Newt Endorses Lean & Six Sigma for Government; Staff Quits on Him


I met Newt Gingrich at the Ontario Hospital Association conference in late 2009, as I blogged about here: “Meeting Newt Gingrich, a Lean Champion.”

Yesterday morning, I was told that Newt had given an endorsement of the use of Lean and Six Sigma methods to help reduce waste in government, as reported here: “Newt Gingrich first Six Sigma pledge signer.” Later in the day, news broke that there was a mass exodus of his campaign staffers, all quitting his presidential campaign team: “Gingrich Aides Quit en Masse Over Conflicts.”

Let this be an exercise in not confusing correlation and causation! :-)

Newt's pledge to use Lean and Six Sigma comes at the prompting of Mike George, the author and consultant. I believe he was the guy who coined “lean six sigma” (and the oft-repeated mistaken idea that Lean is about efficiency and Six Sigma is what you need for quality). Lean is just as much about quality as Six Sigma, if you actually look at the two pillars of the Toyota Production System: just-in-time (flow) and “jidoka” (quality at the source). It's an incorrect straw man to imply that Lean is only about speed.

From the article about Newt's LSS pledge:

First candidates must promise, “to eliminate spending deficits and start paying down the national debt by 2017 by deploying Lean Six Sigma waste reduction methods to detect and eliminate 25 percent of spending per year across the federal government.”

Then “to attend two days of training on the Lean Six Sigma method and complete a waste reduction project prior to my inauguration.”

Gingrich was the first to sign, but others aren't far behind.

The focus on cost reduction, along with the training and project focus, makes this sound more like Six Sigma than a broader Lean mindset. What do you call this, the “Red, White & Blue Belt“?? Or maybe a “Red Belt” since Republican states are called “red states” on political maps??

Are the candidates going to be Lean and work toward improving quality, worker safety, and waiting times – all while better engaging those who do the work? That would be a great Lean commitment, focusing on all of that instead of just doing cost cutting.

I'm not sure that a pledge like this helps the overall Lean movement. Will this sort of thing just be mocked on “30 Rock” along with other GE-style Six Sigma silliness? I'm not doubting that Lean can be applied to government processes and services (see Iowa) – but wouldn't it be better to train “bureaucrats,” leaders and those who actually do work in departments like the DMV, the Passport department, the military, etc.? I'm not sure that Congressional representatives and senators are going to do a lot of good in reducing waste or, better yet, providing more value or the right value to constituents.

Reader comments on Politico were harsh, if not sometimes misinformed about Lean, including:

Oh great…. I believe that Lean Six Sigma is what Toyota was so proud to have used to increase the reliability of their vehicles, and we all know what the result of that was. Cutting corners at all costs isn't the answer.

Yes, “cutting corners at all costs” is certainly NOT the answer. But neither Lean nor Six Sigma are supposed to be about corner cutting. That and Toyota doesn't use Six Sigma. Other than that – great reader comment! ;-)

I doubt Newt's team quit because of the Lean and Six Sigma pledge. News reports implied they quit for other reasons.

Newt Gingrich‘s presidential campaign imploded on Thursday as his top advisers banded together and resigned, setting off a further exodus of aides and supporters and battering his hopes of a political comeback.

Mr. Gingrich's senior strategists confronted him on Thursday after he returned from a two-week vacation with his wife, Callista, which included a cruise through the Greek isles. Mr. Gingrich defended his holiday as a chance to “get away and think,” but aides chastised him, they said, for lacking the discipline to run a focused presidential campaign that could overcome rising doubts about his candidacy.

The breakup of the Gingrich team, which included a top-to-bottom slate of aides in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Washington and Georgia, provided one of the biggest jolts yet to the 2012 Republican presidential campaign.

The only conclusion that many can draw is that Newt is/was indeed a “vanity candidate” who was really “in the race” for the attention and publicity, not out of any serious effort or desire to be President? As smart as he is and as much as he knows about the history of Lean and Dr. Deming, do you think he is/was serious about applying it to government? Did he attempt to use Dr. Deming's lessons when Newt was speaker of the house?

Newt aside, do you think candidates should be endorsing Lean and/or Six Sigma for government? Or should they just leave it to those to manage and work in government processes?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Politics is all about the choice of words. Politicians can endorse Lean / Six Sigma principles without saying “Lean” and “Six Sigma”. If I were advising a politician, I would tell him to focus on generic terms like “waste reduction”, “efficiency”, “quality improvement”, and “employee empowerment.” Unfortunately too many people immediately interpret the word “Lean” to mean a bare bones staffing model and to get there, you cut jobs. And to a lesser extent, as you mention, Six Sigma will be associated with Jack Welch and GE layoffs.

    Get elected first. Then you can start using words like “Lean” and Six Sigma.” ;-)

    By the way, I like Newt. His problem is that he’s the smartest guy in the room.

  2. This post really hit close to home when it comes to politics. There are several lessons here.

    Lesson 1: People who are not educated in Lean or Six Sigma will draw their own conclusions as to the intent of the programs.

    Lesson 2: Because of Lesson 1, politicians need to be educated and and in turn teach by walking the talk.

    Lesson 3: Respect is an intrinsic lean value. No one goes to work thinking they are “waste” or even “wasteful”. Toyota survived the harshest of times but did not layoff employees unlike many other companies in North America suffering the same plight.

    Lesson 4: Branding. Our recently elected mayor ran on a campaign to “Stop the Gravy Train” – to eliminate inefficiencies and waste. His mandate was exemplified by his record on council yet the odds of becoming mayor were overwhelmingly against him. However, when he used the term “Gravy Train”, it resonated with everybody.

