Thursday, March 21, 2013

Quality in Local Government

Paul Borawski, in his latest ASQ blog, talks about quality improvement efforts in various city governments including Milwaukee, WI, Coral Springs, FL, and Irving, TX.

I have similar experience with the City of Hutchinson - a small town in central Minnesota - where the mayor and city council wanted to establish a "One Stop Shop" for licensing and permitting in the building/planning/zoning departments. A cross-functional team was assembled from across three different government entities: the State of MN, McLeod County, and City of Hutchinson. A problem statement was developed focusing on delivering constituent experience and satisfaction. The 'DMAIC' problem solving methodology was employed to define a new operating system. Quality tools used include surveys, fishbone diagrams, FMEAs, C&E, brainstorming, affinity diagrams, inter-relationship diagrams, experimentation, SPC and control plans.

A more detailed explanation of this example and other personal success stories using statistical thinking are available in the book, "Improving Performance Through Statistical Thinking" by Britz, et al (ASQ Quality Press, Item H0160).

Quality Tools in Forensics

In his March blog, ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks if anyone had spotted a place where a quality tool would really come in handy. I am happy to announce that I am in the midst of a planned weight loss program. I lost 52 lbs during July-November to achieve my target weight, and have been in transition mode back to "normal" foods since December while maintaining my new weight.

During my weekly consulting sessions the weight loss coach would take my blood pressure, measure my weight and every few weeks conduct an "in-body" scan of muscle vs body fat. I continue to be amazed by the large variation between blood pressure monitors and the apparent lack of standardization between the different scales. Fortunately, these devices are not life critical in a weight loss program, but how often do you question whether the lab equipment at your clinic, in the dentist's office, or in the hospital are calibrated, or whether the test methods are validated and in a state of statistical control?

In a story making local and state headlines, the St Paul Police Crime Lab suspended its drug testing in July 2012 after public defenders challenged the reliability of the lab's work in court. The lab provides drug testing for Dakota, Ramsey and Washington counties. The problems at the crime lab have thrown thousands of past and pending cases into question. In a report from MPR News, "A senior lab employee also testified that the lab lacks written procedures for testing evidence for drugs and provides only informal training to new employees. The lab, which processes up to 50 cases per day, does not regularly review its work to check for errors, the employees said, and, like many other smaller crime labs in Minnesota, is not accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors."

Minnesota law does not require accreditation for crime labs, although evidence from these labs play an increasingly larger role in convicting people of drug possession, murder, and other crimes. Perhaps this case will cause the state government to reconsider the value of quality audits, equipment calibration, standard procedures, measurement quality assurance and operator training and certification.