Lean in the Public Sector -- What are the Distinct Challenges?

This past November, Kate McGovern published a new book entitled A Public-Sector Journey to Lean: Fighting Muda in Times of Muri, which documents the author's Lean journey based on her experiences at the New Hampshire Bureau of Education and Training

During a recent conversation with Kate, I asked her, “What are the different challenges public/government institutions face when beginning a Lean initiative compared to organizations in the private sector?” Here is her complete response:

Lean initiatives in the public sector face greater obstacles than their private sector counterparts in three areas: erratic and unreliable commitment of resources, risk-averse leadership, and the responsibility to serve dual customers. 

Let’s consider each component:

Resources: Elected officials who set public budgets must be persuaded to prioritize efficiency initiatives. Funding is often erratic and inadequate, lacking the staff resources necessary to train, facilitate, and coordinate improvement efforts.   

Risk-averse leadership: Aligning authority and responsibility at the gemba (like Toyota’s Andon cord) is counter-intuitive and frightening for traditional administrators. The multiple layers of checking give them a sense of security, making them reluctant to Lean processes. What if something goes wrong? What if it gets in the press?

Dual customers: The end-user customer is an individual applying for a building permit or a driver’s license, borrowing a library book, or reporting an emergency. The public is also customer, relying on the regulatory system for health and safety. For example, the public values the enforcement of building codes. Permit applicants value a fair, efficient process with courteous, professional staff to assist them. Consider a Lean event to design a process so that every qualified applicant receives a permit within two weeks. The team would identify why customers fail to meet the meet the qualifications, and develop countermeasures such as fact sheets, checklists and staff assistance. To ensure a quality outcome, the team would consider the purpose of each requirement and recommend modifications, if appropriate. Then, they would design the most efficient way to confirm compliance and validate eligibility. 

Are any readers currently part of a Lean initiative within a public-sector organization? Do you agree with Kate's overview of the specific obstacles faced when undertaking the improvement journey?


What are the Key Ingredients for a Lean Culture?

Paul McCartney, while in the Beatles, famously claimed that “money can’t buy me love" --  According to author Richard D. Brimeyer, money also can’t buy Lean. Rick’s book Working Great! Lean Leadership Lessons for Guiding Your Organization to Excellence contains 52 lessons for leader-managers, each with challenges for applying the lesson. The format is particularly conducive to a leader’s book club.

I chatted with Rick recently to discuss his assertion that sustained Lean success is driven by a handful of critical behaviors by managers at every level of the organization. Here are some of his comments:

Unlike so many management fads (reengineering, quality circles, etc.) that have come and gone over the decades, Lean owes its endurance to the fact that it benefits all stakeholders -- customers, owners/funders, and employees. Waste doesn’t help anyone. Unfortunately, I believe a lot of organizations embark on a Lean expedition underestimating the behavior changes required of managers at every level.

Although important, the ultimate measure of success for any Lean expedition is not how many kaizen events are completed, but rather how many improvements occur outside of formal events. The latter ultimately comes down to creating a place where employees care, where they are willing to expend discretionary effort, and feel competent solving problems and removing waste. Creating that place is almost totally reliant on the behaviors they observe from their leaders day in, day out to ensure:
  • Everyone understands the relevance of their work. 
  • Employees feel appreciated for who they are as well as what they do. 
  • Pathways for growth are evident. 
  • Successes (and efforts) are regularly recognized. 
  • A fair and responsive system exists for dealing with performance issues when they occur. 
Regardless of what we say, employees believe what we do. So being clear on key behaviors for leader-managers is very important. Ironically, these behaviors are consistent with any excellent supervisor, regardless of whether they are working in a Lean environment where flow and pull are practiced or not. Thus, the word “Lean” in my subtitle is practically superfluous, but these key behaviors are absolutely essential for establishing a Lean culture.

My goal for the book Working Great! is to provide a simple and useful resource for leader-managers, regardless of their level or experience. I hope to take the mystery out of culture by tying it to the behaviors to which they can hold themselves, and each other, accountable.

What do you think of Richard's points? Does the behavior of leadership at your organization reflect the true goal of the Lean initiative?


Reusable Visual Models -- Are Your Product Development Teams Using Them?

In September, Penny Cloft, Michael Kennedy, and Brian Kennedy published a book entitled Success Is Assured: Satisfy Your Customers On Time and On Budget by Optimizing Decisions Collaboratively Using Reusable Visual Models. This book teaches new thinking and methodologies to convert the chaotic front end of product development into a convergent process of set-based learning and continuous innovation – a game changer for companies that depend upon a steady flow of innovative products.

I recently spoke with Brian Kennedy about the book and asked him: “What are reusable visual models and why do they make a difference?” Here is his complete answer:

Each of those three words “reusable visual models" pack a fair bit of meaning. As “models," they are representing knowledge about the real world. They are capturing what we know how to do, what we know is possible, what physics allows. In addition, they are capturing what we are trying to achieve or what value we are trying to deliver. And then they are capturing the cause-and-effect relationships between what we know and what we want.

In complex situations where we must engage people with expertise in different areas to make decisions, having models is helpful, but only if all the stakeholders can understand those models. That’s where the “visual” comes in. We need those models to be visually understandable to people without needing to know specialized notations or languages that are only understood by people in certain fields. It is not good enough to just explain what you put in your model… you need those experts in different areas to really understand the model such that they can critique it and find the holes in it or the bad assumptions in it based on their own area of expertise. Finally, to maximize the benefits of such models, it is obviously best if they are “reusable” in similar situations in the future. For many that means capturing them in a known place that can be searched. Most companies, however, have “lessons learned," “best practices," and other such databases… but they experience very little actual “reuse.”

