Operations

Six Sigma Improves Fleet Operations

Through Six Sigma use, several public sector fleets instituted new processes and roadmaps to reduce operating costs and increase staff productivity.

March 2010, Government Fleet - Feature

by Lauren Fletcher - Also by this author

Some public sector fleets are employing Six Sigma to reduce operational costs and streamline and improve predictability of business processes.
Not simply a training program, Six Sigma is a business management strategy. Originally developed by Motorola, the strategy seeks to improve process quality by identifying and removing the causes of errors and variability, in other words, improving the overall efficiency of business or fleet. Since its inception, the strategy has been modified to apply to service industries as well.

Six Sigma projects carried out within an organization follow a defined sequence of steps and have quantified financial targets (cost reduction or profit increase). Each participant, called a "Belt" (Black, Yellow, or Green) is required to have a leadership-approved project prior to training.

Polk County Goes Lean

Bob Stanton, CPFP, fleet director, Polk County, Fla., modified the improvement steps to suit his business needs.

"Lean" focuses on maximizing process velocity through the elimination of waste. The process identifies eight types of waste or non-value added effort.

"Work orders are our most involved process so we started there," explained Stanton, who established a process improvement team to streamline processes using Six Sigma.

"There are several steps in the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control), particularly in the Define area, that we streamlined as we felt some steps weren't needed," explained Stanton. "We did define the process using a process map, but again, we chose to eliminate some of the steps in this process."

Using Lean's Kano Model, the County evaluated each step in the work order process, particularly concerning the security and location of vehicle keys to bring more control and structure to that specific area. 
Stanton said the "5 Whys Analysis (Lean)" process was particularly helpful as fleet determined why each step in the process existed and determined its relative value.

"Some steps were cast aside and others were modified. As a result, we developed a before-and-after flow chart to illustrate to ourselves and our staff how the work order was changed," said Stanton. "In addition, we also implemented a Lean process called 5S. It is particularly helpful in maintaining shop organization and cleanliness."

5S means Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, and is the Japanese concept for housekeeping.

Stanton also encourages his employees to practice Kaizen (practices focusing on continuous improvement in business activities). According to Stanton, every good fleet manager already does this if he or she practices management by walking around. This process, extended to all employees, builds ownership in continuous improvement.

Finally, all management staff is encouraged to propose opportunities for change using PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act).

The County eliminated six unnecessary steps to streamline its processes.
"Although our housekeeping was good, 5S has made us better," said Stanton. "It's a constant process, but employees have embraced it because they've seen how their own work environment has improved, and it's made locating commonly used tools and equipment easier and less troublesome."

Stanton strongly recommends 5S, even if Lean or Six Sigma isn't utilized. Lean provides a detailed road map for process improvement. As fleet managers study it, they will find they're already using some of the elements, noted Stanton. Lean provides a road map that can be utilized in any management situation.

Six Sigma's production-related principles apply to fleets since, although primarily a service function, fleet processes involve production, said Stanton.

"We produce work orders, we monitor shop throughput, we are a production environment," said Stanton. "The processes provide analytical skills useful in any management situation. I found them particularly helpful as teaching tools for front-line supervisors. These tools gave the supervisors practice using an analytical method to evaluate problems or issues well beyond those we were acting on directly."

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