October 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm #143710
I’m speaking on a panel in 10 days where the focus is “Doing more with less”.
The idea is that budget cuts are here for a long time at fed/state/local level once the budget commission releases their findings.
So my question is:
Can we really do MORE with LESS? And what does that really look like? What does a government look like that does more with less?
UPDATE: This turned out to be such an active forum that we summarized and featured your feedback in our standing columns on the Washington Post and AOL Government:
1) Washington Post FedBuzz: Federal workers struggle with mantra of ‘doing more with less’
2) AOL Government: Making the Best of a Bad Budget Situation
October 16, 2011 at 4:37 pm #143826
Here’s to me what government doing more with less looks like:
-Close non-financially viable services – Like Postal offices where they aren’t being used enough and too costly
-Change how government pays for and delivers services
-More public/private partnership & ads – In Florida, the DMV stopped paying to print the license guide and instead a private company does it for free but has right to put ads in it. The same DMV has TVs in waiting rooms that has DMV info that provided for free but has ads in it.
October 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm #143824
Here are some ideas on doing more with less:
- Expanded use of volunteers – interns, alumni, retirees, etc.
- Partnership between functional support offices – HR, IT, Finance, Procurement, etc.
- Share office space by expanding telework.
- Use technology to conduct training/meetings/conferences.
- Eliminate any remaining paper-based processes.
- Tap into the creativity/ideas of employees.
- Explore self-managed teams and eliminate excessive layers of management (yes, they are still there).
- Cross-train support staff to perform line functions.
- Maximize the capacity of staff eliminating non-performers.
As you can see, I relly do believe that we can do more with less, but only the employees themselves can help make this proposition a reality.
October 17, 2011 at 1:26 am #143822
Some related conversations where you can glean some nuggets:
October 17, 2011 at 11:36 am #143820
I think now is as good a time as any to “get back to basics.” (..and yes..that was a cliché..but rings true..seriously..):
• Prioritize government functions and services. (This has already been done to an extent in support of continuity.)
• Automate processes where applicable and/or possible. (Those self-service machines at post offices are awesome!)
• Matrix like services, organizations, and skill sets for maximum efficiency. (Private sector is WAY ahead on this.)
• Reward innovation and dedication. (Even in tough economic times, still need to dangle the “carrot.”)
• Consolidate like services to eliminate duplication of effort. (For far too long gov has duplicated services.)
• Crack down on fraud, waste, and abuse. (Billions of dollars are lost every year to poor contracting and acquisition.)
• ..and pretty much everything that @Terrence said 😉
Sure, some of these things are underway currently, but I think a renewed focus and drive to actually accomplish items like consolidation, elimination of duplicative services, etc really is needed to “light a fire” and show some results.
October 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm #143818
James H. Dobbins, Ph.D.Participant
It looks like one person having a significant increase in their workload to carry the wood for those who are no longer here. With Less often means fewer people, not just less money because one of the largest, if not the largest, budget items is payroll. So the dynamic of what happens when those who survive pick up the load of those who don’t survive becomes an increasingly important concern. If people really were lazy and slackers, as many think, and were only doing real work 2 hours a day, then it should not be a big deal. But if that myth proves false, the long term ramifications could be significant in terms of stress related physical and emotional health conditions. This is where the rubber will meet the road when it comes to good managers. The really good managers, and leaders, will be able to deal with this and their organizations will excel, and the average managers, those who just plod through each day and never have an original thought, and never challenge and reward the creativity of their people, will fail. I wonder how many there are in each of the two groups?
October 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm #143816
We already are doing more with less. We do more work off-site, saving travel money. Instead of teams, we work with bare bones crews, making it harder for junior employees to gain valuable experience. IMHO we need to use great care in how we do this “more with less”. Cutting support and clerical staff may seem like an easy fix when cutting budgets, In my experience, this leads to GS-13s and 14s making copies and filling out Fed Ex slips…seems like a waste of talent.
