Inspiring Improvement – Lean Six Sigma Efforts at USPS

inspiring improvement
inspiring improvement

The staff members leading the Lean Six Sigma initiatives in any organization are pretty busy people. They also seem to be people with a great dedication to sharing knowledge and encouraging other organizations to find ways to benefit from the Lean Six Sigma philosophy. One of the indicators of this trend is their willingness to take time to present information on their Lean Six Sigma journeys to their peers.

This month at ASQ San Diego, we were fortunate to have one of these dedicated individuals, Steven Mummy, present on the topic of the Lean Six Sigma efforts at the USPS.

Ring a bell? Yes, that USPS. The United States Postal Service that, just last Thursday, became the subject of an Executive Order.

Quality folks are, by nature, risk-averse; so it was simply a coincidence that this was the topic of the meeting this month. But the little bit of current controversy certainly added some spice to the end-of-session Q&A. Steven provided a great presentation and ,while his deck was not available after the event, he did provide attendees with a variety of sources we could use to access much of the content included in his presentation.

For most people, our interaction with USPS is purely as a consumer – we send or receive mail. So it was interesting to learn firsthand that:

  • USPS is the federal agency with the largest non-defense workforce, coming in at over half a million employees.
  • USPS manages one of the largest civilian fleets in the world.
  • USPS has a strong Lean Six Sigma engagement that includes such measurables as having trained over 6500 Green Belts.

What was most fascinating to me, though, is that I really wasn’t consciously aware that the USPS has to manage many of the same functions as any manufacturing or distribution business. They have accounting departments, personnel departments, fleet maintenance departments, and I.T. departments. They must manage internal security for over 30,000 facilities located all around the country. When I list it out, it is pretty obvious that the Post Office couldn’t operate without those functions being staffed, funded, managed and improved.

Yes, improved.

We may not each have had a 100% wonderful experience with USPS, but a visit to the website is really useful for identifying ongoing improvement efforts that can inspire your organization to take action with Lean Six Sigma. This website is the information point for the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service, which is the department responsible for a wide range of functions like fraud prevention.

lean six sigma

Did you know this department is also responsible for promoting efficiency in operations? On this website, the blogs regularly post content on the results of their investigations and request feedback from employees and the public on experiences with USPS. If you use the search function for the term “Lean Six Sigma”, you will uncover a host of content that documents efforts for improvement. The projects span many departments and functional areas, not just those responsible for the sorting and delivery of mail. Any Lean Six Sigma practitioner will find great examples of projects and documentation that explain tasking, replete with inputs and outcomes – truly a wealth of practical and inspirational information.

The USPS has also won awards with Process Excellence Network (PEX) for its Lean Six Sigma efforts. PEX evaluates process improvement projects in a variety of categories and presents annual awards. One of the USPS improvement projects won an award in 2014; there is a white paper available on this site. The project focuses on the VP Controller Lean Six Sigma Project at USPS. This was a department-wide project and the documentation on the site describes scope, measurables of improvement including cost savings, and so much more. Anyone who might be considering a large Lean Six Sigma project and is wondering how to give management a view of the probable scope, effort, resources and results will find this document worth reviewing.

Business process improvements with Lean Six Sigma methods can be transformational for organizations, but the effort is not small. Having access to real-world examples of successful projects and methods is tremendously helpful. When those examples are from an organization like USPS, which is so much a part of our daily life and commerce, it can make the challenges we face in driving improvement a little bit more approachable.

Do you have an inspiring story of improvement to share? We’d love to hear about it.