When it comes to government efficiency, there are multitudes of skeptics and naysayers. However, streamlining operations, achieving cost savings and improving service are all within reach for any public-sector agency.
There already is a clear roadmap to operational efficiency and organizational transformation in government. It is the private-sector concept of continuous improvement, or performance excellence. Multiple tools exist to help guide organizations in their efforts to “raise the bar” in service delivery and accountability, including precepts from the Lean Six Sigma model and the seven key criteria measured by the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award program.
Performance excellence is a journey for organizations and companies looking to improve processes, services, and products; it is not a destination. The origins of performance excellence can be found in the manufacturing sector, where even seemingly small improvements in efficiency can produce bottom-line improvements quickly.
Harnessing and leveraging the human capital we have within each of our organizations is the key to building a culture of continuous improvement that can yield substantial returns. There are three essential components in this process:
- Investing in employees
- Empowering them as agents of change
- Recognizing successes
The continuous improvement journey is well underway in the City of El Paso, Texas, which has embraced Lean Six Sigma methodology to take a hard look at how we do business – and deliver services – to our 675,000 residents and thousands of businesses.
Before we got started in analyzing our systems and processes, our City Council made the commitment to invest in our people by authorizing funds to train employees and ensure they have the necessary tools and resources to be successful.
To date, the city has provided values training for all of the department heads and the second layer of management. We have also launched Organizational Management Examiner training and Lean Six Sigma training, which provides a framework for evaluating and improving upon performance. More than 60 staff representing all departments participated in these efforts.
Next, we wanted to ensure that all of our employees were empowered to serve as agents of change. Some of the greatest innovations and improvements come not from the top down, but from the bottom up. Our city has challenged each department to look within and identify areas for enhancing performance or streamlining operations, giving them the opportunity to put their new tools and skills to the test, work as a team, and truly own the process and resulting outcomes.
This past week, our Parks and Recreation (P&R) Department and Public Works Department presented significant process improvement case studies. The P&R Department set a goal of reducing time and costs required to process outdoor space permits, which on average took 16 days at a cost of $214 per permit. Through careful analysis of the various touch points and data required throughout the process, the team identified opportunities for streamlining, ultimately reducing the permit-processing down to 30 minutes, cutting the costs to just over $13, reducing the number of customer interactions (and thus, the chances for mistakes to happen) from 14 to 1, and achieving an annual savings of more than $32,000. Anecdotally, the department has already received praise from customers that participated in the pilot indicating that the process has significantly improved their experiences with the city.
Public Works examined the process of making asphalt repairs. With the goals of improving service to the public, saving money, and reducing pothole repair time, the team analyzed the times involved in getting materials and traveling to jobs, the internal data processing requirements, and overall utilization of employees. By setting up consistent processes and developing overall operating procedures, the team has increased the number of repairs completed each week by 40 percent (from 200 to 280), reduced the program costs by 14 percent, increased overall production by 24 percent, and reduced employee data management by 50 percent, while at the same time improving data accuracy. Ultimately, the department is on track to achieve $200,000 in annual savings.
These are just two examples of the power of Lean Six Sigma – and teamwork – in effecting change. An essential part of this model is staff recognition. Our goal has been to ensure that the teams responsible receive credit where credit is due. As each department completes its Lean Six Sigma project, the team has had the opportunity to present its successful outcomes directly to City Council. This is a very simple, but public, way to recognize the efforts of the team.
Understanding and capitalizing on the notion that your solutions are within reach – and within your organization – can be transformative in making positive change, in enhancing employee morale, in improving service to your customers and in achieving savings in human and financial resources.
About the Author
Tommy Gonzalez is the city manager of El Paso, Texas. In his former position as city manager of Irving, Texas, the city won the 2011 Texas Award for Performance Excellence (TAPE) and the 2012 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, only the second city ever to earn this recognition. In 2019, El Paso became the largest municipality to win the Texas Award for Performance Excellence from the Texas Quality Foundation. Under his leadership, the 20th largest city in the U.S. has been able to achieve $60 million in cost-savings.