Magazine article Government Finance Review

The City of Conroe, Texas: Lessons from a Lean Veteran

Magazine article Government Finance Review

The City of Conroe, Texas: Lessons from a Lean Veteran

Article excerpt

The Lean program in Conroe, Texas, has experienced victories, slowdowns, and revitalizations. The city has pursued Lean principles fairly aggressively, and this provides lessons learned and suggests ways to prepare for some of the obstacles that can develop in a Lean program. After all, it is good to learn from your own mistakes, but it is even better to learn from those of others.

CREATE A LEAN CULTURE

As with any strategic endeavor, senior and mid-level management are the models for those they manage. Lean thinking starts with the tone at the top and filters throughout the organization. In Conroe, the internal auditor worked with the process review teams, and training and support were initially provided by an outside consulting firm. Throughout the city, teams were trained in Lean methods and participated in process reviews for other departments so they would understand how Lean worked and be able to apply it in their own departments.

Managers sometimes agree to Lean concepts in theory, but not in practice, so the first step to real success with Lean is to make sure the yes you receive is a true buy-in. The managers who support Lean will be more than willing to have their processes reviewed by teams and take the time to complete the improvement ideas that result. Managers who have not fully grasped the benefits of Lean thinking will not participate in having processes reviewed, complete the tasks to make the recommended improvements, or provide adequate resources for their staff to participate in the Lean program. After a while, this behavior can create challenges in keeping the Lean momentum going.

Honest feedback is a major part of any Lean program. One way to get it is by educating both senior and mid-level managers about Lean thinking. Ensure that they receive adequate training to understand the concepts and benefits of maintaining Lean applications. After the plan has been provided, the vision explained, and training provided, ask for honest feedback. It can be easier to request three to five pros and cons about the Lean program, and if you suspect that your audience may hesitate to voice their reservations (perhaps because you have more formal or informal authority in the organization), try asking that the feedback be presented without names.

Good feedback doesn't just help bring everyone on board; it can also shed light on weaknesses in the Lean program. The information you receive from your managers can be used to enhance the program or as an opportunity to provide additional explanation or training.

Also provide Lean training for all employees, not just management. This communicates that the Lean program is a part of every position throughout the organization, not an add-on or something only Lean team members need to worry about. The more people are a part of developing the process, the greater the ownership they will have in the program.

FRUIT-PICKING AND TREE-TRIMMING

Initial Lean process reviews seek to pick the low-hanging fruit. Immediate, visible results encourage participation, so the obvious corrections are a great place to start. Eventually, you will delve deeper into the process and move toward trimming the tree itself. Just as trees that are pruned at the right time will flourish and grow healthier than those left on their own, work processes need to be evaluated and trimmed down to eliminate unproductive steps and help the organization to grow and flourish.

Some of the corrections that will be identified in the initial process review will be the obvious areas of waste. It can be easy to identify situations in which one person duplicates time and effort to input information into a software program because the needed data is from another department that uses an incompatible program. Likewise, it is obvious that something needs to be done about processes that require customers to stand in line for undue amounts of time. …

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