By: Rick Anderson
At FLT, we are all about producing results for our clients. So we’re really excited that state and local governments have begun using Lean process improvement projects to improve measurable outcomes and control costs. If you’re thinking about starting a Lean project, remember these four essential practices to ensure that your process improvement effort produces positive, sustainable results.
1. Establish Strong Executive Support
Lean management is a journey, not a “quick fix”. It’s a commitment to a set of practices that, when done correctly, will speed up daily work, improve employee morale, and produce dramatic results.
Remember, though, that the change process is difficult and there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way. This is particularly true in many public sector workplaces, where there is typically much less tolerance for experimentation and risk-taking as compared to many parts of the private sector.
That’s why strong executive support is so important. It takes on-going leadership to ensure that everyone understands that the organization is committed to a new way of thinking about and doing their work.
2. Find the Bright Spots
When considering a process improvement initiative, remember that you don’t have to tackle everything at once. Instead, consider making strategically incremental changes to support your process improvement vision.
As you start your change process, look hard for instances where there is already evidence of “success”. A clear understanding of what’s already working (or has worked in the past) is a great platform from which to grow a process improvement effort. These “bright spots” can also be found in the people within your organization who are more pre-disposed or accustomed to change.
A process or practice that is ripe for change is often another great place to look for bright spots. Building on these bright spots will create a culture that allows for broader organizational changes. “Finding the bright spots” is one of several helpful techniques outlined in a great new book called, Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard. The book provides a simple, practical, and powerful framework for thinking about change.
3. Foster “Mission-Driven” Innovation
At its essence, Lean is about learning how to continuously innovate towards a common, measurable goal. We love a new resource called “Rapid Office Kaizen” by Carlos Venegas at Lean Office Innovation. This workshop tool provides an easy way to quickly understand and begin practicing the skills needed to improve any governmental process.
Rapid Office Kaizen is a mash-up of Lean process improvement and action research that provides a structured way to “plan, act, observe and reflect”. These innovation skills can be taught and mastered but must be practiced continually to become a fundamental part of the culture of an organization. For this process to fully work, the effort must include clear, measurable, and compelling goals. Without measurable goals, there is neither a direction nor a compelling case for the innovation.
4. Use Available Resources
In 2012, Brian Ziegler, Director of Pierce County’s Department of Public Works & Utilities, wanted to start a Lean initiative to standardize the contracting processes across his six divisions. He initially sought a consultant but found it beyond his budget. After hearing about the new Local Government Performance Center, Pierce County entered into an agreement with the State Auditor’s Office to provide coaching and training throughout their nine-month process improvement project.
The effort resulted in huge time savings as multiple invoicing, work assignment, and procurement processes were consolidated into a single standard. “The state could invest in nothing better than local government process improvement. It’s where most government services really make a difference for citizens,” said Ziegler.
The State Auditor’s Office also launched the Lean Academy as a service of the Local Government Performance Center. The Lean Academy offers a new, supportive training center for local governments to learn process improvement techniques alongside peers from other governments. The first Lean Academy training focused on improving local permitting processes. Clark and Island Counties participated in the first round and Whatcom and Douglas Counties are in round two. Each government receives three days of training on Lean techniques and conducts a one-week workshop to analyze and improve their processes. Their results will be available on the Performance Center website.
FLT is honored to be working with the Local Government Performance Center to help local governments use Lean and other tools to improve their processes.