Posted by: knightbird | February 9, 2015

Premature Implementation of Lean Government

So few Lean implementations are successful. It is estimated that about 6% to 7% of Lean implementations are successful. That means we have a lot of failures. I want to encourage our governments who are considering an implementation of Lean Government to do it thoughtfully, and for the right reasons.

What are the wrong reasons? To meet a budget crisis is not a great time to introduce Lean. Ideally the introduction should occur before. Why is that? Because it is always right to learn how to deliver the greatest value we can for our citizens. Our tax dollars are important, and we should be seeking greater value for those dollars every day. To reduce the number of employees on payroll is really, really the wrong reason. Our people are important, and we need to respect the work they do and help them to improve that work every day. To apply Lean Selectively to address just a few problems is not the right way either. Continuous flow and pull systems require greater coordination and elimination of siloed services. Administrative processes affect every service governments provide and improving those services helps everyone in state government.

Why implement a long term strategy? First, Lean implementations fail when they are not comprehensive, long term and visionary. The benefits of Lean thinking come from thousands upon thousands of small improvements. Think of it this way, in a process that hands 100 transactions a day, saving 10 seconds frees up almost 70 hours annually. That’s almost one paycheck’s worth of work. Compound this type of savings with thousands more, and the benefits are substantial. When you add the benefits of transaction elimination and consolidation, the benefits add up rapidly in a system wide implementation.

Second, a long term strategy encourages employee buy in, If a CEO (President, Executive Director, Governor, Mayor—any leader) makes it clear that employee engagement is a condition of advancement, employees eventually buy in. It’s my experience that line employees actually buy in as soon as the first improvements are recognized. They understand how much improved their work lives will become.

Third, reliance on consultants is expensive. A long term strategy allows you to schedule training and events that advance improvements. A long term strategy also frustrates the foot draggers who believe they can keep doing work the way they always have and survive the short time a politician or political employee is there. Career, foot dragging employees get frustrated if change is happening around them and either buy in or move on. The longer Lean is around, the more comfortable and knowledgeable employees become. And new employees can be recruited to a Lean Culture.

Finally, the way we allocate resources and report improvements changes over time. Old, ineffective performance measures give way to dynamic, improvement and change encouraging measures in a visual workplace. The more we know about our workplace, the more it improves under a Lean philosophy. Most employees don’t truly understand their workplace. They know what they do, but are constantly frustrated by all of the other requirements and inputs they face. Waiting for someone to perform their piece of the work you are engaged in impacts your work and your performance. When we establish clear processes with responsibilities outlined and a visual workplace that tells us when someone is not able to deliver, makes a difference. We can step in and manage a problem that we know about.

If a leader is not committed to implementing Lean Government, for the right reasons, with appropriate resources and a personal commitment to their employees, then please don’t. We can’t stand any more failures because failures destroy faith in the management system. I had this discussion with a colleague a couple of years ago. A flawed implementation impacted their belief in the management system, and created skepticism in this colleague. Once you start, you need to do it the right way. If you can’t, then at least leave the Lean Implementation opportunity to someone with greater insight than you have.

I don’t want to sound harsh in my advice. But with the HUGE BENEFIT to be gained from a proper implementation, don’t screw it up by an improper one.

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