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Heinz Endowments to Fund Pilot Project Aimed at Increasing Efficiency in City Departments

Since he launched his mayoral campaign in 2013, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has been promising residents a more efficient and cost-effective style of governance.

While upgrades such as the new snow plow GPS tracking system and online permitting for park shelters have made life easier for some, the city is now gearing up to scrutinize city operations as a whole.

But before spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours analyzing the many individual processes that comprise city operations, the city will launch a pilot project, looking at a few processes from each department.

The Heinz Endowments is footing the bill for a $50,000 training package from Lean Six Sigma, an organization that helps municipalities, businesses, and other groups identify ways to make their processes more efficient.

Chief Innovation and Performance Officer Debra Lam said department directors and City Council will choose a few people from each department to participate in the pilot program.

“They will undergo this training, identify a project that they want to work on, and then work on trying to implement that project to look at improvements,” Lam said.

In her department, she gave the example of the help desk, which city employees contact when they are having trouble with technology resources such as printers or smart phones.

“How many people we have to interact (with), how many steps, what kind of knowledge do they have to have in order to fix that problem, what kind of resources, what kind of tools?” Lam said. “And then we think about how we can do this more efficiently.”

Lam said initial implementation of the Lean Six Sigma training program is best achieved using grant funds rather than operating budget funds because they are still unsure if the framework will prove useful for the city.

“If the pilot works, then obviously this will produce additional cost savings and it will be incorporated into wider city operations and into the budget,” Lam said. “But we don’t know if it will work or how it’s going to work until we have this initial pilot.”

Lam said the city of Denver underwent such an efficiency training process, and had such great success that they now operate their own training program for city and county employees.

Pittsburgh City Council last week gave preliminary approval to a bill to accept the grant funds from the Heinz Endowments, and will take a final vote on Tuesday.