Photo courtesy of West Virginia University
With a backlog of DNA cases at the West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory and a push to do more with less money, Sheri Lemons needed help. The director of the state crime lab was desperate to apply business skills to forensic science, so she turned to West Virginia University to help her manage people, money, and projects.
The solutions Lemons needed were in WVU’s Center for Executive Education, where she found the internationally recognized Forensic Management Academy and Lean Six Sigma programs. Call it a game-changer for Lemons and for the entire state forensic lab.
In 2014, Lemons attended the FMA when she was serving as acting director for the West Virginia Lab. She said she knew going into her role as director that she would have multiple responsibilities, so FMA was the first training she requested of her supervisor. Within two years, she sent her team of six managers to participate in the program.
“People management, financial management project management—these are the things that do not always come easily to people. We need to have that training. After I took the course, I knew immediately that when I had the money and I was able to secure a grant, I not only wanted to send all of my supervisors but I wanted them to go together,” Lemons said. “I wanted them to bounce ideas off each other, do some real team-building within the group, and then bring that back to the laboratory and share it.”
As the director, Lemons is responsible for oversight of the laboratory, ensuring that the testing provided is of the utmost quality and the operations are running smoothly, efficiently, and responsibly. With the goal to improve some of the processes in the Charleston laboratory and reduce the turnaround time of DNA cases and the backlog, Lemons also attended the Lean Six Sigma program in 2017 and became a successfully certified Green Belt.
“The testing we’re doing is funded through tax payer dollars, so we want to ensure that we’re doing the best we can with that money,” she said. “When I heard the Lean class was being provided, what struck me was that I am being asked to manage a laboratory for the state in a tight budget time. I’m basically being asked to do more with less every day and yet still provide this valuable service for justice for victims in West Virginia. Well, what better way to do that than to take that course and learn how to operate more efficiently and get the job done more responsibly.”
Housed in the College of Business and Economics, the Center routinely offers the FMA and LSS as part of a larger effort of the College to address the need for leadership and management training and research within the forensic community. Through these programs, the Center has cultivated a partnership with the forensic community at the state level and helped to elevate forensic professionals like Lemons to new levels in their careers.
The Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification is a major step in process improvement and reduction of turnaround time and backlog of DNA cases, according to CEE director Martina Bison-Huckaby. The Lean Six Sigma methodology that has been adopted by various industries since the 1980s combines both the effort of process improvement and quality control by reducing the number of “defects,” or errors, to 3.4 per one million opportunities.
“Reducing errors in forensic crime laboratories is of the utmost importance, as errors in the analysis of evidence could lead to the wrong conviction with irreparable damage to individuals and society as a whole,” Bison-Huckaby said. “It was great to have Sheri in the course. Beyond the fact that she was an excellent student and very passionate about her work, I also appreciated seeing the impact our program had on the West Virginia crime lab, so it was extremely rewarding for both the Center and B&E because our program played a part in improving our state.”
The WVU Center for Executive Education is offering the Lean Six Sigma Certification program again this year beginning March 20. It consists of a series of 17 online sessions that are each two hours in length, delivered over the course of 27 weeks and concluding with a one-day, face-to-face concluding session in Pittsburgh Sept. 11.