Tuesday, February 4, 2014

TQM and Lean in Government | Case Study included

As a student of public policy and management at Heinz, I am particularly interested in the vital role of governments. From grand federal government, all the way down to localized municipal and county agencies, governments exist to serve the public interest in almost every aspect of life. As such, while learning more about the principles of Lean thinking, I became interested in determining if these principles could be formally applied to make similar improvements in governmental organizations. Interestingly enough, though the research and literature is certainly not as established as the field is in private industry, process and operational improvements present the same tremendous opportunities for organizations of all sizes in the public sector.

Some initial research yielded a number of interesting results, the best of which offered a proper cursory glance at the application generally. In an August 2009 McKinsey Insights & Publication article entitled "A Leaner Public Sector," Maia Hansen and John Stoner outline the major components of any application of lean values within government. To begin, they encourage the reader to consider the ways in which lean has both "hard" and "soft" aspects. The hard aspects are those that relate to the technical tools and analytical solutions, while the soft aspects relate to the workplace culture and strategies to sustaining longterm buy-in throughout the organization. They explain that the best approach to a developing a holistic lean transformation is, after having established the technically-oriented improvements, ensuring that the right "management infrastructure" exists to enable and maintain the changes. Furthermore, they add that a further, necessary accompanying component of proper lean transformation includes efforts to change the "mind-sets and capabilities" of the front line. Without this, they caution that lean improvements are difficult to maintain for the long term.

The thoughts of Hansen and Stoner served to provide me with a broad overview of the philosophical considerations for lean renovations within the public sector. However, I wanted to find a useful academic resource that includes a case study. After some digging through resources most readily available, I found a fantastic research article and case study in the December 2005 edition of Total Quality Management journal. In "Implementation of TQM and Lean Six Sigma Tools in Local Government: a Framework and a Case Study" (Furterer and Elshennawy 2005), the authors at the University of Central Florida offer an up close look of a first person application of lean Six Sigma to the finance department of a Florida municipality that serves roughly 7000 residents. The department oversees many financial processes related to payroll, accounts payable and purchasing, accounts receivable, and monthly reconciliation. The department's approach to these processes before suffered in its efficiency and accuracy due to a variety of process-related issues that included a lack of guiding performance measures, no standardized procedures, and a bureaucratic culture. Along with the improvement of their technology, the authors were able to make the necessary recommendations that led to a 60% improvement in operating speed. The usefulness of this case study for me was that it provided a helpful look at a step-by-step process for the application of these principles and tools in a particular setting.

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