    Lesson 5: “Customer Service Excellence” was another term that our mayor used during his election campaign. The voter is the customer. Putting an end to the gravy train will improve customer service.

    Finally, after he was elected, he announced that he would be calling on lean consultants to help them “put an end to the gravy train to achieve customer service excellence”. Our mayor has been in office for 6 months and is delivering on his campaign promises to do just that.

    The real challenge for government leadership is to foster a culture where the realization of a greater vision requires the need to be lean.

    Great post – thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the comment, Redge. To point #3, I think one very helpful thing in lean semantics is that we can point to the waste activity without making it personal. We’re looking at what is waste, not “who is waste?” We all have waste in our daily work and routine, even the most highly educated and highly skilled surgeons.

      We’re looking for process waste, of course, not wasted people (and by “wasted,” I don’t mean high, another terminology issue).

      In government, a big part of the discussion is “what SHOULD we be doing” – doing the wrong things more efficiently isn’t really the goal.

      So the idea of “waste in government” has totally different implications than process waste. One party’s “waste” is another party’s “necessary program.” Using lean terms in this environment will really get people confused about lean, I think.

      • Mark, I agree with you regarding the definition of waste. I was attempting to address the sentiment of those who are concerned that their jobs may be threatened when the waste is removed. From their perspective, it doesn’t matter what you call it or how you wish to spin it, especially when your job has been eliminated. My negotiations with various unions where layoffs are concerned tend to reflect “net” effect of eliminating waste. “Neutron Jack”

        Regarding “waste in government”, the turning point for our mayor was the realization was that government is there to serve the people and fortunately, local politics here are not biased to “left vs right” thinking. As you stated, its about understanding and doing what should be done. According to the first principle of lean thinking – we need to define “value”.

        The focus here has been on essential services which are not necessarily party-centric such as public transportation, police services, garbage collection, public service unions, and postal services.

        I think it’s possible to instill the principles of lean thinking without having to resort to the terminology by which it is prescribed. By example, I’m doubtful that Toyota has rewritten their principles or philosophy based on the enlightened view that we have now labeled “lean”.

        I appreciate your time. We’re on the same page.

        • I think the application of Lean to distinct (and value adding) value streams, such as trash collection or processing of passports, is the less politically charged path to take with “lean government.” Non-partisan issues. Yes, Redge, we’re on the same page, I think.

  3. Mark,

    Very thought-provoking post.

    Whether or not Newt survives through to the primaries, he does have some wisdom here.

    My biggest concern is (political) will. Do politicians have the will (and mandate) to pursue the radical change that is synonymous with serious lean or lean six sigma implementation? Like most ineffective lean leaders in industry, they probably don’t…unless they share the same DNA as Chris Christie.

  4. It’s not “lean” per se, but candidate Herman Cain wants to see legislation that’s less bloated than current practice:

    CAIN: Engage the people. Don’t try to pass a 2,700 page bill – and even they didn’t read it! You and I didn’t have time to read it. We’re too busy trying to live – send our kids to school. That’s why I am only going to allow small bills – three pages. You’ll have time to read that one over the dinner table.

    He’s since backpedaled from any sort of strict 3-page limit by saying he was exaggerating.

    He has a point, though. There’s something to be said for simplicity in legal documents. In working with the Lean Enterprise Institute, legal documents and agreements are kept as short as possible, ideally one page.

  5. […] My guest for Podcast #125 is Mike George, the founder of Strong America Now, a “nonprofit organization dedicated to mobilizing and educating citizens to support only those Presidential candidates who commit to eliminating the deficit with no new taxes.” In this episode, George talks about his efforts to get candidates to commit to getting personally educated in Lean Six Sigma methods and to use these methods in their administration, if elected. You can also read my previous blog post about his initiative. […]

  6. Welcome Newt Gingrich – Candidate for the United States President to the Lean SIx Sigma Group.

    I would like to welcome Newt Gingrich as the newest member of the Lean Six Sigma Group.

    Mr. Gingrich supports Lean Six Sigma in helping to remove waste, while at the same time, increasing value in the US Government. He has agreed to an Online and Teleconference call Wednesday August 17th at 8:15pm Eastern Standard Time. This will be hosted by the the Process Excellence Network and on the Lean Six Sigma group We will be able to have up to 1,000 Lean Six Sigma members join the call and discussion.

    Please list as a comment 2 things
    1. How can Lean Six Sigma remove Waste and/or Add value to the US Government
    2. Your question to Mr. Newt Gingrich

    * Note: The Lean Six Sigma nor Process Excellence Network group does not endorse any 1 candidate but do support candidates leveraging Lean Six Sigma as part of their solutions and approach.

    When: Wednesday August 17th Lean Six Sigma call at 8:15pm ET:

    Where: register for free at

    Lastly – check out – this is a pledge to save $500B usine Lean Six Sigma in the Goverment.

    • Thanks for sharing, Steve.

      My comments for Newt would be this:

      1) Don’t let an additional bureaucracy of Six Sigma infect the existing bureaucracy of DC. Focus on improvement, not on training X number of “belts.”

      Look at the model of states like Iowa and Washington that are using Lean to improve state government. I’m not sure if we really need Six Sigma statistical analysis to figure out how to improve government processes.

      2) I’d prefer to see the focus on quality improvement (providing better service and the right service) instead of just cost cutting.

      3) Question – with the ridiculous government budgeting rules and mindsets, how do we make sure “savings” are not just on paper and that they are reflected in actual budget and spending decreases??


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