An Open Letter to Senators Obama and McCain

Dear Senator Obama and Senator McCain,

As one of you will be our next President, I wanted to write about the lean principles I discuss in this blog, and how relevant they are to your role as our nation’s next chief executive.

Lean is a business strategy of improving business processes to focus on providing customers with value and eliminating anything in those processes that does not add value – in other words, waste.

Since you both have spoken about eliminating waste in government, I assume this may be of interest. Some small segments of the federal government, particularly in the military, have been involved for at least a few years in applying lean principles to their operations – with positive results. Much more could be accomplished if the president gave his full support to adoption of a lean strategy throughout our federal bureaucracy.

However, that is not my main reason for writing. Rather, I wish to focus on some of the fundamental principles of lean, which I believe are particularly relevant to the U.S. government today.

When a lean organization strives to provide value, that means value as defined by the customer. To achieve that, an organization must be constantly listening to its customers – or in the case of government, to its citizens.

An integral part of this concept is the fundamental – and critical – lean concept of respect for people. From a business standpoint, that means respect for employees, customers and suppliers. Customers and suppliers are to be treated as business partners, not adversaries, and employees are to be respected as thinking individuals who can contribute to success, not as cogs in a machine.

Listening to citizens and treating them with respect is something that, for too long, our federal government has done poorly, if at all. Too many of our politicians have been focused on partisan battles, promoting their own agendas and providing favors to special interests. They are isolated, communicating only with those who share their views, ignoring or fighting those who don’t. They often devote their time to criticizing and attacking others, and trying to make themselves look good, rather than listening and working toward constructive solutions. The voice of the citizen can barely be heard over the constant bickering. And the services provided to citizens often fall short because government did not understand what was needed or how it should be provided.

I urge you, as our next president, to make listening to citizens – actively, by constantly soliciting their views – a core principle of your administration. I am sure the mechanisms already exist to achieve this, but too often those mechanisms are ignored, or are set up in such cumbersome ways they are nearly useless. That needs to be fixed.

Our government has been substantially out of touch with its citizens for quite a while. It is time to remind ourselves that government exists to serve the people, and that it can only do so by hearing what they have to say.

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