In 2008, Susan Guthrie was the communications manager of the City of Tyler, Texas, (current interim city manager) and a General Electric-trained Green Belt. She approached the assistant city manager at the time, Mark McDaniel, with the idea of implementing Lean Six Sigma (LSS) in the City. Guthrie recalled, “The City’s culture of continuous improvement was ripe for the implementation of a more structured methodology like Lean Six Sigma.”
A Full Deployment
One of the first issues that needed to be addressed was if this would be a pilot program or a full deployment. The concern was that if a pilot was implemented, there would not be buy-in at all levels of the organization and LSS would operate in an isolated environment. By conducting a full deployment, however, the City’s management felt that the entire organization would commit to the effort.
Another initial question was if the City should contract with a consultant or hire a Master Black Belt (MBB) or Black Belt (BB) to lead the deployment effort internally. The overall goal of the management of the City was to bring about a culture change and ensure that LSS became integrated in the way the City did business; thus, an MBB was hired. Having an MBB as a full-time employee, rather than using an external consultant, increased the visibility of the program among employees and gave them better access to training and support.
The next challenge was to find an MBB who could apply the methodology to municipal government. More than 100 candidates were screened in order to find the perfect match for the City.
Training a Team
Once the MBB was hired, the City’s leadership team received Blue Belt (comparable to White Belt) training – basic information on LSS concepts and how it could benefit the various departments throughout the City. After this training, the MBB began meeting with City leaders to identify candidates for further training and pinpoint projects for the first group of trainees to work on. During these initial meetings, 12 candidates and 79 potential projects were identified.
In October 2009, 12 individuals from departments across the City began Green Belt (GB) training. These employees attended four weeks of half-day training, conducted over a four month period – totaling 80 hours of classroom time. Traditionally, GB training is conducted in week-long increments over two months, but the City was concerned that the prolonged absence of 12 employees would hamper operations; this format better fit department needs. This change in structure also allowed the GB candidates to work on projects as they received training.
Over the course of the first year of the LSS program, 92 employees – 11 percent of all City employees – received formal training. Of these employees, 78 attended Blue Belt training, 12 attended GB training and 2 attended BB training. At least one person from each City department has now received some level of LSS training.
- Vehicle services inventory: Improved the manner in which vehicle replacement parts were ordered and stored in inventory. The team was able to implement Kanbans and reduce the quantity of inventory that was held at any given time. Savings = $810,562.
- Magnesium hydroxide dosage at Southside Treatment Plant: Improved the way magnesium hydroxide was being added to the waste water as it is treated. Variation was reduced so that a consistent use of chemical was being used. Savings = $129,026.
- Housing payments process: Improved the process of making payments to vendors in the housing program. The team worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to streamline the process, reducing the number of checks that needed to be reprinted or resent due to incorrect information. The new process also eliminated the need to print some checks by using direct deposits. Savings = $11,034.
- Warrant issue process: Reduced the time that it took to issue a warrant in the municipal court from 70 days to 1 day by removing substantial process wastes. Savings = $104,444.
In the five years since LSS was deployed in the City, the following has been accomplished:
- Hard dollar: $4.5 million
- Soft dollar: $1.7 million
- Total savings: $6.2 million
- Hours saved: 47,858
- Trained employees
- Blue Belt: 301
- Green Belt: 68
- Black Belt: 11
- Master Black Belt: 2
- Open: 24
- Proposed: 22
- Closed: 112
The major lesson learned during the implementation of the LSS program was the importance of strong employee communication and buy-in. City management has shared information about the importance of the LSS program since its inception, allowing employees at all levels of the organization to gain an understanding of how it may affect them. The selection of GB candidates from across all disciplines has ensured the entire organization is part of the culture change. Furthermore, GBs formed project teams to assist with their projects, which directly exposed more employees to the methodology. These project teams are made up of employees who are involved in the process; process improvements are established by those most familiar with the system. Employee empowerment has been an ever-growing positive outcome of the program.
At the conclusion of the initial GB training, two employees were selected to continue their training and become certified BBs. To do so, these employees were required to receive an additional 80 hours of training that provided a much deeper understanding of the continuous improvement process and various analytical tools. Additionally, the BBs are required to complete two projects per fiscal year and to mentor GBs as they work on their projects.
By offering Blue Belt training to all levels of employees, the City was able to get more buy-in from employees as they learned how LSS would help streamline the processes that they work on every day. Employee newsletter articles, departmental meeting presentations, banners, emails, celebrations, press releases and a web page have all enhanced communication and buy in across the organization.
Setting the Standard
By implementing a Lean Six Sigma program, the City of Tyler has streamlined processes, saved time and money, and enhanced employee empowerment and morale. As Tyler’s Mayor Martin Heines remarked, “Lean Six Sigma is an opportunity to further enhance our commitment to setting the standard for responsive local government.”