Commentary: City can learn from Six Sigma approach

The Republicans have been talking about their proposal for eliminating the federal budget deficit without raising taxes or removing entitlements. Also, it appears that more politicians, including those in Costa Mesa, are joining the ranks of others by declaring that they have new solutions to improving city governmental operations.

The new political buzz word regarding the federal government is called Lean Six Sigma (Six Sigma) and Value Stream Mapping (VSM); even President Obama used such hot words during his talks. Implementing Lean Six Sigma has been proven by many in the private sector by reducing costs, enhancing quality and improving operations.

So the questions upon us are what is Six Sigma or VSM and what is Lean?

It is simply the review of processes using scientific management methodologies to eliminate waste and improve quality. The Six Sigma methodologies are widely used in manufacturing and also lately in service organizations. Also, lean thinking is empowering the employees to implement change.

Six Sigma, with its "black, green and/or yellow" champions, probably seems a little uncultivated to some. Others might debate about how triumphant the Six Sigma scheme has been in the business world. While Six Sigma methods have improved product quality and cut waste, its success is varied among organizations.

Using Six Sigma and lean manufacturing processes didn't prevent General Electric stock to fall down. But maybe perhaps this Lean Six Sigma alternative is worth a try.

The Costa Mesa City Council has claimed its own responsibility to reduce expenses and improve operations and seems polarized on solutions. Bad systems will beat good people every time: No one comes to work to do a bad job or be unsuccessful.

Also, people inherently work within the systems afforded them. Waste, as it pertains to Lean, includes money, time or material that was used ("wasted") in a non-optimal way.

VSM can be used to analyze the flow of information and materials that are required to provide governmental city service. Thus, I encourage our city CEO Tom Hatch to explore the use of VSM.

Thus, VSM aims to improve processes by eliminating waste. Six Sigma with the use of statistical data might be too much for the city to handle. However, VSM can be a great tool to generate improvement and hopefully cost reduction.

The council, city management and even the Costa Mesa bargaining union representatives should consider giving VSM an opportunity to improving operations here for the city of Costa Mesa. What have they got to lose?

Costa Mesa resident AL MORELLI is a professor at USC.

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