How Federal Government Agencies Use Six Sigma

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United States Postal Service

The USPS has applied Six Sigma to improve customer service by improving on-time delivery at an airmail processing center (AMC). Particular focus was put on an AMC in Columbus, Ohio. This location processes and distributes more than 50 million first class letters annually. Before the implementation of Six Sigma, 8.7 percent of letters were not delivered on time. The Six Sigma team working on this project comprisedhj local USPS management, front line supervisors, mail handlers, an industrial engineer, airline management, and two airline ground handlers. The project was completed by using the DMAIC method:

  • Define the Problem
  • Measure Performance
  • Analyze Data
  • Improve the Process
  • Control the Process

The main goal of this implementation of Six Sigma was to improve on-time delivery generated at the Columbus AMC to a rate at or above the company standard. At the time of implementation, this particular AMC was operating at a 2.4 Sigma with 187,000 defects per million opportunities. Through the application of Six Sigma tools, it was found that the top reasons for failures at the Columbus AMC were:

  • Ground handler delays equaling 26 percent of errors
  • SAMS database issues totaling 23 percent of the errors

As a results of following the Six Sigma process and implementing new process improvements, delivery failures were reduced by 14.3 percent at an annual savings of $15,000.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Although the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will not say whether it has implemented Six Sigma as a way to improve its fight against terrorism, there is plenty of talk about the topic. Although there are many challenges associated with setting up Six Sigma in government agencies, experts believe that it could be used in thousands of homeland security projects.

One specific example given where Six Sigma techniques would be a benefit is in deciphering information that floods into the CIA on a daily basis. Intercepted emails, phone calls, and applications to flight schools that are now closely monitored are all a part of the information collection process. If an email is intercepted that hints to an attack on a bridge, the CIA must make a decision as to the seriousness of this threat. If this email has to go through 50 steps or decision nodes to determine the credibility of the information, that is 50 chances that an error can be made. If there are 60 such emails or letters received each day, then there are now 300 opportunities for error.

Decision nodes within the CIA average 99.38 percent accuracy, which is a Four Sigma Level. If improved to Six Sigma standards, the accuracy’s accuracy grows to 99.99966 percent, meaning only one in 294,000 pieces of security information will be mistakenly discarded. With Six Sigma, you will see a 99.9 percent chance that all of those 300 decisions will be accurate on a given day, and 97 percent in a month. With Four Sigma, you are looking at a 15 percent accuracy rating for a day. When lives are at risk, this difference in accuracy is hard to ignore.

The Navy

Naval Sea Systems Command created a program titled Navsea Lean, adapting concepts from Six Sigma. Navsea’s responsibilities included maintaining naval ships and weapons. Following a Lean Six Sigma approach, managers in Navsea closely examined a particular business operation and found ways to streamline steps to deliver better service. During the first year of implementation, Navsea applied Lean Six Sigma programs in 30 organizations. On 500 projects, a total of $200 million was saved.

The Army

The Army depot in Anninston, Alabama, adopted Six Sigma by hiring a contractor to offer a training program to managers. The courses were run at a cost of $30,000, but Anniston’s continuous improvement manager feels the training is worth the price. The Six Sigma concepts were applied to redesign IT and industrial projects.

Six Sigma and the Public Sector

There is always pressure to improve the standard and cost of public services. Six Sigma is new to the public sector, although the tools and techniques are not. By integrating new Six Sigma concepts into existing techniques, government agencies can become more efficient in the way they serve the public.