I read with interest Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner’s April 24 Community Voices article, “Turning to a new way to run county government,” and attorney Michael Lukehart’s April 26 response, “Another View: County govt, not a business, is resistant to metrics.”
My first thought after reading Scrivner’s submission is “It’s about time!” Private industry has been using process improvement for many years and has benefited tremendously. His goal of streamlining the way departments are run in a time of reduced resources is one way of doing more with less. The challenge in enabling such a cultural change will be large, as will the potential payoff. Kudos to Scrivner and the Board for trying something new.
On the flip side, Lukehart quotes definitions and statistics to entice the reader to think he is knowledgeable about Lean Six Sigma, but he shows a huge lack of understanding of how process improvement works, the benefits to the processes themselves and the corresponding cost savings that can be derived from these improvements.
His statements that Kern County provides services “that are inherently resistant to metrics” and that “for many of the services, measuring by verifiable metrics is positively unlawful, unethical and misleading” is cringe-worthy for anyone that has any experience with LSS.
Kern County has so many opportunities for process improvement that even modest success could be enormous. Safety, procurement, operations and customer service are just a few processes that can benefit despite those “pesky” measurable metrics that Lukehart pushes aside. Couldn’t the area that he is most familiar with, the courts and county lawyers, benefit from ideas that streamline the legal process, instead of dragging out each case that it comes in contact with?
Certainly we would all like to see no fires, no crime, no prison violence and fewer sick people at KMC. While all of these things will never go away, how about looking at ways to improve fire and police response, reduce prison violence through improved prison programs or faster ways to move sick people through KMC, getting them healthier faster and with less cost to the county? These are just a few potential ideas from someone who knows a little about LSS and its potential benefits.
Another potentially huge benefit from LSS is the increase in accountability. As data and job performance get a much closer look, accountability and responsibility will improve. Higher job quality, improved leadership skills and personal growth are all results of increased accountability.
Mr. Lukehart seems to think any adoption of LSS principles by Kern County will eliminate the ability of county employees to use common sense, compassion and good decision-making skills and will dehumanize county government. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having accurate data makes decision-making more on-point. It shows where scarce resources should be focused and helps eliminate processes and procedures that are outdated. If he really believes that “efficient manufacturing management processes” like LSS do not fit in today’s non-manufacturing world, maybe he should talk to people at Chevron and Aera and a plethora of service companies (Halliburton, KSI, C&J Energy Services) in the local oil industry about the successes they have seen in safety, cost, profit and employee retention.
I ask you, Mr. Lukehart, if implementing LSS saves one injury, one worker’s compensation claim or one life, eliminates the need for one person to lose their job or allows money saved in one department to be used for another department where it is more needed, do you still think that these concepts and processes are “unlawful, unethical and misleading?”
As a way of personal process improvement, talk to someone who has experience in Lean Six Sigma and ask questions. You could start by searching Lean Six Sigma on Linkedin where there are many people with implementation experience who can comment on results. Who knows, maybe there are some opportunities for process improvement in the legal field.
David Ewert is an oil industry consultant and 35-year industry veteran. He has worked in oilfield operations, process improvement, facilitation and technology for several local service companies. The opinions expressed are his own.