The business history of Fort Wayne is revealed in a few simple facts. In 1965 there were 2600 students at Northside High School. Many of the boys planned on working at International Harvester after graduation, just as their fathers and grandfathers did. That plant closed in 1982, a victim of the rust-belt syndrome common in the upper Midwest, and a legacy that cities like Fort Wayne have to work hard to overcome.
Here’s another telling fact about Fort Wayne: Take a guess at what the most frequent fire service call is about. Hint: It’s not fire. If you answered “medical runs,” you’d be right—the post-World War II babies are now booming into middle age and beyond. Fort Wayne’s fire stations are so well positioned, geographically, that their staff can reach 911 calls faster than hospital ambulances.
And that’s not all, in today’s world, firefighters have to be prepared for terrorism, a disaster, hazmat, tanker truck overturning, tornadoes, floods, and there is extensive training that a firefighter ten years ago never got to do.
Mayor Graham Richard is very familiar with this history. He was a state senator before becoming a businessman and entrepreneur in Fort Wayne. A lifelong learner and champion of continuous improvement, in the early 1990s he helped found the TQM Network, an organization that helps businesses in northeast Indiana pool their resources to provide training and education in quality improvement. He later adopted and led Six Sigma efforts in his own companies.
When Richard was elected mayor in the fall of 1999, he had a clear vision: he wanted to help create a safer city, a city with more good jobs, a city that provides excellent service to its citizens. Part of this vision is what he calls e-City. “What we need is people who see themselves as ‘e-mayors,’ ” he says. “Our definition of ‘e’ is not just the classic electronic commerce. I see it as a pursuit of the extraordinary, the pursuit of excellence, that a city needs to have very, very clear-cut shared goals that you will strive to meet in education, in the environment, in engaging citizens.”
His plan for achieving this vision was clear—by bringing business techniques and business philosophies to the way city government was run.
Take a look at the background of the other people interviewed in the company profiles, and you’ll see a common theme. Karen Rago of Stanford Hospital and Clinics, for example, was there when TQM was first introduced, and was part of its transformation into Stanford’s Operations Improvement. Myles Burke of Lockheed Martin can recall a time when SPC was the accepted modus operandi of manufacturing improvement. His colleague Mike Joyce learned about Lean manufacturing from some of the Japanese experts who invented and refined it. Roger Hirt spent much of his career at GE, living through quality circles, SPC, and ISO certifications.
In short, just by being involved in business over the past decade-and-a-half, these people have all been exposed to and involved with quality improvement.
The same cannot be said of employees in the public sector. None of the previous quality methodologies have infiltrated public agencies to any degree. So in February 2000, when Fort Wayne’s newly elected mayor, Graham Richard, announced to his staff that he wanted the city to start using Six Sigma, few people knew what he was talking about.
The upside of having a green field in terms of improvement meant there was little of the “been there, done that” attitude that causes experienced employees in the private sector to dismiss yet another quality initiative.
On the downside, to achieve any success with Six Sigma, Fort Wayne’s employees would have to be ramped up from 0 to 60 in nothing flat. There is very little use of data in government agencies; little awareness of process flow, customer needs, and variation—which means that even once they were trained, there weren’t many resources they could turn to for support.
Yet just three years into the new way of doing city business, Fort Wayne has saved or avoided the need to spend nearly $3 million and has made numerous other changes that have meant better service for city residents. Here’s how they’ve done it:
Fort Wayne’s experience with Lean and Six Sigma is told here by Graham Richard, Mayor of Fort Wayne, and Roger Hirt, a former MBB at GE who now serves on the executive team guiding deployment at Fort Wayne, and Michele Hill, the city’s first Black Belt.
Fort Wayne is a city of about 220,000 in northeastern Indiana. Like many Midwestern cities, its economy has suffered from the rust-belt syndrome: the steady and occasionally dramatic loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs.
As in many city governments, the “CEO” is an elected position; direct reports to the mayor are all appointed and change with each change in leadership. The remaining 1800 employees are civil service, typically people who have held their jobs for a long time and will continue to do so no matter what happens at the top of the organization.
The official rollout began in February 2000 in a rapid series of actions…
Initially, the projects and team leaders were selected by the executive council; now that more people are trained and each department has more experience with Six Sigma, the choice of projects is sometimes left up to the department managers in consultation with their Green Belts. Potential projects continue to be identified based on criteria such as…
Each potential project is evaluated based on its potential impact on customers and citizens, and its impact on internal effectiveness or efficiency. Whenever appropriate, the council would choose a project that impacts citizens over one that improves internal operations.
