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The Unfortunate Death Of Six Sigma In Erie County

American City and County Magazine ran an article recently titled Trimming the fat-or-not with Lean Six Sigma by Stephen Ursery. The article refers to the success of Lean Six Sigma in Irving Texas and its failure in Erie County, New York, according to Mark Cornell spokesperson for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

In Irving Texas, according to city manager Tommy Gonzalez Lean Six Sigma has improved operations by:

  • slashing the review time of a commercial building permit application from 49 days to nearly four days;
  • consolidated printers and copiers to save the city approximately $230,000 annually and reduced energy expenses;
  • the city also has eliminated 110 positions, helping save more than $30 million in total over the past five years.

Gonzalez says. “[Lean Six Sigma] is just something that I would really like government to do more off”.

In Erie County Mark Cornell stated the following in an e-mail to American City and County Magazine:

“The current administration (Chris Collins) has yet to provide any proven, quantifiable Six Sigma savings data that can be validated in [statutory accounting principles] or county budget documents.” “The seeming inability or unwillingness to prove the dramatic multi-million-dollar savings claims raises fundamental questions about the reality of the Six Sigma program and whether it is actually generating savings, process improvements or some other outcome.”

In an earlier post I mentioned that when Chris Collins was Erie County Executive the County’s web site listed 35 Six Sigma projects. By utilizing Six Sigma in Erie County the back log of processing child support cases was reduced from 7,281 to 103. Other Six Sigma projects focused on improving the response to after hour sewer complaint calls, and reducing the length of time to process nursing home applications.

These nitty gritty type projects are often not sexy or exciting but they are where citizens needing help get sucked into black holes of bureaucracy. Improving back logs and response time if possible without simply hiring more people is huge. To improve government you have to be willing to wade into the details of process and procedure to find where the bureaucratic glitches are. Chris Collins to his credit did that in a very specific way in 35 documented instances. Perhaps some of the Six Sigma success in addressing back logs or response time cannot be specifically quantified in dollars and sense perfectly, but such performance improvements are still meaningful and important.

Chris Collins’ arrogant personality hurt the image and acceptance of Six Sigma in Erie County. Newly elected county executive Mark Poloncarz’s personal dislike of Collins and everything Collins stood for has caused the unfortunate death of Six Sigma in Erie County.

Six Sigma has been successfully implemented in many private and public sector organizations and I believe that it was worthwhile continuing in Erie County. Governor Cuomo in fact has been utilizing Lean successfully in several state agencies. Organizational change does not happen on its own, it has to be encouraged through an identified process or procedure. If Poloncarz is not going to use Six Sigma, then what process is he going to use to improve the operation of county government?

In addition to private sector companies such as Toyota, Lean has been implemented at the following municipalities and governmental agencies: San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency, King County, Washington, Brown County, WI, Fort Wayne, Ind., Hartford, CT., Cape Coral, FLA., Jacksonville, FLA., Grand Rapids, MI., Florida Dept. of Revenue, Washington State Dept. of Licensing, Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources, Maine Dept. of Labor.

To learn more about utilizing Lean in government check out the following links:






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Archie Elam

Good article! As a LSS MBB and consulting executive, I have led deployments in financial services like GE and across several government agencies. Results were in multiple millions of dollars and speed improvements. This “failure” looks more like leadership issues with the commissioners in Erie County. Unfortunate, but happens.