Both federal and local government agencies are implementing a lean management system which is a system of continuous improvement – traditionally attributed to manufacturing processes but now used in management settings.
This is in response to the mandate to make government more efficient and responsive. The lean system has arisen from similar predecessor methods dating back to the late 1800s. These methods have built upon each other to a degree and have been refined into a somewhat scientific approach to creating efficiency in production and management processes. I would like to focus on the lean system and five points as they pertain to management in government:
Brief history of lean management
The manufacturing efficiency movement began around the end of the 1800s and continued into the 1900s. It is understandable to see the appeal to business owners of someone who could study their business and its processes in a sort of scientific way and report on ways that the business could improve – and thus make more money.
The Total Quality Management movement seemingly arose from the efficiency movement as it focused on product quality and then later to quality in every step of any process that led to a product. This method eventually began to focus on people management and services as it broke down management processes to improve them.
Lean management, also related to six sigma arose from the West’s desire to compete with the quality movement in Japan. Six Sigma began in earnest in the 1980s as statistical models were developed to record quality measures. The main model coming from the period was the Bell Curve which displayed a normal distribution of measures and used a sigma, or one standard deviation from the mean to identify a single range of small fluctuation along the Bell Curve. The idea is to break the measurements of a process using the bell curve into six sigma’s or standard deviations from the mean which would account for 99.99 percent of a process.
Lean Management and Six Sigma
Lean management provides the ability to study and manage employees and their related processes, breaking them down into a kind of supply chain view and then focusing on what works and what does not work. This provides input for a model for improvement.
The idea is to study each part of the whole value chain from beginning to end and make improvements along the way. People who work in government already have a public service mindset, which can be tapped to accept the lean method as a way to improve customer service.
The lean management process is a good model to meet the government imperative of doing more with less and giving taxpayers the most value. It is a method to reduce excess processing and waiting thus providing quality in each transaction. The system’s components of continuous improvement, respect for humanity and elimination of waste correspond well with government service.
A systematic study of processes and procedures is a good idea in general and the lean methodology can allow employees and managers to work toward greater efficiency. The implementation of the method relies on the belief that employees innately desire to do good, meaningful work and want to help the organization succeed. Government employees already have a mission to provide service to the public which should allow this methodology to be a good fit for government organizations.
Creating change in any organization down to the department level is admittedly a tall order. The key to implementation is to communicate to employees that there is commitment to this approach to efficiency. Commitment is essential when starting something new as it is my opinion that people will begin to accept change if they believe that there is a long-term commitment to it.
The components of lean management mentioned previously are helpful to provide regular and continuous communication and assistance with employees as they slowly begin to internalize the direction toward greater efficiency.
What You Can Do
Lean management seems like a big change in the way of doing things and can be a daunting undertaking. This approach to people and project management, however, can be implemented step by step after understanding the terminology and how it applies to what already exists.
If your agency is adopting the lean management system, then there is hopefully a corresponding application or system to aid in training and implementation. The key to the process is learning and understanding each step and folding it into the next. Lean management is becoming more popular in government and is likely here to stay.