City looks to business for efficiency advice: Using Six Sigma, Fort Wayne saved $30 million

Keywords Government / Technology

Seeking to increase its efficiency, Marion County government is enlisting a group of volunteer business experts. Their recommendations could lead to lower taxes and better service-just the sort of initiative incoming Mayor Greg Ballard says he wants to embrace.

The new High Performance Government Team was approved last month by the City-County Council. Created on the recommendation of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, it is modeled on a similar effort in Fort Wayne, where Mayor Graham Richard, a Democrat, successfully introduced business practices such as Total Quality Management and Six Sigma.

“It’s not always about saving money,” Richard said. “It’s also about making the system work better for your customers, which are the citizens.”

Before taking office in 2000, Richard worked as a business consultant and made contacts with executives from the Fort Wayne-area operations of General Electric. GE is one of the world’s most famous proponents of Six Sigma, which focuses on improving processes to boost efficiency and quality.

As mayor, he’s made Six Sigma his mantra. And it has produced results.

These days, Six Sigma is a way of life for Fort Wayne’s municipal employees. Through it, for example, Richard found a way to reduce the turnaround time for land use permits from 50 days to 12. Similarly, Fort Wayne applied Six Sigma to its Public Works Department. Construction crews used to take four days to fill potholes. Now, thanks to a series of process improvements that allow drivers to phone in pothole locations and crews to respond rapidly, they’re filled in less than four hours.

Overall, Richard estimates Fort Wayne has saved $30 million in seven years by applying Six Sigma and other efficientbusiness techniques in 70 areas of local government. The effort has also earned him accolades. The covers of business and government trade publications like iSixSigma Magazine showcase his results. Fort Wayne’s Street Department recently was named the country’s best by Public Works magazine. Richard even wrote a book on the subject called “Performance is the Best Politics.”

“You get high performance by getting that untapped potential,” said Richard, who did not stand for re-election on Nov. 6. “What’s important is to bring talented people training, tools and technology. Many city employees didn’t have the opportunity before to work in teams. How can you expect people to collaborate if they haven’t been given opportunity?”

Roland Dorson, president of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, said Indianapolis can duplicate what Fort Wayne has accomplished. The Chamber’s 2006 Invest in Indianapolis Phase II report recommended a long-term efficiency project.

Fort Wayne’s approach to improving efficiency is especially attractive, he said, because Indianapolis won’t need to first seek approval from the General Assembly. Lack of support in the Legislature has stymied several of Mayor Bart Peterson’s Indianapolis Works consolidation proposals, such as his bid to merge the Indianapolis Fire Department and all of Marion County’s township fire departments.

“This isn’t about government consolidation necessarily or anything that requires statutory change. It’s about how you take government enterprise at the local level and make it more efficient,” Dorson said. “This is not about displacing anybody or taking jobs and turning them over to anybody else. It’s about creating tools so they can do their jobs better.”

The mayor will choose one of the cochairs of the High Performance Government Team. It’s not yet clear whether Peterson will make the selection or leave it to Ballard. The City-County Council will choose the other. The council’s Administration and Finance Committee on Nov. 7 was slated to consider Holbrook Hankinson, a former Standard Management vice president and business consultant. Hankinson declined IBJ’s request for comment.

Once selected for their two-year terms, the co-chairs will choose 11 subcommittee leaders, who, in turn, will seek additional volunteers. Proven executives with experience in Total Quality Management and Six Sigma, facilities or fleet management, procurement and purchasing, human resources and benefits management, change management, and systems analysis will be preferred.

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