Introducing Jenny from the blog and an alien

By Jenny Smith

Hi friends, I’m Jenny. Here’s my first blog. In it I will:

  • talk about Lean Six Sigma – business improvement tools that originated in the manufacturing world
  • share some of the tools involved
  • and look at how they relate to municipal government

What the Guelph is a SIPOC?

The alien SIPOC descended on City Hall room 112 and abducted eleven round table participants. Well it didn’t happen quite like that, but a real life SIPOC did descend on room 112 (our creative collaboration space anyone can use), in the form of a process improvement tool of the Lean Six Sigma variety.

Solving problems and acting on opportunities sounds easy in practice, but in reality it can be a difficult and messy business.  Thankfully there are lots of very clever people in the world who have developed an array of different methods and tools to help us on our way.

As the round table approach develops, we are using the first three tables to explore which methods and tools are useful to apply to which problems or opportunities. This will help us in future round tables and also the organization as a whole.

In the training hot seat this time were Lean Six Sigma inspired tools. The tables brought the problems they are working on to see how the tools might help them.

Some highlights of the training:


  • A fishbone diagram is a way to identify all the potential causes for a problem you are trying to tackle


  • How to use the SIPOC tool to help scope out your process improvement exercise (pronounced sigh-poc btw). This tool really helps you focus in on the scope of your process or processes before you get lost.


  • The Voice of the Customer (or “Citizens” or other employees), is all important to any process improvement project so you need to be proactive in your research. Although complaints and negative feedback are useful, proactive research should help minimize this.


  • How to identify the most important root cause to tackle, using the Pareto Principle. This follows the assumption that by examining 20% of the causes, 80% of the problem can be solved. So, stop trying to solve everything as most things won’t make a big difference, but will suck your time and resources.


  • How to sort through many potential solutions to find the best one. Many ideas may sound fantastic but just won’t fly in the real world, so this will help you figure that out before you waste any resources.

So what does that mean for the City of Guelph?

Now Lean Six Sigma isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and does have its limitations. However it does offer some really useful tools that can be adapted to suit much of our work in municipal government. Lean Six Sigma originated in the world of manufacturing and is designed to maximize the value of a process and increase value for the customer, eliminating waste (unnecessary activities that waste time or inflate costs etc) and driving down costs.

You might be thinking what has manufacturing got to do with the work you do? Not much on the face of it, but if we dig a bit deeper there might be a fair bit. Many of our services are made up of a set of processes. A process is a series of steps in a particular order with a start and finish – like making a cup of coffee.  So in a municipal world, sorting recycled household waste is a process, treating waste water is a process, and selling a bus pass is a process.  All of these processes can be measured and controlled to be more effective in their goals; more efficient in the way they operate and ultimately add more value for the “customer”, or in our case citizens or internal users.

Verdict on the tools?

The round table participants found the training useful and can see how the tools will support their work at the City both on and off the round table. They also felt the tools could benefit from adaptation for a municipal environment as some of the language was getting in the way. Others felt that some of the tools were great for simple to moderate problems and less geared towards the complex ones that involve multifaceted human systems and behaviours.

The question for our round tables and the organization is how we can blend the highly technical data heavy methodologies such a Lean Six Sigma with the more human centred approaches that increase empathy for our citizens and tackle more complex, unpredictable problems where the root causes are more difficult to pin point and solve?

If you want to talk about how to use the tools in your work, send me a note We’d love for you to give them a try.