I’ve been writing for a while now about how we in the 9-1-1 industry need to look outside the 4 walls of the PSAP at how we can improve public safety outcomes, not just call taking and handling times. Admittedly, this is not just a “9-1-1” function, but this level of thinking has to start somewhere and since we stand as the connection between citizens and public safety we’re as good a starting point as any.
I have a number of friends in the manufacturing industry, some of whom are pretty well known 6-sigma consultants and speakers. I started wondering about how the principles my friends expose apply to what we are doing. We aren’t trying to build a better widget, but if 6-sigma can apply to improving operations in a hospital emergency room why couldn’t apply to identifying and responding to an emergency call for service.
Ultimately, there is a lot we can learn from the rigorous approach to analyzing a process that results in drastically reducing “failure rates” to below 1 out of 1,000,000, but the thing that stood out most to me are the two distinct 6-sigma methodologies: one for projects aimed at improving existing business processes and one for projects aimed at creating new business processes. This struck me as core to what has been bothering me about the approach many are taking to public safety technology, and more specifically NG9-1-1 projects. If we follow the DMAIC project methodology, which is designed to improve existing processes, we’ll get fewer dropped calls and shorter call handling times. This methodology entails carefully measuring steps in our PSAPs and identifying how we can improve those steps and put controls around them to make ensure rapid identification and correction of future “defects” in the process. On the surface that sounds great, but it misses the real opportunity.
We are in the early stages of a massive overhaul of our entire public safety communications infrastructure. From FirstNet to NG9-1-1, we are developing a powerful new network. If there has ever been a time to follow the DMADV or DFSS 6-sigma methodologies it is now. The core difference in these “new process” methodologies, is that we start by designing goals and characteristics of what we want to accomplish then design a system and the accompanying processes to best achieve those goals. It isn’t about simply improving on one aspect of an existing process, it’s about questioning whether that process is even the right one! If we don’t take a step back and look holistically at the entire chain of an emergency call for service we are really just re-arranging deck chairs on the titanic. The definition of a “call” is changing drastically, our technology is changing drastically, why shouldn’t we also be looking at the “process” of identifying and handling a request for service as a green field for improvement?