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Expert Excerpts: Tracy O'Rourke on Lean Six Sigma in Government - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Are you in Government? Whether you’re just starting your Lean Six Sigma journey, or you’re in the middle of improving a process, guidance from Experts can help make your efforts easier – and more successful! In this short interview, we interview Lean Six Sigma Expert, Tracy O’Rourke, who shares key insights to being successful with Lean Six Sigma in Government.

Tracy O’Rourke is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. While advising government and private organizations on Lean Six Sigma, she shares over 20 years of expertise to make it easier for people and organizations to learn and apply Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

What advice do you have for someone that is getting started with applying Lean Six Sigma in Government?

Changing government systems and processes can sometimes feel overwhelming and not knowing where to start can definitely be a barrier. My advice for people in government is this:

Start Small and Have a Bias Towards Action

Start looking at little things where you have some control in making changes. Whether it’s reducing lines on a form or eliminating an unnecessary handoff or signature, little wins lead to big wins. starting small feeds the fire for bigger process improvements in the future.

Start With Waste

First, teach yourself the 8 wastes. Then, train your eyes to see waste in processes around you. Lastly, find a form of waste within your control and reduce or eliminate it. Make sure you actually reduce or eliminate the waste as opposed to pushing it to someone else downstream.

What are some common mistakes you see people making when applying Lean Six Sigma in Government?

New practitioners, and even some experienced ones, don’t always know the boundaries of good process improvement or what is called “project selection.”

If you want more background on this, see the Webinar I recorded on this and similar topics, called Project Bloopers and Blunders.

The biggest mistake I see is when individuals focus on process areas that do not belong to them. They want to fix someone else’s process, not their own. When this happens, we hear comments like, “Well my process is fine, but so-and-so’s process needs help.”

Do you have any pet peeves related to Lean Six Sigma application?

Yes, I cringe when people who know Lean and process improvement techniques become condescending know-it-alls rather than leverage their skills and talent to teach and mentor in a positive way. I worry that they’re giving Lean Six Sigma a bad name when they act like that.

Is there anyone that has significantly influenced you over the years?

If I had to pick one person it would be Gary Chaves.

Twenty years ago, before my Lean Six Sigma days, I was a trainer and Gary was my boss. He introduced me to a training technique at the time, called “Interactive Discovery.” Interactive Discovery is basically a structured form of the Socratic method. It encourages facilitators to create pre-planned thought provoking questions within training modules. Gary asked me to learn and apply it in every training – literally that meant sitting down with every facilitator guide and brainstorming pre-planned questions to ask every 15-20 minutes.

It was the best method I ever learned to engage participants in a classroom environment and beyond. This has been invaluable in my coaching, my training and my career. Personally, It has even been invaluable as a parent and wife! Every now and then, I think about how much this technique has changed the way I interact with others and I am very thankful. Thanks Gary!

It was the best method I ever learned to engage participants in a classroom environment and beyond.

Why do you do what you do? (What motivates you?)

I love helping organizations solve their culture puzzle. What is working well? What is not? What norms hold the current culture in place? With organizational leaders, we ask these questions and then we work to understand why the culture is the way it is.

This effectively creates ways to build an intentional culture. I also love the “A-Ha!” moment when someone realizes that this stuff (Lean Six Sigma) works. It’s obvious that they now see with a fresh perspective – there’s a whole new world around them. This is why Proust’s quote (below) resonates with me.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

Witnessing the moments of seeing with new eyes energizes me and drives me to do what I do.

What’s your favorite application of Lean Six Sigma in your personal life (away from work)?

I have two boys, ages 14 & 9, and 5S and Visual Management are probably the biggest application in our house at the moment!

5S – A place for everything and everything in it’s place and creating systems to keep it that way. Although 5S seems simple and straightforward, when applying the techniques around young kids it helps to see how kids process things differently. Processes can be very messy! It’s humbling applying process improvement techniques with kids!

Visual Management – Having kanban boards (To Do, Doing, and Done) with chores and homework that get checked every week works very effectively!

Expert Excerpt: Tracy O'Roukre - Kanban Board - GoLeanSixSigma.com

That’s a wrap! Thanks for asking. I enjoyed answering your questions!

Have a question for Tracy? Please feel free to ask in the comments below.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at University of California San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.