Lean Process Improvement in Government

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November 2, 2017

Lean Process Improvement in Government

Federal, local and state government entities face unprecedented challenges. Lower tax revenues and higher costs have contributed to perennial budget deficits. Concerned government leaders searching for an answer will be interested in a highly successful management approach that has seen application in local, state and the federal government. The approach is based on the work of quality guru W. Edwards Deming who repeatedly demonstrated that excellence can be achieved at the least cost through process improvement.

While originally studied in manufacturing, Deming’s principles have proven equally applicable to service industries, including federal, municipal and state government agencies. Deming’s approach, dubbed “Lean Thinking” for its ability to do more with less, focuses on removing steps within your processes that are not necessary and do not add value.

Many organizations in today’s world have faced a similar do -more-with-less challenge. Interestingly, those who have successfully met it, regardless of industry, share a commonality – the focus on lean process improvement. This approach to improving performance (doing more) while using less precious resources (with less) has been coined “Lean” by James Womack and his researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for its ability to do just that. Lean Process Improvement is not about layoffs or downsizing. Rather, the Lean Approach focuses on doing more with existing resources-lean is about sweating assets not about sweating people.

Everything we do, whether in our personal life or work life, is a function of process – making a sandwich, conducting a meeting, preparing a report – they all are processes. Each process is made up of a series of discrete steps that include a defined beginning step, a defined end step, and multiple steps between the two. This series of process steps yields an intended result (product or service) that is desired (valued) by someone (customer). The important relationship among customer, value, and process distinguishes the Lean philosophy from other process improvement philosophies. Much can be achieved by removing non-value-added steps from our processes—efficiency and cost reduction to say the least. When couched in the language of value-added the possibilities are endless.

Lean is a program of organizational improvement that empowers each and every worker in your organization. The essence of lean thinking in government is to engage all government employees responsible for the work in redesigning it, keeping in mind the need to provide the best possible product or service to the taxpayers/customers, and to increase their personal performance and job satisfaction through process improvement. Lean engages everyone in streamlining their work processes by identifying and eliminating the steps within the process that are wasteful.

Lean in government is not a program du jour it has been adopted by other city and state governments and has delivered some excellent results. The city of Fort Wayne, IN started it’s lean process improvement initiative in 2000 and saved $30 million dollars over 8 years, but the real benefit was the vast improvement in city services. Some other city and government agencies embarking on the lean journey include: Grand Rapids, MI, Buffalo, NY, Lane County, OR, Florida Department of Revenue, Tulsa, OK and Fort Dodge, IA.

In the government of the future whoever is elected should pursue the challenge of doing more with less and utilize the tools of Lean Process Improvement to meet that challenge. A recent example of meeting that challenge is the state of Nebraska.

Gov. Ricketts, State Agencies Highlight Customer Service and Operational Excellence Successes

For more information on how government entities are using lean to gain efficiencies and reduce costs visit this site: http://leangovcenter.com/govweb.htm


Willie Carter began his career as a paint chemist at a Akzo Nobel subsidiary in suburban Chicago where his love for manufacturing began. Over the years his career has taken him to work with numerous SMEs to Fortune 500 companies in assisting them with optimizing their operations and administrative functions through continuous process improvement techniques. Carter is currently serving as president of Quantum Associates, Inc, which specializes in optimizing business processes to minimize costs, accelerate cycle times and improve efficiency. The company’s overarching goal is to help clients do more with less. Carter holds a BA in Chemistry as well as an MBA. He holds certifications as Lean Sensei, Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence and ISO 9000 Lead Assessor. He is also the author of Process Improvement for Administrative Departments—The Key to Internal Customer Satisfaction.

He can be reached by email at wcarter@quantumassocinc.com or by phone at 847-919-6127.

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