October 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm #143814
To me the examples below aren’t doing more with less. They are doing less. If it were possible to do more with less eventually we would be doing everything with nothing.
What we should do is eliminate all work that doesn’t produce results or add value to our customers. There is a lot of that which we can eliminate.
October 17, 2011 at 1:16 pm #143812
I’ll play Devil’s Advocate here and say I’m not a fan in any way of the “more with less” mantra because I believe that the phrase and concept are nothing more than meaningless buzz words.
I do absolutley agree that we can do the work we do in smarter and better ways. As a technologist I know we can leverage technology to help streamline work and create more efficient processes and better manage information. These are things we should indeed all be working on, and I suspect all of us are looking at ways that we can maintain our missions with less resources.
My objection is the “more” part. I don’t think it’s realistic at all for us to say we can *increase* the amount of work / services / whatever at the same time we have to eliminate resources. I believe we can only *maintain* our existing missions while losing resources. Unless I’m missing something, the listings below look to me like “how can we maintain the status quo” not “how can we do more” – for example, how does closing a post office equal the USPS doing more? It seems that they’d be doing less in one area to allow them to accomplish something elsewhere.
I think we do a disservice when we frame the argument in terms of doing more with less. To me the discussion (within govvie circles and in public debate) is how we can maintain the level of service with less resources, or, if we can’t, what services are people willing to do without (or have delayed, etc.)?
October 17, 2011 at 2:09 pm #143810
William D. EggersParticipant
Steve, the answer is yes. I just finished a draft of a study on this in which I lay out 5 big and powerful examples and a methodology for how to do it. The ONLY way to do it however is via different business models for government services and programs.
October 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm #143808
William D. EggersParticipant
Good examples Steve. The key word is different. You can only do more with less by doing things radically differently. Think Netflix vs video stores. Amazon vs bookstores. Cloud computing vs traditional. Online learning vs traditional classroom. I’ll be having a lot more to say on this soon
October 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm #143806
I, for one, would like to see an economic/utility analysis of what mistrust costs, in terms of things like:
– what all the various reporting and accountability mechanisms, and associated FTEs, cost
– what all the top-heaviness in government, in terms of the innumerable managers tasked with overseeing things that employees could very well do autonomously
That’s not any sort of vote for firing all managers or abandoning accountability. But you have to admit that those two elements create an enormous chunk of operating costs, and both are essentially predicated on caution, mistrust, and multiple levels of approval. Certainly a modest portion of that could be trimmed, couldn’t it?
October 17, 2011 at 5:10 pm #143804
I’m 100% in agreement on your comments. It’s always going to be about payroll. I’ve been through several government downsizing processes (it’s pretty cyclical), and I’ve been hearing the “more with less” expression for 25 years. I’ve also seen the downside in terms of stress, quality of service, and in a number of areas.
The whole thing is interesting, because in general, if you look at the research about downsizing over the last thirty years, regardless of sector, you find that overall, CEO’s are always disappointed with the results after the fact.
I think the focus should be on prevention, and stopping the expansion of government in good times, which is a primary issue when it comes to poorer times.
October 17, 2011 at 5:14 pm #143802
The “more with less” mantra is not only a buzzword, but it’s a slogan that depresses morale in the public service, and creates huge amounts of cynicism on the part of government staff. We’ve all been there, heard the noise, and seen the results, which is often a move to lay off more people, increase work loads of the remaining, and also tends to end up with some of the less able staff members being the ones who stay, particularly when layoffs involve voluntary “leaving”.
October 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm #143800
But isn’t that top heaviness and lack of autonomy there for at least some good reasons?
My understanding is that it’s part of the checks and balances involved in running government so as to reduce the power of any individuals, and in turn to reduce fraud and corruption.
October 17, 2011 at 6:22 pm #143798
More with less is just as much of a cliche as ‘tough economic times’.
