American Society for Quality: Lean Six Sigma could reduce debt but faces obstacles

Press Contact: Christel Henke, (414) 332-2933, [email protected]

Management Tool Spotlighted in U.S. Presidential Campaign

Milwaukee, Wis., Sept. 19, 2011 –– Lean Six Sigma could help reduce the soaring national debt but faces some key challenges in government implementations, according to a new survey by 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 August 29 through September 6, and represents quality improvement professionals from a number of industries including government, manufacturing, service, healthcare 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:

1. An environment faced with conflicting strategies, goals, and priorities.
2. Creating a sense of urgency to deploy a comprehensive improvement methodology across all government agencies.
3. The personnel management model currently used by many government agencies.
4. A lack of familiarity with Lean Six Sigma and how it can benefit the organization.
5. 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.

The 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 to 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 implement the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria.
• Educate the public so Americans understand the value Lean Six Sigma could offer to 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,” said 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.”

While applied for a long time in most types of manufacturing and service sectors, these management methods have only been more recently used 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 Government Agencies That Need the Most Help

Whichever quality method is used, ASQ members surveyed have an opinion on where government should start first. Those surveyed ranked Health & 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:

1. Social Services (e.g., Social Security administration)
2. Infrastructure
3. National Defense
4. Immigration/Customs
5. Law Enforcement/Judiciary/Corrections