John Pryor, a Lean Six Sigma White Belt management consultant*, takes issue with my criticism of the County of Kern’s adoption of the latest fad in management consulting, Lean Six Sigma.
His main criticism (“Another View: Give Lean Six Sigma a reasonable opportunity,” May 8) seems to be that as a lawyer I focused in on the heart of the issue, various aspects of what he calls “continuous process improvement,” and neglected all the fine language regarding “focus on the customer” (something I always thought was a given in the delivery of services) and “professional development” (ditto). I plead guilty.
When something is being peddled that promises to improve the processes, I look at the way those processes are supposed to be improved. Hence my focus. In retrospect it is clear that I was insufficiently blunt in my first article. Let me cure that failing by getting down to basics.
Just about every county service you can think of is personnel intensive. In most of them, the time and attention of the personnel is the service. The response of a sheriff’s deputy, the attention of a social worker, the time and judgment of a lawyer, the treatment by medical professionals, the response of firefighters, the supervision of a probation officer, the efforts of a clerk to get your paperwork properly filed, the myriad of other things the county does all involve the efforts of some person to perform some service.
Despite what many think, the people who perform these services are well-motivated, highly competent, hard-working and fully cognizant of the needs and limitations of their organizations. As a group, they do their jobs extremely well. They do not need some outside consultant to tell them to “focus on the customer” or engage in “professional development.” That is what their lives are all about, a daily process of focusing on the customers and doing the best they can with the resources they are allotted.
The next point is that resources are limited. The county budget is under great strain and there is pressure to cut budgets. In a personnel intensive environment, necessarily a budget cut means a personnel cut, either in quantity or quality. And that means a service cut, either in quantity or quality.
I may not be a management consultant looking for demonstration projects, but I am a normally intelligent adult with a little common sense. That common sense tells me that “you get what you pay for, you pay for what you get,” and that “there is no free lunch.” (Credits to economist Milton Friedman.)
Here we get to the heart of the matter. Budget cuts, with the attendant service issues, are unpopular and difficult. People get upset. Decision makers do not like making those cuts, particularly decision makers whose jobs depend upon their remaining popular. So in come the management consultants with their impenetrable (but fine sounding) jargon adapted from management techniques that ensure the quality of electronics components. They provide the illusion that cuts can be made without the necessity of painfully prioritizing services, if only we heed those management consultants. If they provide an adequate illusion, the decision makers are returned to their positions without too much trouble and the program is considered a success.
Look at the demonstration project Pryor proposes, county counsel. Does he really think that the lawyers in that office don’t focus on their customer? Does he think they neglect their professional development? How? Give me names; I will call their supervisor. What sort of “process improvement” does he have in mind? Typing with both hands, maybe? He has got to be kidding.
Regarding David Ewert’s criticism (“Another View: “Critiquing a cringe-worthy critique,” May 4), the County of Kern does not control the police (the City of Bakersfield does), the courts (State of California), or prisons (State of California). As an intermediate Lean Sigma Six consultant, Ewert should find out what his clients actually do before he advises.
* According to the CSU Bakersfield SBDC Team webpage. Maybe when he gets a higher belt he will develop his quality processes to the point that he consistently spells my name right.