Extending the Boundaries of Operational Excellence

Operational Excellence grew out of Lean Six Sigma (LSS), which got its start in manufacturing arenas. Even after years of proven adaptability across industries, many people still consider Lean Six Sigma to be applicable only to manufacturing. However, as more people are discovering, the Lean Six Sigma philosophy and methodologies can be applied to any area or endeavor, as long as an organization is willing to step beyond its current practices.

Operational Excellence (Op Ex) consists of applying the philosophies and methodologies of Lean and Six Sigma to focus on the customer while improving the quality and speed of service. Lean focuses on reducing waste and providing value to customers. Six Sigma seeks to reduce and prevent errors while standardizing the way organizations work.

One service area that has really started to adopt and realize the benefits of Op Ex is the medical community. The term ‘Six Sigma’ means that you achieve a defect rate of no more than 3.4 errors in 1 million opportunities. There is no industry where it is more critical to achieve Six Sigma levels than in the medical field, where a single error could potentially lead to death or serious harm to a patient.

The examples of LSS flexibility are numerous. One hospital in Milwaukee applied Six Sigma techniques to reduce errors in IV medication drips. A firm that provides medical transcriptions for US doctors expected to reduce its error rates by 80% to 90% using Six Sigma methodologies. A medical imaging group, when faced with issues of customer dissatisfaction, used LSS methodologies to reduce error rates and improve the speed of delivery for imaging reports. Finally, a hospital in Texas used Lean techniques to improve their patient discharge process 74% simply by reducing waste in the process.

Government also has starting using Lean Six Sigma: both at the federal and the local level. For example, the EPA has developed a Lean in Government Starter Kit Version 2.0. The Navy used Lean to reduce the time to refurbish its fighters from 192 days to 134 days – a decrease in waste of 30%. Fort Wayne, Indiana, who bills itself as a “High Performance City,” used Lean Six Sigma processes to reduce the time needed to issue permits from 50 days to between 11 and 12 days. Fort Wayne also applied similar techniques to reduce the time between notification and repair of a dangerous pothole from four days to four hours.

Finally, law enforcement has started to utilize Lean Six Sigma in its efforts to protect and serve the public. Jacksonville, Florida’s Sheriff’s Department has created a Continuous Improvement Division and has found multiple ways to improve service while saving funds public funds. In a presentation at the 2007 Shingo Prize Conference, Jacksonville’s Sheriff, John Rutherford, described how using Lean techniques his department saved over $31 million while adding 984 inmate beds. In Seattle, WA, the police department used Six Sigma techniques to identify and address the issues associated with entertainment clubs, where fights, shootings and stabbings frequently occurred. The Louisiana State Police Crime Lab used Lean Six Sigma to reduce their backlog from over 2,000 cases to just 339.

Whether a manufacturer or a service provider, every organization has some type of processes it uses to satisfy the needs and wants of both its internal and external customers/clients. By using Operational Excellence methodologies, organizations can improve the speed of delivery and quality of its products and services while reducing the waste that is often built into the process over time.

This article has tried to demonstrate the flexibility built into Operational Excellence and its tools and methodologies. It can be applied in any environment and to any scenario imaginable. To achieve these same types of improvements, all it requires is for someone admit that there are areas that can be improved and to learn and apply the methodologies of Operational Excellence to address the areas of concern.

About the AuthorIra Weissman is a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. He spent over 30 years in the commercial nuclear power industry where he was involved in project and program management, quality, training and computers. Mr. Weissman also brings with him a passion for non-profit work, where he has spent over 15 years in high-level volunteer positions and accumulated experience working for a non-profit coordinating agency.


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