This week’s edition – We Don’t Make Widgets – Overcoming the Myths That Keep Government from Radically Improving.
I received the book from Jeff Press, who is the founder and president of the Center for Radical Improvement. It’s a new company that provides some interesting training, events, and consulting. I met him last week and he’s got some great ideas and will soon start sharing them by blogging at GovLoop.
On to the book – We Don’t Make Widgets is written by Ken Miller, a former Missouri government leader and now consultant. The book tackles the three myths:
-We don’t make widgets
-We don’t have customers
-We’re not here to make a profit.
Throughout the book, Ken analyzes various government programs and problems and breaks them down into a system of work – factory, widget, customer, outcomes. By using this framework, Ken is able to break down problems and come up with suggestions for improvement. We all know how hard change can be in government and Ken provides a system and pointers to making it happen. And it’s not blue-ribbon committees, reorganization, or technology.
One example I liked: A child-services agency was looking into improve service. They thought their customer was abused children and they were focused on meeting the child’s needs. But really the child-services agency produced a widget (a report describing the abuse, etc) that was given to lawyers (their customers) who prosecuted the abusers. The child-services agency had never asked the lawyers if they liked the structure of the reports and if they could improve them. Of course, the lawyers hated them and with a few minor changes, everyone was happy, the lawyers had better cases, and eventually it lead to more prosecutions.
So why do I like the book? It’s short, it tells stories, gives examples, and it’s practical. This isn’t just a theoretical book – Ken has implemented change himself and consulted on numerous gov’t projects.
Finally, I really like a couple of his “5 Ways to Ruin a Change Initiative” which include improve communications, increase employee satisfaction, give it a name, and train everyone. I generally agree with his point that people want to work for well-run organization – the key is to identify key systems, form teams to offer concrete improvements, and define the desired results.