Up for Debate
Mar 15, 2008

The Federal Panel on public service reform has recently concluded that the government bureaucracy is “risk averse” and they “need more training and tools to address the entire spectrum of performance, especially poor performance.” It is disappointing that the panel took a year to conclude the obvious, however, comments by the Prime Minister that the report “offers valuable insight on the ­public service” are downright scary… I want my money back!

Countless attempts were made by industry to provide government with the necessary tools to establish real change and efficiencies, but the offers repeatedly fell on deaf ears.

Reorganize? Certainly. But, true transformation is difficult in the government environment. Look at Defence – they call it “transformation,” but it was simply a reorganization of Commands. No process was altered. Example: From the recruit Private to the four-star General, there are a total of 17 layers of organization. That’s right, 17 different rank levels. How long do you think it takes to get information or orders from one end to the other and be convinced it was understood by everyone in the structure? In today’s electronic and digitally-enabled information flow, it seems astounding that traditional processes have not been altered, layers of command have not been reduced, the procurement process isn’t being reinvented, and on and on.

Remember the days, some 20 years ago, when Japan was beating North American industry to death. The Japanese industrial complex had introduced “total quality management” (TQM) techniques to streamline their processes and improve product quality. That developed into “Six Sigma” programs designed to reduce the defects in any quantified process – ANY process – from manufacturing to taking the garbage out. The term “Six Sigma” denotes the defection rate of only 3.4 mistakes in any ONE MILLION attempts at the process. Let’s put that in perspective: at THREE Sigma, there would be two accidents every day at O’Hare International Airport. At SIX Sigma, there would be one per year! It is not comforting to realize that most organizations operate at the THREE Sigma level, and it looks like we need a little “Six Sigma” training in the federal government.

Six Sigma is a knowledge based process that uses tools to collect and interpret data with the objective of ridding the process of all NON-value added activity.

       •  Value Added Activity

            – An activity that transforms or shapes (for the 1st time) material or information to meet user requirements.

       •  Non-Value Added Activity

            – Those activities that take time or resources, but do not add to the required end result.

Six Sigma follows these steps focused on “mapping” out the existing process.

  • Collect Data
  • Measure Data (critical to the mapping process)
  • Analyze Data
  • Draw Conclusions (what does the data tell you about the current state?)
  • Determine a new course of action

This seems like a perfect solution to the public service dilemma, doesn’t it? While the process is common in most successful industrial firms, and is taught in most university engineering and business courses, it seems that Government doesn’t need it. Yet GE, Honeywell, and Raytheon, are among a growing list of profitable companies that are relying on it to improve process and encourage innovation, creativity – and to make the workplace downright enjoyable.

Like most North American firms during the time of the Japanese “industrial invasion,” the public service is now on a “burning platform”; that is, there is no way out! Either continue to self destruct, or be replaced, entirely.

Some examples of waste (and indicative of a bad, inefficient process) include:

  • Numerous Corrections – caused by incorrect data, incomplete research and entries into the system
  • Over Production – preparing reports which are not acted upon, nor was there seemingly ever any intent to action the recommendations.
  • Material Movement – extra steps in the process that add no value to the required results
  • Motion – numerous repeated approval levels and steps
  • Waiting – processing monthly vice as the work comes in (closings)
  • Inventory – transactions not processed
  • Processing – multiple sign offs, reports, multi layered organizations versus flat organizations, etc.

If you recognize any of these attributes, your platform is burning.

How it Works
After training in the Six Sigma methodology, we can form a team of stakeholders to address a particular process-gone-bad issue. First, we map the old process, then remove any and all NON-value added activity or structure and re-map the new process. The next step is mandatory: decide what to measure to determine the resulting improvements. Armed with this data, we then go to management with the new and improved process: but don’t be surprised to only find out that it is NOT approved for implementation. The reason: too much of a paradigm change, too hard – and besides, Treasury Board won’t allow it.

Lesson One: You must always have the one person who can approve any changes (the boss) leading the Six Sigma team. Always.

Without senior management buy in from the beginning, you are doomed. And nothing will be more disappointing, frustrating and downright demoralizing. What time does the 3:15 bus get here?

If successful, however, the improvements are not only astounding but tremendously rewarding. There are special people in any Six Sigma organization who attain different levels of “expertise” in running such projects. In most industry driven organizations, EVERY employee is required to take six sigma courses in order to understand and be comfortable with the process and to be involved in various six sigma endeavours. As individuals become involved in these efforts, experts evolve to train other employees and their qualifications also evolve to achieve “green belt” and eventually “black belt” six sigma experts. Some organizations incentivize the process by allowing only black belts to qualify for promotions. Thus, the leaders of the organization all support the program and encourage its growth and culture. In fact, most Six Sigma based companies have annual “competitions” to celebrate the successes of these projects and their individual impact on the efficiency and cost savings to the organization. Yes, it can be fun to get up on Monday morning again.

If industry can use this process to improve the efficiency and accuracy of aircraft design, reduce costs and improve moral, surely it will work in the Federal bureaucracy. The procurement process may be a place to begin, but it may indeed be too large a nut to crack the first time out, and a less-visible project on which to test the Six Sigma process may be more successful and a warm up to tackling the procurement monster.

Besides, the procurement “platform” is still too hot to touch.

Amuse yourself – google “Six Sigma.”
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© Frontline Defence 2008