Lean Process Improvement: A Practical and Proven Performance Management System for the Public Sector

Article excerpt

Lean for the Public Sector. The Pursuit of Perfection in Government Services

By Bert Teeuwen

Productivity Press

2010, 223 pages, $29.95

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Lean process improvement is a system for reducing or eliminating activities that don't add value to a business process. Doing so reduces cost, increases quality, and/or improves the customer's experience. Lean process improvement has its origins in manufacturing, but it has proven its effectiveness in service industries as well. Nevertheless, government organizations have some unique characteristics when it comes to applying Lean. Bert Teeuwen wrote Lean for the Public Sector as a guide to adapting the philosophy and techniques of Lean to government organizations. The book is organized around essential principles of Lean:

* Put the customer at center stage.

* Add value for the customer.

* Make sources of waste visible and eliminate them.

* Aim for employees to own the process.

PUT THE CUSTOMER AT CENTER STAGE

In the Lean philosophy, the value that a business process creates is defined by the customer--that is, the customer decides if a service is valuable to them. In government, however, the concept of a "customer" is not as straightforward as it is in the private sector. Governments look at the citizen, who can have many possible roles, including:

* Customer. Similar to a private-sector customer. An example would be a public utility, and the source of value is receiving a specific good or service in a satisfactory manner.

* User. Someone who uses public facilities--a park, for instance. Users want facilities to be clean, safe, and accessible.

* Subject. Government creates order, which is of value to the public, but it might also require citizens to apply for a permit or receive sanctions for breaking a law. These "subjects" want sanctions to be just, fast, and without administrative cost.

* Taxpayer. Citizens pay taxes for public services and want the tax levying process to be transparent, fast, and effective. They also want assurances that their money is not being wasted.

Distinguishing among the roles citizens play is important because it means that different citizens may define "value" differently for the same business process. For example, a citizen applying for a building permit will want the permit processed as quickly as possible. However, his neighbors might find value in some delays in the process--such as a public hearing where they can learn about the potential impact of construction and make their views known.

ADDING VALUE FOR THE CUSTOMER

From the standpoint of a customer, business processes contain a high degree of waste. Lean seeks to identify these sources of waste and reduce or eliminate them. Lean philosophy commonly identifies eight sources of waste (see "The 8 Sources of Waste and How to Eliminate Them" in this issue of Government Finance Review). Some of these include:

* Rework. Making corrections to work that has already been done or repeatedly performing the same task (for example, entering the same information into different systems).

* Inspection. Checking and re-checking work. Requiring so many checks implies that the organization does not trust its people and processes.

* Over-processing. Additional work put into a product or service that takes it beyond the quality standard that will satisfy the customer's needs.

* Waiting. Delay caused by waiting for information from other departments, co-workers, or applicants.

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However, adding value is not just a matter of subtracting activities that don't create value. In a profit-driven organization, an action creates value if: 1) the action is right the first time; 2) the product or service ultimately provides customers with the desired change in their lives; and 3) customers want to pay for the product or service. …