The Guy Who Wrote the Book Weighs In on Gingrich’s Lean Six Sigma Plan

Newt Gingrich is such a big fan of the Lean Six Sigma method that Strong America Now, a group that promotes the waste-cutting technique, features him prominently on the top of its website.

Actually, he's on there twice.

"This is the biggest idea for rethinking how you run government," Gingrich is quoted as saying in the first slide. The second one links to a video of Gingrich at the Nov. 22 Republican debate, where he said: "If we were serious, we would apply Strong America Now's model of Lean Six Sigma. We would save $500 billion a year by having an efficient, effective federal government."

Lean Six Sigma is actually two business methods - Lean, first used by Toyota, and Six Sigma, first employed by Motorola - merged together. Popular in the private sector and particularly among Fortune 500 firms,  LSS  aims to cut waste while minimizing mistakes. Gingrich says the methods can be applied to the federal government, and his campaign website displays  a whole memo devoted to that idea.

But lumping a practice used primarily in the private sector onto a massive federal government might be easier said than done. Thomas Pyzdek, the author of The Six Sigma Handbook, warns that before such a monumental move happens, the federal system needs some adjusting. For example, LSS aims to help companies create more profit based on competition -  a business element that's lacking in the government.

"When I look at the system of government, I see, for example, that there is no competition. There is no profit motive," Pyzdek said. "There are some fundamental differences between the private and public sector that I think is going to have a chilling effect on the adoption of Lean Six Sigma."

A solution, Pyzdek suggests, is introducing "private-sector incentives and motivators" to the government. Without an initial transformation of the way government works, he says, any gains that are made through LSS could be erased with every election.

"I think you have to basically transform the executive branch of government," he said. "And I know that sounds radical."

For his part, Gingrich lays out in his memo a plan for making government more efficient under the Lean Six Sigma program, and he suggests using people who have already used the system as "mentors." He writes, "We need practitioners, consultants and academics willing to work together to build a systematic understanding of a government and society focused Lean Six Sigma system."

Gingrich's memo has the word "DRAFT" stamped across it in big letters, so there might be room for some changes. Perhaps he can futz around with the idea in some of his doodles.

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