Over the past several decades we have seen a lot of programs like Lean come and go. They usually start with the boss seeing a presentation at a conference or reading an article on the subject, maybe some impressive statistics from the private sector, and a desire to use this new tool to help their department get better. Then there is a committee, a catchy name, a kickoff event, and training for everyone. The best-case scenario is that we have a few projects that yield some success, but more often, we grow frustrated at the lack of real improvements and we start looking for the next big thing.
If you have been in government for as long as we have, these probably all look familiar: TQM, Performance Measures, Six Sigma, 360 Evaluations, and Pay for Performance. All embraced as the next big thing to fix government, touted in conferences, and celebrated for their potential. And--forgive the generalization--all fads that came and went.
Lean feels a lot like the new fad right now. The private sector has certainly seen success with it, and the jargon has made its way to the public sector. We are seeing more and more training on Lean being offered, more and more Lean consultants, and desperate leaders hoping to see improvements and hoping this is the magic bullet.
IT'S ALL ABOUT CONTEXT
Unfortunately, Lean is not the magic bullet. Not because it is a bad methodology or toolset, but because there is no magic bullet. There is no one thing that is going to radically improve government, and failure to recognize that actually puts us in jeopardy of missing out on what Lean can be: a way to improve our processes and increase our capacity to do more good.
So how do we exploit all the good Lean has to offer without making it a fad? Context. The Baldrige criteria taught us that successful organizations focus on more than just process improvement. They must also look at areas such as customer satisfaction, long-term planning, outcome and performance measurement, and employee development. Lean is great for process improvement, but alone, it will not make us successful. It is a way but not the way.
We have seen success in many government projects using Lean tools for process improvement. When capacity is your main issue, Lean …