U.S. Mayor Article

Best Practice: Fort Wayne Adopts Six Sigma Methodology to Improve City Services

June 11, 2001


With his references to "black belts" and "master black belts," some City employees thought Fort Wayne Mayor Graham Richard was promoting the martial arts when he brought Six Sigma to City government. But with several process improvement projects completed and more in the works, City employees along with citizens and business leaders are beginning to appreciate Six Sigma's promise as a method for improving municipal services. Pioneered by Motorola in the 1980s and later adopted by Allied Signal and General Electric, Six Sigma gives employees the tools to measure and analyze data. Employees learn to use data, not intuition, to enhance productivity and/or improve customer service. With his first hand Six Sigma experience in the private sector, Mayor Richard saw no reason it couldn't work in City government. As a result, Fort Wayne is one of the first, if not the first, municipality to use Six Sigma.

What is "Sigma"?

At its core, Six Sigma is a method of achieving process improvement by eliminating defects as well as the opportunity for defects. The idea is that if you can measure how many defects you have in a process or procedure, you can figure out how to eliminate those defects. The word "sigma" is a statistical term that measures how far a given process deviates from perfection. The number six indicates the "level of sigma," or the closeness to perfection. For example, two sigma would indicate a process that is perfect 69.1% of the time. A three sigma process is perfect 93.32% of the time. To achieve Six Sigma, a process must be perfect 99.99966% of the time. However Six Sigma is more than an abstract statistical concept. For example, a municipal water utility operating at 3.8 sigma would produce unsafe drinking water for 15 minutes each day. Operating at Six Sigma, the occurrence of unsafe drinking water would drop to one minute every seven months. Adopting Six Sigma means training your employees to think like both engineers and detectives, searching out defects in processes that contribute to waste and poor quality.

Six Sigma in Municipal Government

While Motorola's Six Sigma efforts focused on manufacturing, General Electric used the methodology in all phases of operations. The move paid off. In 1999, Six Sigma saved the company more than $2 billion. General Electric CEO Jack Welch called Six Sigma "the most important initiative GE has ever takenÉit is part of the genetic code of our future leadership." Upon taking office in January 2000, Mayor Richard quickly enrolled the City of Fort Wayne into membership in the Northeast Indiana TQM Network. Richard founded this quality learning network in 1991. It now includes more than 40 area companies and organizations that share best practices and leverage training resources. Prior to this shared learning approach, only large corporations could afford Six Sigma training. However, thanks to the TQM Network, small and medium sized companies, non-profit organizations and local government could now provide Six Sigma training to their employees.

Led by Michele Hill, appointed to the City's newly created position of quality enhancement manager, and Roger Hirt, a Six Sigma master black belt formerly with General Electric, Fort Wayne's six sigma program is off to a great start. Currently, 10 City employees from a variety of departments have received Six Sigma Black Belt training. In addition, each trainee must complete a City approved project. As a result of some of these projects, the City reduced larcenies by 19 percent in a targeted area of the City, increased fire code re-inspections by 23 percent while reducing the time to re-inspection by 17 days, and increased the percentage of transportation engineering change orders within an accepted tolerance by 21 percent.

But perhaps the most shining example of Six Sigma's potential in a municipal setting comes from a most unglamorous process: waste activated sludge. Cheryl Cronin, of the City's Water Pollution Control Plant, set her sights on increasing the amount of waste activated sludge processed through the plant's centrifuge. It might not sound exciting but the results are impressive.

The Payoff

As a direct result of Cronin's project, the City avoided $1.7 million in improvements to the WPC Plant's digester, the digester's use of alternative fuels dropped 98 percent and the operating time on the process decreased by four hours per day. And these are just a few of the immediate benefits. More promising are the longer-term benefits of Six Sigma for City of Fort Wayne employees as well as citizens.

"With tools like Six Sigma in the hands of City workers, we can not only provide quality training for our employees, but now we can also measure and improve customer satisfaction," Cronin said. "This is a win-win situation for everyone living in Fort Wayne or using services offered by the City."

At a time when citizens are demanding better government service at a lower cost, Six Sigma is giving City employees the tools to deliver consistent, reliable service while saving tax dollars at the same time.

For more information, contact Vince Robinson, City of Fort Wayne, 219-427-1120 (vince.robinson@ci.ft-wayne.in.us)

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