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James J. Kline

Customer Care

Quality in Local Government: A Reinvigoration

A sound quality management foundation exists in local government

Published: Tuesday, September 8, 2020 - 12:03

In today’s coronavirus environment, governments at all levels are under greater fiscal pressure. For instance, Oregon’s governor has told state departments to prepare for a 12-percent reduction in their budgets. Given this environment, perhaps it is time to reexamine an established approach to improving operational performance. That approach is quality management.

From 1992 to 2002, I researched and wrote about quality award-winning governments in the United States.1 With extra time on my hands, I started cleaning out old files. In the process, I found a few of the documents backing up that work.

The documents included information about 32 local governments that were using total quality management (TQM). While reviewing the current websites of these local governments, I discovered that at least seven are using or mentioning quality management. It might seem disappointing that only seven of 32 are using some form of lean management, Six Sigma, continuous improvement, or Baldrige Criteria. However, that several of these local governments have been implementing quality management for 20 years shows there is a sound quality management foundation in local government. This is a foundation that can be built upon.

This article examines four local-government Baldrige winners and three local governments that have recently implemented lean Six Sigma (LSS).

Baldrige Award winners

City of Coral Springs, Florida

One of the local governments that has consistently used quality management techniques is the City of Coral Springs, Florida. The city’s effort started in 1992. In 1994 the focus switched from quality management generally to the Baldrige Criteria. In 1997 and 2003, the city received the Florida Sterling Quality Award. In 2007 the city won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In each case, the city was the first in the nation to win each award.

In the press release announcing the receipt of the Baldrige Award, the city indicated the following benefits. “By adopting those principles, the city is using the best tools to create the most value. Applying for these awards helps by analyzing processes and receiving objective third-party critiques that are invaluable in terms of finding new ways to improve.”2

The city has continued to apply quality techniques to this day. For instance, the 2019 budget lists the city’s core values. One of the core values is “continuous improvement.” Included in this list are several areas of focus, including:
• Plan for quality.
• Make quality a never-ending effort.
• Focus on process improvements to increase quality.
• Create a culture in which the right things are done the first time and every time.

As the first local government to win the Baldrige Award, Coral Springs provides a model for other local governments that want to use quality management techniques.

City of Irving, Texas

The City of Irving, Texas, is the second local government to win the Baldrige Award. In 2006 the city adopted a “nontraditional business model” based on the Baldrige Criteria. The criteria were used to evaluate annual performance. In 2011 the city won the Texas Award for Performance Excellence. In 2012 the city won the Baldrige Award.

Between 2006 and 2011, the city implemented lean Six Sigma (LSS) programs, which resulted in 53,096 hours saved and $44 million in cost savings.

In 2016 the city created the Innovation and Performance Office. One of the objectives of the office was to facilitate continuous improvement. This is accomplished “through the use of various methodologies and approaches (process mapping, root cause analysis, current state evaluation, stakeholder analysis”).   

City of Fort Collins, Colorado

The third local government Baldrige Award winner is the City of Fort Collins, Colorado.

The city started its quality journey in 1987. In 2005 it adopted an organizationwide mission to provide “exceptional service for an exceptional community.” It initially used the Baldrige Criteria to assess its leadership systems. In 2010 the city began using the Baldrige Criteria to conduct a systemwide evaluation. In 2015 the city submitted its first Baldrige application. A second application was submitted in 2016. The city won the Baldrige Award in 2017.

Since 2018, the city’s lean process improvement has saved $588,800 in soft and hard savings. In addition, 552 staff and leaders have been trained in process improvement methodologies.3 In a 2019 budget message, the city manager stressed that the city exemplifies an efficient, innovative, transparent, and effective government.

With the advent of the Covid 19 pandemic, the city expedited the “Adopt a Neighbor” program to assist those locked in their homes who had no assistance. The program enabled volunteers to check on and assist neighbors.

Like Coral Springs, Florida and Irving, Texas, Fort Collins continues its effort to sustain quality management efforts.              

City of Germantown, Tennessee

The most recent local-government Baldrige Award winner is Germantown, Tennessee. Germantown won the Baldrige Award in 2019. The city described its mission as “Excellence. Every day.” In 2015 the city adopted a citizen-driven strategic plan called Germantown Forward 2030. The plan includes “innovation, creativity, and continuous improvement.” The city has an established performance improvement system. It is rooted in “Six Sigma, the classic plan-do-check-act (PDCA) methodology.” The methodology is used for daily continuous improvement. Six Sigma Black Belts are used when needed to address specific issues.

These Baldrige winners exemplify local governments that have implemented quality management for a considerable period. They provide a base and show its viability. The Baldrige Criteria, however, are not the only quality management approach being used. Some local governments are using lean Six Sigma.

Using lean Six Sigma

City of Tyler, Texas

The City of Tyler, Texas, adopted lean Six Sigma in 2009. Between 2009 and 2012, the program resulted in $2.4 million direct-dollar and efficiency savings. Since implementing lean Six Sigma, the city has trained 123 Blue Belts, 29 Green Belts, and seven Black Belts. The Green Belts and Black Belts must complete at least two improvement projects. These activities are all part of the city’s Performance Excellence Program.

City of Denver, Colorado

In 2011 Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock created the Peak Performance Program. The program was expanded to include Denver County. From 2011 to 2017, $25 million was saved in program performance. In 2019, 450 projects resulted in a saving of $4.3 million. Ultimately, the Peak Performance Program became the Peak Performance Academy. The academy is open to governments around the world. In 2019, the academy trained 320 Green Belts and 278 Black Belts. Many of those trained were from other jurisdictions in the United States and internationally.

In 2017 the county implemented lean Six Sigma. A 2018 assessment of the impact indicates that 80 projects from 20 departments saved more than $4 million and 20,000 hours in staff time. In addition, more than 600 employees were training in the lean Six Sigma methodology. The 2019–2020 budget contains funds to continue the lean Six Sigma process under the Launch Kerns initiative.


This retrospective of quality management implementations by local governments clearly indicates that its use is not at the levels seen during the 1990s. However, quality management is still being used. Some local governments have been using quality management for more than 20 years. Its use has resulted in substantive cost savings and efficiency improvements. At a time when governments at all levels are experiencing added fiscal pressure due to the impact of the coronavirus, redeploying quality management offers a proven approach to dealing with this pressure.

1. Kline, James J. “Total Quality Management in Local Government.” Government Finance Review, August 1992, pp. 7–11.
2. City of Coral Springs. “City’s use of Baldrige Criteria benefits citizens.” Coral Springs magazine, winter 2008., p. 3. 
3. Runyan, Terri. Email correspondence. July 10, 2020. Runyan is the Performance Excellence program manager for Fort Collins, Colorado.


About The Author

James J. Kline’s picture

James J. Kline

James J. Kline, Ph.D., CERM, is the author of numerous articles on quality in government and risk analysis. He is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. A manager of quality/organizational excellence and a Six Sigma green belt, he has consulted for the private sector and local governments. His book, Enterprise Risk Management in Government: Implementing ISO 31000:2018, is available on Amazon. He can be reached at jeffreyk12011@live.com.