Red Tape = Communication Breakdown

As part of his Six Sigma training, streets superintendent Bob Kennedy spent many hours charting where potholes occur, how long they take to fix, and how they're fixed. While the department was meeting its goal of 24-hour repairs 77% of the time, some repairs lingered much longer.

Last year, only one of 753 repairs exceeded the 24-hour goal. In addition to having supervisors pick up complaints three times a day, rather than once, the department bought lighting so second- and third-shift crews can work at night. The department also assigns dispatchers to repair potholes on weekends and holidays when regular crews aren't working, and assembles a special crew for repairs during leaf-collection season.

Employees are rewarded individually, and as a group, based on performance target averages set each year by a joint union-management committee. In 2002, each employee was awarded at least $200. In 2008, the productivity bonus for achieving the 3.5-hour repair goal ranges from $100 to $900. Similarly, wastewater treatment plant operators who pass the state licensing exam receive an extra 65 cents/hour.

Employees aren't the only ones involved in improving city services.

The city's solid-waste hauler was asked to help lower the number of missed pickups from 4900/year, a process that involved a team of two city employees and three employees of National Serv-All of Fort Wayne. Because National Serv-All had its own system for measuring customer satisfaction, it had to tweak its processes to collect data that the city could input into its Six Sigma framework. But since each missed pickup cost the company $80, it had an incentive to cooperate.

“We saw the need for improvement, and understood the goals, and it's worked very well,” says municipal services manager Bob Young. “We do a better job of quantifying processes.”

Missed garbage pickups fell from about 100/week to the current rate of about 70, a significant improvement considering that 6000 households have been added since the project began.

Leveraging Technology = Measurable Results

If he had to do it all over again, Meszaros says, he'd use Lean Six Sigma—a slimmed down version of the Six Sigma process—and work into the more complex version of the program.

So far, 39 employees have received a Six Sigma “Black Belt” designation, and 92 are “Green Belts.” To ensure the department continues to apply process-improvement solutions, one employee is a certified Lean Six Sigma instructor.

Managers thinking of launching a quality-improvement program shouldn't expect results if they're going to just dabble in it. “You can't delegate this culture change,” he says. “Do a comprehensive deployment, and implement it from the top down.”