Building Public Support for Lean

It’s always encouraging when lean principles are applied to the public sector to make government work more efficiently. In a small community, every aspect of government could be affected.

            In the U.S., that might be one town. But elsewhere in the world, it could be an entire nation.

            Jayanth Murthy of the Kaizen Institute has been working to achieve exactly that kind of implementation. At the recent AME conference, he spoke about his group’s efforts to banish muda (waste) from the entire country of Mauritius – an island nation off the coast of Africa with a population of 1.2 million.

            The Institute didn’t start out in Mauritius with the government as its client. The group had been working on lean implementations for textile companies in Mauritius, and that led to contact with the government.

            The government efforts, which began five years ago with full support from the president, have focused on throughput time – reducing how long it takes for a government department to provide service to citizens. Targeted areas have included at least 10 ministries, from the police department to the tax office to the prime minister’s office.

            There have been real gains, such as reducing the submission time for a passport application from 45 minutes to seven minutes. And word of the Mauritius initiative has prompted interest in other countries; Kenya has launched a similar program after a visit to Mauritius by a Kenyan official, and programs are also being established in Botswana and Dubai. (The Mauritius activities were the focus of an article in the AME magazine Target earlier this year.)

            However, what I find most interesting about what is happening in Mauritius are efforts to involve the general public and not just government employees.

            The improvement efforts were accompanied by an advertising campaign for “Muda-Free Mauritius,” and schoolchildren were encouraged to become “Muda Busters.” (The children were asked to explain the concepts to others, and collect signatures, which they could redeem for prizes.) The campaign is ongoing.

            Think of it as making your customers aware of your improvement efforts, and encouraging them to support those efforts. If successful, this kind of PR campaign could condition people to expect and demand efficient service, which can help sustain the drive for continuous improvement. Now there’s a way to achieve culture change.

            U.S. politicians always talk about the inefficiencies of government and how we need to improve. The issue is so old in this country, with so little progress having been made, that our population may be too jaded for a PR campaign (even in one local community) to have much impact.

            Nonetheless, I hope the efforts to apply lean to the public sector in this country continue. And with any luck, the successes achieved may build some public support.

            By the way, the Mauritius government that has been supporting the lean initiatives was thrown out of office in elections last year. The lean initiatives are still in operation, but their long-term status remains unclear.


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