements made, implementing a process control system, and identifying the plans for future improvements.

The Outcome Was Impressive

By August of 2018, the improvement measures taken by MDPLS had dramatically increased the rate of requested library materials getting into the hands of patrons within two days. This led to increased satisfaction from frequenters of the library as well as $118,000 in savings. The changes made became standard throughout the system and opened the door to further improvements, including utilizing the funds to have more materials available so that there could be a reduction in requests. The team that worked on the project received recognition from the county and became certified Six Sigma Green Belts.

3 Best Practices When Implementing the DMAIC Process for a Similar Situation

When utilizing the Six Sigma methodology and the DMAIC process, the Miami-Dade Public Library System learned some valuable lessons that led to improvements in its processes as well as continued success.

1. Standardizing procedures

The MDPLS found that it was absolutely critical that the procedures for pulling materials be standardized across all of its branches. The lesson here is that for true long-standing improvement to happen in an organization, all affected entities need to be in synchronization. This means that all parties need to be properly trained in the improvements that are being implemented. It may also require gaining enthusiasm among staff about the benefits of the improvements and how they relate to an improved customer experience as well as less frustration for the entire staff.

2. Make sure software is updated to support the changes

The MDPLS team that embarked on this project found that the software that was being used did not reflect the customer service experience that it wanted to provide. The lesson here is that it is important to make sure that the technology that you use in your organization is in alignment with its goals.

3. Explore all relevant Six Sigma tools

Upon utilization of the Six Sigma Pareto chart tool, the organization found that it was very helpful in determining that late materials were delivered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This helped them coordinate properly with the routing schedules since there were no deliveries on Fridays, Saturdays, or Mondays. The lesson here is that it is worth exploring the wide range of Six Sigma tools that can assist in the DMAIC process, as they can lead to a wealth of surprisingly helpful data.

Six Sigma Can Improve Your Business

We often hear about the benefits that Six Sigma can bring to large corporations that operate in the fields of manufacturing, healthcare, and electronics. There are also great examples of the effects that the methodology can have on small-to-medium-sized businesses. The example of how Six Sigma was utilized to improve the Miami-Dade Public Library System opens up the possibilities of this method to improve an even greater variety of companies. It may be time to explore what Six Sigma can do for yours.

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