Archive for the ‘Process Improvement’ Category

The Promise of Going ‘Lean’: Increasing Government’s Capacity to Do More Good

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

In these incredibly tough budget times, you would think government agencies would be working extra hard to find ways of doing things more efficiently. Unfortunately, leaders across the country are grabbing the same old playbook — hiring freezes, travel restrictions, delaying maintenance and so on.

They’re not examining the actual work being done — the operations are fundamentally the same. Instead, they’re left with tired, overworked employees trying to do the same operations with fewer resources.

This approach creates an illusion of efficiency. Real efficiency is about looking at the systems — the way work itself is designed — and finding ways to streamline the work so that we do our important tasks very well in less time and with less hassle. Systems are where the costs are incurred. Systems are where the customers show up. Systems are where the value of the agency is created. And systems appear to be the last thing anyone is focusing on.

But there is one promising new fad on the horizon that may actually change this. Some of you may already be acquainted with it: It’s called “Lean.” Like most management fads, this one started in the manufacturing industry. In fact, it’s often referred to as Lean Manufacturing. Based on the system Toyota used for producing high-quality low-cost vehicles, Lean focuses on reducing waste. In this case, that means any activity that does not add value to the customer.

Lean is the reason Toyota dominates the auto market. Lean is the reason an Iowa business can get an environmental permit up to 90 percent faster these days. Lean is the reason Missouri taxpayers get their refunds in two days — all with fewer resources. Quite simply, Lean is the best hope for actually helping government deal with the challenge of crushing demand and limited resources. (more…)

The Crazy Cycle: The Crushing Effects of Backlog and How The Golden Arches Can Help You Avoid Them

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Climbing a Pile of FilesI wrote in a previous column about the incredible opportunities available to speed up the operations of government. I stressed that it’s not a people issue. Rather, it’s the systems of government that are dysfunctional.

Research and my own personal experience have shown that in most processes the labor or work time is less than 5 percent of the total elapsed time. For example, it may take 60 days to get a health permit, but the actual labor required to produce one is likely measured in hours. It may take three months to fill a vacancy, but the sum of all the labor adds up to less than a week.

Where does all the time go? Again, it’s not a people problem. Individuals are deluged with tasks, and most of them are doing those tasks the best they can. The lost time happens between the tasks.

One of the biggest time culprits is backlog — the piles of work in front of each person, waiting to be done. Quite often the problem in government is not that we are slow, just that we’re behind. If you are overwhelmed with backlog (and with the rash of hiring freezes sweeping the nation, you may soon be), I’m going to give you a piece of advice that I know may severely underwhelm you. The secret to dealing with backlog is to never get behind in the first place. (Send all thank-you emails to ken@changeagents.info.)

Underwhelmed? Well, let’s look at this pearl of wisdom a little more closely. This diagram depicts a typical backlog situation: (more…)

A Mug Full of Change: Employees Don’t Need Another Mug With A Catchy Slogan. They Need Context.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

mugIn my closet, I have a change mug. Each night, before I place my pants in the laundry basket, I empty my pockets and deposit the change in an old coffee mug. I noticed the other day, however, that my change mug was actually a “change mug.” That is, it was a mug left over from one of the numerous change initiatives I have experienced in my time in government. This one was a relic from the Total Quality Management days, complete with a picture of a non-smiling W. Edwards Deming.

 

I remember when I first got this mug, because its presence had been forecasted by one our organizations’ great cynics. I was pretty new to government and had been volunteered to represent my agency on the bigger department’s TQM steering committee. (I was to learn later that this was a clear sign the organization thought I was expendable).

This was my first change initiative, so I enthusiastically embraced it and felt with all my heart that it was going to change the world. With the zeal of the converted, I started proselytizing cubicle by cubicle.

Until I met Gerry, a 30-year veteran of state government. (more…)

Competing Interests: What Toothpaste and Tax Forms Can Teach Us About Simplifying Government For Citizens

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

 

toothpasteI thought April would be a good time to write a column about taxes and a topic people in government love just about as much as taxes — customers. As many of you may know, one of my previous jobs in government was as deputy director of a large state agency responsible for taxes and DMVs. Much like the “I learned in Kindergarten” book series, everything I ever needed to know about customer satisfaction in government, I learned there.

