Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lean Government

Lean thinking or lean manufacturing has been one of the different process improvements adopted by companies worldwide. This methodology was derived from the Japanese manufacturing companies but it has gained momentum and has been adopted by various types of industries. Healthcare is one of the industries that has gained many advantages after applying this type of business practice in their processes. One example is Seattle’s Children Hospital, which about 4 years ago had a complete chaos in its supply system (1). Thanks to adopting a program called “continuous performance improvements”, C.P.I., which focuses on examining every patient’s characteristic and reducing or eliminating any activity that doesn’t produce value to the patient they have successfully increased their efficiency. This increase in efficiency has been reflected in cost reduction, patient addition and therefore profit boost.

Now it’s the turn for the government to benefit from applying these practices. Washington Governor, Jay Inslee, recently chose two CEO’s to run the departments of Social and Health Services and Employment Security (2). Why has this governor placed his confidence in two people that don’t have any experience in politics?

One of the CEO’s, Dale Peinecke, has been working for an aerospace supplier for the last 16 years. He said in an interview that the key reason they had chosen him was to bring in lean manufacturing techniques into government (2).

Lean government is a technique that allows identifying the most efficient way to provide government services. Government agencies have a lot of administrative and operational processes which can benefit from identifying the features that create value and translate them into uninterrupted movement and therefore efficiency. To make this uninterrupted flow of the processes it’s necessary to identify the activities that don’t add value to the citizens and consequently get rid of them. One perfect example of an unnecessary task in government is the redundancy of approval cycles in budget related processes. Although it is necessary to implement adequate controls to have a good accountability and traceability of government funds, it is also important to optimize and reduce additional steps in some of these processes. Other techniques that are applied in lean government are visual aids and controls that provide fast information, improving decision making.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has promoted the use of lean techniques in government agencies which help to increase the transparency and improve performance in an express time frame (3). The Agency has divided the implementation of government lean technique into three stages: Event Planning, Event Implementation and Event Follow-Up. The Event Planning guarantees that the lean government process is well scoped and planned. The Event Implementation ensures that a correct team is in charge of delivering the changes in processes and guiding the people on the new approach. Finally, the last stage supports and perfects the process.

It sounds as a rigorous and thoughtful approach to introduce lean manufacturing techniques to government agencies, but in reality government agencies are subject to political influences which may not be subject to optimization through the application of stylized techniques.

Do you think this the correct way to run government agencies and political entities? Is society another component of a supply chain?


1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lean in Government. Iowa Department of Management. [Online] May 2009. [Cited: February 4, 2013.] http://lean.iowa.gov/files/Lean%20Govt%20Starter%20Kit-V2%207-09.pdf.
2. Wilhelm, Steve. Gov.-elect Inslee appoints two from manufacturing to top posts. Business Journal. [Online] January 10, 2013. [Cited: February 4, 2013.] http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2013/01/10/gov-elect-inslee-appoints-two-from.html?page=all.
3. Weed, Julie. Factory Efficiency Comes to the Hospital. The New York Times. [Online] July 9, 2010.

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