Lean Six Sigma | The City of Lakewood, Ohio

Lean Six Sigma

Striving to Protect Residents’ Tax Dollars

How Lakewood Is Striving to Protect Its Residents’ Tax Dollars

Since 2012 the City of Lakewood has been doing something rare in municipal governments. The approach is so unique that only a handful of other municipalities are attempting to do what the City has done over the past three years. What is it? Lean Six Sigma (LSS).

Popularized in the mid-1990s by General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch, LSS was once seen as useful only in the private sector, but has been gaining popularity within other sectors, including governments across the world. Lean Six Sigma is a management approach that focuses on reducing waste and defects in processes, increasing customer satisfaction, building a culture of continuous improvement, searching for root causes and ensuring comprehensive employee involvement. And who wouldn’t want all that?

Especially in government, where spending is out of control and taxes seem to continually increase, many with experience in LSS might be saying it’s about time. Within the last decade the approach has been implemented in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Army, Air Force and Navy, but has yet to pick up momentum at the municipal level. Why is that, when organizations have saved hundreds of billions of dollars over the past two decades by using it?

When Michael Summers took over as Mayor in 2011, coming from the private sector with LSS experience, he must have asked himself the same question. And seeing the potential advantages of implementing it in the City, he set off to do something that only a handful of other municipalities (e.g. Fort Wayne, Indiana, Irving, Texas, and Hartford, Connecticut to name a few) have had the knowledge, skills or motivation to do.

The Vision

And since 2011, Summers’ approach to protecting Lakewood resident’s valuable tax dollars has been simple – use that money as efficiently and effectively as possible by increasing speed, improving customer service and lowering costs, while building a culture of continuous improvement that can be sustained long after his administration. Seems simple enough, however, although this sounds like a common sense approach to most of us, it is always easier said than done. Summers knew he would run the risk of being seen as just trying to implement another passing management fad, and ultimately lose the support of the City’s employees. 

The Journey

Even so, with a clear understanding of the potential advantages and risks, the City decided that the potential advantages to the residents outweighed the potential risks. And so, with his entrepreneurial spirit, Summers embarked on a mission to ensure that the City of Lakewood would be the best possible stewards of the resident’s tax dollars through the use of LSS. His initial strategy?

  • Build a circle of support from within the City.
  • Create a cross-functional group of individuals to be the City’s “Lean” Team to break down barriers, create buy in within the City, and help make important decisions.
  • Enlist the help of experts in the field of LSS to create and execute a comprehensive training plan for the City.

The goal was simple, train 100% of the City’s employees to use Lean Six Sigma practices and tools. And by 100%, that meant everyone. Everyone from Refuse/Recycling, to Planning & Development, to Finance, to Police and Firefighters; no employees were to be left out.

Summers led the way by actively participating and encouraging City employees in any way The could; personally attending all LSS related events, recording opening and closing messages to be played at the training sessions he could not attend, and even starting a Lean Lakewood newsletter highlighting the City’s efforts and successes. And Summers is steadily seeing his vision for the City come to life.

Over the course of the first three years, all 497 (412 FT/ 85 PT) employees, have received some form of LSS training, enabling them to implement LSS principles in their everyday work and at a minimum, participate on LSS project teams.

By the numbers: How many city employees have been trained…

  • Awareness: ~271
    • 1 hour training in person or online
    • Ability to participate on project teams
  • White Belts: 49
    • 1 day training
    • Ability to participate on project teams
  • Yellow Belts: 100+
    • 2 day training/exam/certification
    • Ability to run small scale projects
  • Green Belts: 6
    • 5 day training/exam/project/certification
    • Ability to run large, cross-functional projects

Since training began, Yellow Belts and Green Belts within the City have been running LSS projects while performing their everyday responsibilities – not an easy task. To date, more than 9 major projects (and numerous smaller projects) have been completed with more ready to launch this fall.

The value of those projects to taxpayers has been very apparent.

The Commitment

For the City’s employees, Lean Six Sigma is no passing management fad. This is a long-term cultural change and over the past three years they have followed Summers’ leadership to see to fruition.

The road is not over yet, there is still much work to be done, but that is a challenge that Summers and the City’s employees say they are ready to take upon themselves. Each Green Belt is expected to run at least 1-2 large-scale projects per year and Yellow Belts are expected to take on as many smaller projects as they can manage. Looking to grow the City’s capacity to take on more LSS improvement projects, Summers and the Lean Team are exploring options to add even more process improvement resources to the City.

In addition, the City’s work is even gaining national notoriety as The Cleveland Council on World Affairs, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, hosted a delegation of local government officials from Afghanistan in April of this year and asked to come to Lakewood to learn about the LEAN Lakewood initiative, the impact it has had on the City, and the importance of local government transparency and efficiency.  And more recently, a similar delegation from India came in August and requested to meet with City officials on this as well.

Every City employee knows that to ensure the long-term sustainable success of these efforts, they must be engaged and committed to make it a reality.

For more information on the City’s LSS work, contact Director of Finance, Jennifer Pae at jennifer.pae@lakewoodoh.net.