Imagine government without waiting lines. Government where you were never put on hold when you called. Government where you got a permit or license in a few days instead of a few months. Well, it’s beginning to happen – and one of the tools governments increasingly use is a process called “Lean.“
Lean was developed on automotive assembly lines as a strategy for building cars faster with fewer defects, but Lean has applications for any process. Going step-by-step through systems, programs and regulations, Lean seeks to improve or eliminate parts that are prone to waits, rejections and resubmissions, bottlenecks, or doing more than what the customer really wants.
Here’s an example from the private sector, where Lean grew up:
Western Union had a problem. In order to add a new sales agent to their network, applications went through a labyrinthine 19-day process. Applications passed through the hands of dozen staff who sorted, recorded, reviewed and batched the paperwork before sending it to the next person. Surely it could be sped up a bit?
So Western Union decided to bring the team together – everyone from bosses to the sorting clerk – and take a hard look at all the steps. Was there a better way to conduct the handful of required background checks and schedule training with the new sales agent?
Using Lean, the team spent two days reviewing the entire process, asking, “Does every step help us deliver exactly what our new sales agents need, while complying with federal agencies and our own business requirements?” If not, they took that step out.
They found that by calling the new sales agent first (instead of at the end of the process), they could verify most of the information over the phone. Better still, one person could do the entire process, eliminating all that waiting as the application passed from hand to hand. In the end, the new process went from 19 days to… 22 minutes.
As you can imagine, Lean is common in a variety of industries including manufacturing, finance, and health care. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use Lean to help government do its job more effectively as well?
It turns out that a number of cities and states are doing just this:
- Chicago, Illinois, put 150 police officers back on the beat by streamlining administration;
- Washington State reduced livestock inspection certifications by 100 hours and completely eliminated nonpayment of inspection fees;
- In Fort Wayne, Indiana, potholes that used to take 2 days to repair are now fixed within 3 hours of being reported.
These may seem like small wins, but the effects are cumulative. For instance, Fort Wayne has been rigorous in implementing Lean, applying it to over 100 projects and saving they city some $30 million, or nearly 16% of their total expense budget!
What’s incredible about many of these public sector efforts is that private corporations in manufacturing, finance and health care are donating the expertise to teach Lean to state workers, coaching them to use the same process the private sector folks use routinely.
If you’re reading this and you have expertise that you’d like to offer, then contact us and we’ll work with your firm to make a difference right in your home town.