The first key requirement for “reusability” is that it was useful in the first place -- that your team of collaborating experts was able to use it to make the decisions they needed to make. If the knowledge you capture does not change the decisions you make in the future, then it has no value. So, when you make similar decisions in the future, you should be able to use those models to better make those decisions. That’s where the “set-based” aspect of those models becomes important: the models must be designed to capture the design space not a particular design (a particular point in that design space). It is hard to reuse a design to make the right decisions on a different design trying to satisfy different requirements. But knowledge about the design space -- knowledge about how what you know impacts what you want to achieve that is easily reused when making different decisions about different designs trying to satisfy different requirements -- is what we mean by “reusable." And just to stress that point, note that building “reusable" visual models is not just of value to future projects… it is hugely valuable on THIS project. Because invariably we will learn things over the course of the project -- and requirements and conditions may change -- and thus the decisions may need to change or be re-made. When you re-make those decisions, you want to make them considering all the knowledge you used before PLUS the new knowledge (the changes). That is done most effectively and efficiently with “reusable visual models.”

What do you think of Brian's explanation of these models and how they should be used? Are reusable visual models part of your product development team's process? More information about this technique and the book can be found here: SuccessIsAssured.com


New Professional Supervisors -- What are Their Common Mistakes?

In July, Tracey Harris published a very important book entitled Developing Leadership Excellence: A Practice Guide for the New Professional Supervisor  -- it integrates the existing frameworks of supervision into a comprehensive model of practice, providing new supervisors with a clear procedural and practice guide for conducting professional and operational supervision. I spoke with Tracey this past week, and asked her: “What are the common mistakes that new supervisors often make?" Here is her complete answer:

I remember when I became a leader and professional supervisor for the first time. I was unsure of what I was really doing, did not have a supervision framework to call on and probably used the "wing it" model for quite a while before I developed the necessary skills, knowledge, and attributes to be a great supervisor and leader. Since then, thank goodness, I have a clear leadership and supervision framework and model that is highly effective.

I think most new supervisors are faced with either nervousness or trepidation when they move into the role of a supervisor or leader. Often, supervisors are not adequately trained for the role or they find themselves in a supervisory role because it is an expectation of the role description. Then, there are those professionals who step into a supervisory or leadership role for the very first time. So, what are the most common mistakes that new supervisors often make?

New supervisors do not often have effective supervision and mentoring themselves. It is crucial to have an experienced professional who has been a leader or who is in a leadership role to guide and develop you as a new supervisor.

Another common mistake that new supervisors make is that they do not attend supervision or leadership training when they commence in the role or throughout their leadership career. Find quality training can set you on the right path of what supervisory skills and knowledge base you need to provide effective supervision.

In addition, new supervisors often mistake what management and supervision is all about. It is crucial to know the difference between what line management and professionally supervising staff is for high performance outcomes. Using the PASE model of supervision (based on integrating the style and role of the supervisor, different questioning frameworks, and functional analysis, as well as ensuring that staff feels supported in the workplace) provides leaders and supervisors with a clear understanding of the difference and supports supervisors in their dual role of line manager and supervisor.

Finally, new supervisors do not engage an effective process and framework in which to lead and supervise staff. Understanding the benefits and purpose of supervision, defining the boundaries and understanding what outcomes are required are all important aspects of being an effective supervisor.

Being clear on your intention and purpose as a new supervisor will set you on the path for being a great supervisor and your will achieve great results and be well respected in your role.

What do you think of Tracey's points? Are the mistakes she details common to the new supervisors in your organization?


The Common Obstacles to Sustaining a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Many books focus on the tools needed for for process control and continuous improvement, but the latest work by Philip Gisi -- entitled Sustaining a Culture of Process Control and Continuous Improvement: The Roadmap for Efficiency and Operational Excellence -- moves beyond this limited view and focuses on the daily work routines necessary to maintain and sustain these activities as part of a Lean process and management mindset. This past month, I spoke with Philip and asked him: "What are the common obstacles to sustaining a culture of continuous improvement? How can we overcome these problems?” Here is his complete answer:

A culture of continuous improvement is based on carefully defined operating standards, organizational work routines, and visualization of key performance indicators. The ability to sustain a culture of continuous improvement is rooted in the way an organization is structured (standards and procedures), the discipline they exhibit in executing their work routines and how effective they are at hold employees accountable to their commitments.  Let’s briefly consider the impact of structure, discipline, and accountability in sustaining a culture of continuous improvement.

Organizational Structure
If you don’t have systems that promote the right behaviors, you are unlikely to get what you expect.  

Look at the work habits, attitudes and engagement of employees, if you don’t like what you see, ask:
       Do the behaviors of employees reflect the principles of the organization?
       Are there methods and procedures in place that align with these principles and, if so, are they clearly defined?
       If followed, will the methods and procedures generate desired results?
       Do employees effectively implement the methods and procedures?

Discipline is a mindset which stems from a commitment of employees to execute their roles and responsibilities as key contributors to organizational success. Management must ensure the right systems are in place to promote behaviors expected to achieve ideal results while employees must exhibit the discipline required to follow and improve standards, procedures, and work routines designed to realize and continuously enhance output performance.

Management has the responsibility to monitor, control, and improve organizational systems with the support of all employees.  This requires continuous verification that processes are executed properly while corrective action and employee coaching occurs when deviations from standards are detected. In short, successful organizations have documented systems in place that align with their strategic goals and produce desired results when executed as intended.  

What has your experience been with sustaining continuous-improvement initiatives? What are your thoughts on Philip Gisi's ideas for overcoming common obstacles?