I think one big way is to be more efficient. As in, do we really need 5 people/offices to approve something, or can 3 do the job just as well? If an item is on contract for $30 and you can pick it up at Radio SHack for $20, why must there be paperwork to save ten dollars? (so much that most folks don’t evne consider going off contract even if it means spending more)
Common sense and practicality…used with the knowledge that where there’s a system there’s someone out to beat it and take advantage of it so you keep some degree of oversight and transparency.
October 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm #143796
I like this comment….sometimes it’s not doing more with less. It’s just doing less sometimes – eliminating unproductive work.
October 17, 2011 at 6:36 pm #143794
Certainly. The question is how much of it is absolutely necessary, and how much of it yields diminishing returns or even costs. After all, I think we can agree that fraud, corruption, and senseless waste are thoroughly capable of happening in spite of all that oversight. That’s why I suggest a utility analysis of it. If closer inspection says it’s ALL important, then I’m fine with that; I’m an empiricist if nothing else. There are some days, though, when one gets the sense that a chunk of it is there for rhetorical/ symbolic reasons (“See? Look how much oversight we have.”), rather than out of necessity or any functionality beyond the symbolic. And when you can’t get anything done because all the managers are running from management meeting to management meeting all day long, and you’re not authorized to do anything without manager approval (which you can’t get because they’re not around)…well, you start to wonder whether it is doing what it was intended to do, or whether it’s good money spent on a bottleneck.
But like I say, I’m completely open to persuasion and data.
October 17, 2011 at 9:39 pm #143792
We can do more with less, but the process of prioritizing and aligning to strategic goals will be critical. Not everything can be a top priority, so as an organization, regardless of size, we must focus on what is most important to the customer.
Also, leveraging the strengths of our employees is critical. Making sure that we have the right employees on the right seat on the bus. Employee are amazing when they are truly engaged, but organizations must realize the importance of this and put real effort in engaging employees.
October 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm #143790
October 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm #143788
Increasing efficiency is the key. If getting something done requires a linear workflow routed through 12 people who take a week to perform their step, it’s going to take 3 months. If 10 of the people really only rubberstamp it, or perform a mechanical role (Is there enough money in that account?), automate that step and take them out of the flow. Then a 3 month process turns into a 2 week process.
October 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm #143786
The classic business method of doing more with less is eliminating people and automating/reassigning their work. I think this could be an excellent opportunity to streamline the way government works. The only way to do this is to spend a little now to reorganize so that substantial savings can be made in the future.
I wish I didn’t agree with Mark quite so much but what he says is true. The medium sized county I work in has the same verticallity that IBM has; that seems nuts to me. The business model embraced by local government seems to be the business model of 1855 when we were founded. The structure is designed to stifle/eliminate distributed decision making. All work is done by person A, redone by person B before they add their bit etc. etc. in a recursion of redundancy. This was appropriate when that redundancy was required to insure error free work but today it is ridiculous.
October 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm #143784
Good answer I got privately:
Yes, absolutely we can. But I know the answer, LEAN, can be controversial in the public sector. I think it is controversial because it is misunderstood, or some have experienced a poor implementation. But it literally is the science of doing more with less. Check out the State of Minnesota’s LEAN site, and review their “Results” (link on the left side) to see what a government doing more with less looks like. http://www.lean.state.mn.us/
It truly is all about “process”, which many of the comments in the discussions allude to, but never really get to. Lean will make your processes efficient.
Just my 2 cents, but, it would seem a panel focused on discussion of doing more with less can’t ignore a proven business concept which accomplishes exactly that.
October 18, 2011 at 2:29 pm #143782
I like this concept.
Often we add a lot of process as part of mistrust and is it really worth it?
For example, when I was in a CIO shop, we had probably 4 layers of approval meetings for IT systems. Each meeting had a lot of prep costs where folks were paid to create documents and presentations. Is the process and approval costs worth the associated better management?
Same way with folks monitoring purchase cards – is the cost of prosecuting issues more than actual costs of it?
October 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm #143780
Surely there’s a balance to be struck. Like an example another used, if everything has to be run by a chain of command that spends its whole day in a meeting and it takes 5 weeks to get something done that should take 5 days, surely there’s a way to stream line things, take out those extra steps and make the process more efficient.