 

I learned that people don’t like the word “customer.” I learned that telling auditors “the customer is always right” doesn’t win friends. I learned that customer-service training washes off the first time there is a two-hour line and the computer stops working. But most importantly, I learned about competing customer interests — a reality we all face in government at every level in every agency.

One of the push-backs I get in my workshops about customer satisfaction in government is, “Ken, this would all be so easy in the private sector. They just have to worry about one customer. But we have multiple customers with competing interests.”

I sympathize with that sentiment. In many ways, the concept of customer in the private sector is much easier, but the reality is that the private sector struggles with the same issue we do.

Let’s use a very simple example: toothpaste. Our common notion of customers is of someone who walks into a store, buys something and walks out happy. So when it comes to that tube of Crest, determining who the customer is seems like an easy exercise. If I walk into Target and buy a tube of toothpaste, I am the customer. There, that was easy. (more…)

Extreme Government Makeover: What We Can Learn From The George Foreman Grill, Southwest Airlines and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

Friday, May 1st, 2009

extreme_makeoverIf you are a loyal reader of this column, you probably noticed that I missed last month. I had planned on writing it from the comfort of my new home office. My homebuilder, however, had different plans.

Like many masochists in our society, my wife and I thought it would be a good idea to build a house. This decision was made in August 2006 with an expected completion date of June of 2007 — which is when we sold our existing home. Those of you who have lived through this part of the American Dream can probably guess what happened next. June 2007 came and went, as did two apartments and numerous hotel nights. After four months of “just another two weeks,” our house was finally done in November 2007, a mere half-year off schedule.

So I thought I would use this column to vent about my builder — and to highlight some critical things that we can apply to improving government processes.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” (Yeah, guys, I don’t watch it either — my wife does. And it never makes me cry….) The premise of the show is to find families with uniquely dire circumstances who really need and deserve improvements to their homes. When the show first started, the crew would descend upon the home and make improvements and upgrades — maybe even an addition. Now that they have gained popularity, they basically show up, knock down the existing home and rebuild an entire new house on the same spot — IN SEVEN DAYS! (more…)

The WelcomeMat to Your Culture: Your Hiring Process May Be What’s Keeping Your Organization From Improving

Friday, May 1st, 2009

doormatLast month, I wrote about Buckminster Fuller’s trimtab analogy for organizational change. Essentially, you must identify trimtabs, those few vital changes that would break up the status quo, in order to change the direction of the culture of your organization. These trimtabs are not low-hanging fruit, but rather they are the key systems of your organization. Once you find them, form projects and fix them. At the end of the column, I promised I would share the one trimtab every organization should work on right away: the hiring process. There is no organizational process that I have seen that has a bigger impact on a culture than the hiring process.

I’ve had many frank discussions with executives in which they confess their absolute frustration with the slow, unresponsive, bureaucratic culture they are leading. As one manager said “We’ve thrown fish, we’ve moved cheese, none of it works”.  Despite their best efforts, the culture only seems to endure and perpetuate itself. I usually give the same reply: How is your hiring process? Think about it. What is the first experience a new employee will have with your agency?

One of my workshop participants, a recent hire to government, put it to me this way:

“I had to fill out ridiculously long forms; I couldn’t get hold of anybody to help me; I got notified of my interview a day before; was told the wrong place to go; had to take a test that reminded me of my drivers exam; and then I waited and waited and waited and called and waited some more. Finally I got the offer, showed up for work and goofed around for a month before I could get a phone, a desk and access to the computer system.”

What have we just told our new employees about how we do things around here? You never get a second chance to make a first impression. (Compounding this problem is the generation gap. Many of us grew up being told that if you wanted something, you had to wait for it. The TiVo Generation has a different perspective. When they start a new job, they want to hit the ground running.)

But that’s just the half of it. The unresponsive, cumbersome hiring process may create the wrong impression for new employees, but that pales in comparison to the cancerous effect it has on existing employees. (more…)