To staff the projects, Fort Wayne began training city employees. In fact, because the educational gaps were so great, much of the effort in the first year was devoted to training three waves of Black Belts, where each participant had to successfully complete a project as part of their training.
In the second year, the city began doing Green Belt training as a way to populate more agencies with people who could participate in projects and support the Black Belts.
Interestingly, neither the Black Belts nor Green Belts are full-time, dedicated resources: Black Belts are expected to spend 20% of their time on projects; Green Belts 10–20%. This is partly because city governments face a restriction not encountered in the private sector: every city employee has a job description that has to be approved by the city council—and “Black Belt” is not one of those descriptions. Roger Hirt admits it would be nice to have at least one or two full-time Black Belts who could be deployed anywhere in the city and work cross-functionally, but he admires how much the city has accomplished with only part-time resources. One advantage of the city model: their Black Belts are usually process owners, so they benefit directly from improvements, and also have a vested interest in seeing that process changes are maintained.
Walking the Talk
By all accounts, Mayor Richard is a leader who walks the talk of Six Sigma. He is a strong advocate of team building, applies DMAIC in his own thinking and approach, adapts his behavior to accommodate different learning styles, and asks people for data: “What are your measurements, how are you going to develop your measurements?” He also regularly sets aside a few hours on his calendar to meet individually with the Black Belts and Green Belts to discuss their projects.
In the first three years of deployment, Fort Wayne trained more than 20 Black Belts and about 40 Green Belts. (They have since lost one Black Belt who was hired away into the private sector. In typical fashion, Mayor Richard remarked, “Won’t it be great when businesses come to city government for employees?”)
They also launched 60 projects, resulting in direct savings (or avoidance of expected costs) totaling nearly $3 million and many less-tangible improvements:
Roger Hirt can also cite a number of as-yet intangible gains that may pay off in the future. For example, in initial discussions about how the Fire Department could contribute to the Mayor’s vision of a “safer city,” no one could answer the question because questions like “what would you measure” had never arisen before. People all over the city are starting to get more attuned to thinking about what customers and citizens want, how they measure the performance of their work units and improvement efforts, and about ways to eliminate waste.
Another perk from the improvement efforts? “People can’t blame the bureaucracy as much,” says Mayor Richard. He goes on to cite one example: “One of the things we learned was that many of the reasons why we were losing cycle time in our building permitting process was because the architect or engineer would have 30 or 40 different projects going on. So it was really easy for them to tell the owner that they could not get their permits from the city. And everybody would accept that explanation—‘It’s over in right-of-way… Oh, goodness, the city utilities didn’t do their work… The storm water permit is not done.… The county highway department didn’t give you the cut.’
“By doing what we have done with our process improvement and our new tracking system, it’s all online, and our cycle time has dropped… they can’t blame someone in the city anymore.”
Response time—or “lead time” in Lean speak—is a critical metric in city government, because oftentimes the problem is a safety concern. That also involves developing the ability to make priorities clear. “It’s clear that having a street light go out in front of somebody’s home isn’t as high a priority as fixing a traffic signal that’s out,” says Mayor Richard.
Fort Wayne is still on the steep slope of its learning curve, but they’ve already learned a number of lessons…
Roger Hirt ran into that history recently. He recalls telling one administrative assistant that it was okay to implement changes identified in a particular project. He later found out that she made four phone calls to get four more approvals before taking action. Can anyone really blame her? For all of her career up to that point, she probably would have been reprimanded had she NOT had multiple approvals for every action. It will take leadership consistency and persistence to convince people that life really has changed inside city government.
The Most Important Praise
One contractor recently told Mayor Richard, “I have been building commercial buildings for 20 years either for others or for myself, and then I rent them out. I quit building in the city of Fort Wayne about five years ago. Since you have been mayor, there has been a 200 percent increase in the effectiveness of getting permits, and it’s now just about as easy to do one in Fort Wayne as it is in any of the other cities that I work in. So I am now going to start building again in Fort Wayne.”
“I think it would be very difficult for any politician to undo some of the things that we have put in place,” says Mayor Graham Richard. “Some are structural, such as merging different units of government together to make it less complex. Some of it uses technology.”