It won’t be easy because, yes, there needs to be checks and balances. Unfortunately there seems to be no shortage of people willing to ‘work the system’ to rip it off. However sometimes it seems that we have so many checks that things are massively out of balance.
Government is rife with created approval positions so that no individual is ever completely responsible (they can always fall back on ‘the committee agreed…..’) but at times it seems like we have more people approving than we have tasks to approve. And going with this is the fact that no one is ever accountable. A three day task takes 3 months and there’s a myriad of people, offices and committees to blame, but no one is ever held accountable for the fact that something sat on their desk for 4 weeks.
Add to that the air of acceptance, it’s red tape, always takes a long time’ instead of an attitude of ‘it shouldn’t take this long’ and there’s this level of acceptance of things being slow and almost a expectation that things take forever to get done.
October 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm #143778
I take the view that part of the reason why there are so many checks and balances, and why “it takes so long” is partly tied to trust. There are things that could probably take me a short period of time to do, but I am not trusted enough to take care of it unilaterally. Part of that is because I am not fully informed of the caveats and considerations to be factored in.
That’s not at all a specific complaint about my organization or management, since I know it happens elsewhere in a great many contexts, public and private. Many things can take less time and require fewer FTEs to accomplish if the quality people in your employ are provided with all the considerations to factor in (sometimes including the ones you may be almost embarassed about), and granted the authority to just do what needs doing.
But government is risk averse – I suppose appropriately so most times – so the checks and balances are there, and they add cost and time. Here is the paradox, though. The tendency to simply trust staff to do things efficiently could come easily, but there is the small matter of public trust, and trust by the legislators who feel accountable to the electorate. And why does the electorate not trust us? Because we take too damn long and cost too damn much! We probably could get things done faster and cheaper, with less waste, but under the watchful/vengeful eye of the voter, we’ll never get it done. I don’t know of many circles more vicious than that one.
October 18, 2011 at 4:18 pm #143776
Like several others, I do not like the phrase/slogan “do more with less”. We can reprioritize our work loads, we can outsource, insource or just not source certain functions; but it is like making bricks with no straw to do more with less – not very productive. If we could determine which programs to defund, but Congress rarely kills a program once established. If we could revise the way we execute budgets – not have to spend all this year to get more next year that would be a huge savings.
I suspect in about five years, some organization will do a study and the outcome will be the federal government is not properly staffed to do the work of the government and we will go through a huge rehire project and incentivize college students to consider the federal government as a career choice. Federal retirement will be revised to make it look like a good career and GS salaries will be increased to match private sector salaries. (Anyone recognize this?)
Instead of knee jerk responses, easy fixes (low hanging fruit is the proper buzz phrase), or band aide solutions – let’s take the time to really think this one through and get it right. Save money where we need to save money, restructure where it makes sense; any time someone says we need to do this right now or else typically means someone is protecting their own herd of cows. Our usual political campaign promises and vote gathering solutions have not been working well over the last 50 years.
October 18, 2011 at 5:30 pm #143774
The system isn’t working anymore. Many elected officials say what the voters want to hear to get the votes, then find an excuse why it won’t happen and repeat the process in 4-6 years.
Debates are a buzz word fest as they say what the polls say they should say to rack up points. Any real discussion of the issues or ideas get lost in ‘but look at him/her!!! aren’t they horrible???? I’m much better than them!!!!!’ rhetoric.
As someoen said, there’s no trust. Maybe transparency can help. As a state employee it’s public record what I get paid. Maybe it should be the same for everyone. And for everything. Got a project with a 6 million dollar budget…well where did the money go? Person by person, where did the checks go? how much was spent on office supplies, etc.
It won’t be pretty and will probably be painful, but if offices are stewards of the public’s money, well shouldn’t the public have a right to know where every dime of it goes?
Maybe if the public can see which office spends 30% of its budget on fresh flowers or that a secretary is getting paid 60,000 to type letters, well they’ll know where the tax dolllars are going.
