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Lean Six Sigma Could Reduce Debt but Faces Obstacles

U.S. Health and Human Services could use the methodology most, says survey

Published: Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 13:49

(ASQ: Milwaukee) -- Lean Six Sigma could help reduce the soaring national debt but faces some key challenges in government implementations, according to a new survey by the American Society for Quality (ASQ), the leading global network of quality experts. The biggest obstacle, survey respondents said, is a U.S. federal government structure that can be a barrier to comprehensive evaluation and accountability.

Lean Six Sigma has been in the spotlight recently as several U.S. presidential candidates have pledged to use the management tool, if elected. The Obama administration is currently studying how lean Six Sigma could help eliminate federal government waste.

More than 2,500 ASQ quality improvement professionals participated in the survey. The online survey of ASQ members was fielded from Aug. 29 through Sept. 6, 2011, and represents quality improvement professionals from a number of industries, including government, manufacturing, service, health care, and education. In addition to noting challenges with the federal government’s structure, survey participants ranked other obstacles to implementing lean Six Sigma in government agencies. These included:
• An environment faced with conflicting strategies, goals, and priorities
• Creating a sense of urgency to deploy a comprehensive improvement methodology across all government agencies
• The personnel management model currently used by many government agencies
• A lack of familiarity with lean Six Sigma and how it can benefit the organization
• Ongoing political partisanship

Lean Six Sigma in action

Many of the survey participants say there are benefits to using lean Six Sigma. More than 75 percent of participants surveyed said they have implemented lean Six Sigma in their organizations; 79 percent said the tool is very effective in improving efficiency and productivity.

Respondents found that lean Six Sigma has also been effective in the following areas:
• Raised levels of quality in their organization (74 percent)
• Reduced costs (73 percent)
• Helped individuals in their organization be competitive in the marketplace or pursue the organization’s core mission (68 percent)
• Had a positive impact on employee safety (56 percent)
• Improved innovation (46 percent)

First steps with lean Six Sigma

How should the government effectively implement lean Six Sigma? Possible first steps suggested by the respondents include:
• Provide training for key members of the administration and government agency management teams
• Conduct pilot projects
• Require all critical government agencies to implement the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award
• Educate the public so Americans understand the value that lean Six Sigma could offer the federal government
• Set goals that are reasonable and achievable within a relatively short period of time

“There are true benefits to using lean and Six Sigma to reduce the national debt, but it’s important to emphasize that these tools alone are not a solution for all government budget ailments,” says Liz Keim, ASQ past president and lean Six Sigma expert. “There are a number of other excellent quality improvement methods available, and it is crucial to match the right tool with specific needs.”

Although they have been in use for a long time in most types of manufacturing and service sectors, these management methods have been used only recently by the federal government. Lean emphasizes removing waste from organizations and processes while focusing on and delivering more value to customers. Six Sigma focuses on variation reduction in processes, products, and services.

Federal agencies that need the most help

Whichever quality method is used, survey participants have an opinion on where government should start first. They ranked health and human services as the federal government agency that could most benefit from reducing waste and cutting costs. Other government agencies were ranked in order of those that would most benefit from efficiency improvement:
• Social services
• Infrastructure
• National defense
• Immigration and customs
• Law enforcement, judiciary, and corrections


About The Author

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The American Society for Quality (ASQ) is a global community of people dedicated to quality who share the ideas and tools that make our world work better. With millions of individual and organizational members of the community in 150 countries, ASQ has the reputation and reach to bring together the diverse quality champions who are transforming the world’s corporations, organizations, and communities to meet tomorrow’s critical challenges. ASQ is headquartered in Milwaukee with national service centers in China, India, and Mexico. Learn more about ASQ’s members, mission, technologies, and training at http://asq.org