Kern County is implementing a long overdue system of quality leadership called “Lean Six Sigma” (LSS).
Lean means “eliminate waste.” Six Sigma means “reduce variation” in systems and multiple processes within each system — continuously improving each at lower cost.
Although these principles and best practices are usually intentional, they sometimes are applied without any knowledge of LSS. This is because it’s based on logical principles and practices – something we call “common sense.”
Such unintentional application of LSS occurred when three of us created a new insurance agency in Bakersfield in 1985 called Personal Express Insurance Services.
We had never heard of quality management or LSS. We simply wanted to create a business that focused on its customers, continuously improved its systems and processes, valued professional development of its employees -- and made enhanced profits as a byproduct of the other three elements.
We were competing with major personal (individual and family) insurance carriers such as State Farm, Allstate, and Farmers. They were extensively whipping conventional insurance agencies such as ours in personal insurance -- before we created Express Insurance. (We almost always whipped them in business insurance!)
In managing Express Insurance, we:
· identified and met (or exceeded) customer expectations – especially in pricing but also in customer service;
· uniquely (and immediately) produced an actual policy “at the point of sale;”
· involved our staff in their professional development); and
· proved Express to be profitable!
We took these steps because they made such good (common) sense. They helped us help customers “faster, better, and cheaper” than did our major national competitors. Yet, we knew nothing about Lean Six Sigma.
Validating all this is analogous to Victor Kiam who liked Remington razors so much, he bought the company. Accordingly, the CEO of the insurer for Personal Express Insurance liked its concept so much, he bought the agency.
Before reading on, it’s important to understand the definition of “customer.” A customer is anyone who receives the output of a process. Therefore, “customers” can be either internal or external.
For example, a recent local -- seemingly unintentional -- practice of LSS is that of Judge David Wolfe. (See 1/20 TBC Voice.) His vision of improving the system of “dangerous inmate arraignments” is a perfect illustration of how well LSS can work — whether practiced unintentionally or intentionally.
· observed process improvement in a small local pilot system in Delano;
· found that all “customers” were better served if inmates were retained in a secure facility and arraigned through a video communication system that saved time (including extensive travel time) and money -- plus enhanced safety and security for all -- without violating any statutory constraints; and then he
· took the proven local pilot to full-scale statewide operation — where benefits expanded exponentially for all!
It was clearly a win-win outcome for all “customers” — external and internal — including taxpayers!
It’s reported (via the “grapevine”) that some Kern County department heads resist this effort to transform their department for these potential win-win outcomes. It’s hoped each will, at the very least, work through one or more pilots to prove the viability of LSS when applied on a broader scale.
Doing so creates opportunities to:
· focus on customers — internal and external;
· continuously improve systems and processes within each system;
· offer staff members opportunities for professional development; and
· lower operational costs.
Therefore, all can enjoy both time and money savings as well as improved safety, security, and professional development.
Lean Six Sigma principles and best practices are not an “elective” — they are an imperative. This applies not only to the County of Kern but also to every local organization, large or small, for profit or not-for-profit, public or private.
To unintentionally ignore these initiatives is to deny an organization a brighter future. To intentionally do so can be construed by many to be management malpractice.
If only our federal government would follow Kern County’s example!
John Pryor is a management consultant with CSU Bakersfield’s Small Business Development Center and is a White Belt in Six Sigma.