Mar 20, 2007

Cities, mayors and process improvement

I love it that I can explore almost any avenue and call it work. I've been looking into "lean government" lately. Typically you'd look at the internal improvements in government services and their benefits to residents. I want to know more about the effects of lean government on local manufacturers, economic development and the like. Through my usual wandering around the web I learned that the city of Ft Wayne, led by Mayor Graham Richard, has been making waves.

Richard comes from a statistical quality orientation, and was a founder of the local TQM Network. Thus, six sigma was the starting point for improvement in the city. Later, as in so many such situations, lean was grafted on. People are rightly skeptical of lean six sigma (LSS). It's so easy to string buzzwords together and think something magic is going to happen. I give Richard credit for doing it better, however. He approached the initial programs by getting the willing employees training and starting them on their way through the belt ranks. The people were chosen because they could see a specific problem they wanted to solve, such as missed garbage pickups or excessive waiting time for land improvement permits.

The TQM Network provided bargain-priced training, and companies like ITT and Raytheon lent black-belt level employees to the city to work on improvement teams with city employees.

The teams have racked up some notable gains. Can your city routinely get a pothole fixed within 3 hours of its being reported? If my city could have done that - this is Michigan - I wouldn't have blown three tires in a 12-month period on a 5-mile stretch of road I drove every day.

The mayor has written a book, "Performance is the Best Politics," telling the story. Yes, there are successes, but Richard is honest enough to talk about the lessons learned, what he thinks they'd do differently if they could go back and do it again. I'll be talking to Mayor Richard next week for a Target magazine article, as well as to some of the industry leaders invlved, thanks to the excellent work of Ryan Chasey.

When I reported my project status to Lea Tonkin and Doc Hall, Doc asked the $64,000 question - what happens when the mayor isn't the mayor anymore? Will the effort be sustained?

Doc mentioned that Joe Sensenbrenner attracted a lot of attention some years ago when he was mayor of Madison, WI. (Joe isn't the senator - that's Jim.) Well, I prowled around the web again and pulled up a couple of Sensenbrenner threads. Twenty years ago, he led the city of Madison. He was pals with some of the most prominent quality statisticians of the day - George Box, Bill Hunter, Brian Joiner, and many others. Joiner was considered good enough by Dr. Deming to be allowed to help with some of his seminars. Hunter contributed an example to "Out of the Crisis."

Awhile ago I learned that fellow blogger, Curious Cat, is John Hunter, son of the highly respected Bill Hunter. Box, Joiner, Sensenbrenner and others were family friends. John is an accomplished improver in his own right. I asked John what had happened to Madison after Sensenbrenner's departure - Sensenbrenner himself said he'd "come in second in the mayoral race" - figuring he'd give me the inside story. John gave me some tips, but went beyond that and contacted Sensenbrenner to see if I could talk to him.

I had tried to scope my article to Ft. Wayne itself, just so I'd eventually get something finished and submitted. But thanks to Doc, Ryan and John - all networking with e-mail and blogging - I've got a much more interesting set of questions to pursue. There's a community at work here.

If you want to know more, and can't wait for me to finish an article, try these sources:

City of Ft Wayne LSS improvements
Northeast Indiana TQM Network
Sensenbrenner's 15 steps to lasting quality
Quality in the community (1989)
For further speculation - will Iowa maintain its "Results Iowa" progress now that Vilsack is no longer governor? Here's the Results Iowa website. If it doesn't change, we'll have our answer.

No comments:

Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm