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?