Will Obama’s “Chief Performance Officer” Improve Government?

President-elect Obama is reportedly going to appoint a “chief performance officer” for the federal government, a new position intended to work on the federal budget and reform government.

His choice for the job is Nancy Killefer, a senior director with McKinsey & Company and a former assistant secretary of the treasury.

Will this do any good? More specifically, will it help to make the federal government lean?

The first issue is whether this position will have any real authority or top-level support to drive change in the administration. That cannot be predicted at this point.

The second issue is whether Killefer is the right person for the job.

On the one hand, Killefer seems to have some relevant credentials. She has experience in working with the public sector to improve productivity, which has been the focus of her career.

On the other hand, in what I’ve read about Killefer, there is no mention of lean principles or strategy. And despite the size and prominence of McKinsey, the consulting firm is not known as a bastion of lean thinking.

I did come across an article Killefer co-authored for Business Week in 2006 discussing the need to make government more productive. She argued that what is missing from government is competitive pressure. She and her co-author made several proposals:

We think a radical new approach to transparency of how government programs are performing is required. Only this will push Congress to exert performance pressure on government agencies. First, government should measure public productivity again and set national targets for productivity growth against which everyone can be held accountable. Next, political leaders should create a body we call "Gov-Star," modeled after fund-rating agency Morningstar Inc. to provide completely independent measurement of government program performance; to develop comparable program data over time -- between programs, between governments, and with the private sector; and to make the data and their implications clear to appropriators and citizens.

But in government, pressure without support can yield demoralization and underperformance. So we also need to adopt key transformation initiatives: incentives that allow agencies to reinvest savings to the top line of programs; the introduction of chief operating officers at public agencies, to be appointed based on management experience in government or leading corporations; and a SWAT team of management experts at the Office of Management & Budget to help lagging agencies.

I have no problem with those proposals, though knowledge of how to implement improvements is just as important as the forces driving improvement.

If Killefer actually does have knowledge of lean, or is at least open-minded enough to listen to people who do, this appointment may have some value. I certainly hope so.


Dwane Lay said...

I thought it interesting to see a high level position specifically designed to make the entire system work better, though it sounds more like a finance watchdog than a Lean practitioner position. With all the waste that the new administration expects to find, let's hope they engage a few people who know how to clear it out and streamline the system. That would get us past removing deadwood and start the country down it's own Lean transformation.

I'm not implying, by the way, Killefer isn't qualified to perform that task. Just hoping the work doesn't end with the cleanup of giveaways and obvious budget issues.

Alan Mossman said...

This sounds very much like what has been tried and failed in UK. John Seddon a UK Based lean service consultant has many examples of targets, incentives and micro-management by civil servants [that sound very much like the Office of Management & Budget SWAT team Killefer talked about]. These have consistently increased the cost of government service and generally slowed delivery because they do not understand the system.

GovStar sounds like benchmarking of the worst type. Of what use is it to compare a medicare program with one from DoT or Homeland Security?

By all means challenge government departments and agencies to make improvements in performance. But don't limit those improvements by setting targets (because that is what targets do). What is important is to agree measures for each each agency that are linked to the purpose of that agency. I'm aware that often the most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable (Lloyd S. Nelson quoted by W Edwards Deming in Out of the Crisis p.121), but that is no reason for not trying or to go looking for a good surogate. Monitoring and improving performance against that metric will result in improved performance for the customer or check that waste and cost removal is not affecting what is important to the customer.

John has written extensively on the issue in his newsletter [sign up and read past issues at http://www.lean-service.com/0-2.asp] and in his 2008 book Systems Thinking in the Public Sector http://www.systemsthinking.co.uk/5-3.asp#7a

his critique is well worth reading.

Marty Yuzwa said...

I agree that "knowledge of how to implement improvements is just as important as the forces driving improvement."

However, I would argue that the "knowledge" part is definitely easier to implement then the "forces" part. I think we have all experienced lean implementations where the forces driving the improvement were not there, and it is nearly impossible to improve without those "forces".

So if Obama is able to tackle the "forces" part, then I think it will be much easier to find those people within the government organizations who will be willing to search out and find ways (such as lean) to improve!!

Leo Henton said...

Pile on ! I have been attempting since late March 2007 to reach out to "Obama for America" regarding "lean", "A3", six-sigma, and Theory of Constraints.

My latest tactic is to motivate folks associated with Nancy Killefer at "Partnership for Public Service"


If and when I get a response, are there experts out there willing to semi-volunteer to explain the details to Nancy's crew of relative rookie's? It's a bit hypothetical at this point. But inspiring the politicians and their staff's to wake is my hobby.


Leo Henton

leo dot henton at comcast dot net

Seattle, WA 98118

Leo Henton said...

Readers and lurkers are welcome to visit the Citizens Briefing book on .change.gov and vote on my submission:

Improve HealthCare by eliminating the current 60% of cost that is waste.
President Obama, per our very brief chat on December 11, 2007 in Seattle, Washington state you agreed that we have to do something about the proven and documented fact that 60% of the current costs of present USA healthcare "system" is unnecessary waste. Experienced providers and practicioners such as C. Jimmerson of LeanHealthC*reWest(dot)com have volunteered to provide instruction. C. Jimmerson has briefed the staff of U.S. Senate Finance Committee recently. The "lean" process improvement methodology that is used in Japan and a portion of USA is very effective. Can you help make the public-private partnership successful ?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Leo Henton
Posted by Leo Henton to Economy, Health Care, Service, Additional Issues on 1/12/2009 9:02 PM


Monday, January 12, 2009 12:47pm EST / Posted by Dan McSwain
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