October 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm #143772
Mark said: “After all, I think we can agree that fraud, corruption, and senseless waste are thoroughly capable of happening in spite of all that oversight.”
That’s not the point, and while intuitive, it’s a straw man. The point is to reduce the liklihood of successful and ongoing abuse, while, at the same time creating a culture that clearly does not condone abuse internal to government.
It’s not about perfection.
Few of us have direct experience with earlier ways of doing things in government, where corruption was far more wide spread — search around for Tamany Hall, so most of us have worked in the “checks and balances” system, and only see the frustrations, since there are many for everyone.
The principle though is simple. The more power is concentrated in one person’s hands (or a group) in government, and the less oversight the more liklihood corruption and unethcial behavior will happen.
Not only is the red tape, bureaucratic system intended to distribute authority, but it’s meant as a means for government accountability and creating the perception that checks and balances are in place.
I’m all in favor of streamlining, and cutting the red tape, and like most public sector staff, it’s absolutely infuriating. But it IS there for a purpose — a democratic purpose.
October 18, 2011 at 6:59 pm #143770
Denise said: “Government is rife with created approval positions so that no individual is ever completely responsible (they can always fall back on ‘the committee agreed…..’) but at times it seems like we have more people approving than we have tasks to approve”.
Seems that way. Having worked for and with the feds, states, provinces and municipalities, I have found huge differences in how their systems work. Up here in Canada, I find that provinces have tons less of the approvals of approvals than the federal government. I find State governments better than our federal government.
I’m not quite sure why, apart from the more obvious things, but I suspect federal governments have more checks and balances in place because so little is conducted face to face with everything spread out across great distances. But maybe it’s a culture thing.
October 18, 2011 at 7:11 pm #143768
Here are some ways we are doing more for less (or more for $0). https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/create-and-distribute-your-agency-s-ebook-for-free-free-free
October 19, 2011 at 1:59 pm #143766
Great Question! We at The Clearing Inc. have found a model called MUDA most helpful in helping clients “do more with less.” This helps to simply categorize the activities of one’s organization as meeting customer or business needs, or not. Those that are not meeting one of those needs are MUDA, and the resources used towards MUDA should be cut and shifted to meeting unmet customer or business needs.
October 19, 2011 at 2:27 pm #143764
Check out 2 new reports that focus on tools and techiques for agencies to deal with fiscal austerity. One is by the Partnership of Public Services and other GAO. They focus on smart cuts not just across the board.
October 24, 2011 at 11:50 am #143762
Wow, this thread already has a slew of comments. My two cents: we can do more with less if government organizations are willing to embrace social media and other IT tools that allow employees to collaborate from around the globe. I know that the State Dept. has been very successful with this, while my department is still running Windows XP, office 2003, and has GovLoop blocked (the horror!).
We also need to look at what we want the federal government actually does. Almost every major program in my department is it about 50% staffing, even with contractors to help us close the gap. So maybe figuring out what our department’s priorities truly are, redistributing personnel, and putting some programs on hold until the higher priority programs are in the sustain phase is the smart thing to do.
October 24, 2011 at 1:24 pm #143760
But it is not always about cutting unproductive work…sometimes it means cutting essential functions because the personnel and other resources are just not there. While I realize there are likely some functions within the government where significant savings are still to be found by reducing duplicative work, some of us are to the point already where we are prioritizing and cutting essential functions because the funds and people are just not available. In oversight functions, we are not seen as an essential function until some huge problem comes to light. It would be a more effecient use of resources to have a vigorous oversight function to prevent the misuse of funds/resources rather than a gutted oversight function that can only find problems after the fact.
October 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm #143758
Charles A. RayParticipant
I’ve been in government (military and civilian) for over 49 years, and I’ve heard the phrase “do more with less” more times than I can remember. The fact is, the only thing you can do with less is LESS. What we can do is be more efficient and quit wasting resources following stupid rules that were often outdated before the ink was dry, but we ‘have to go by the book.’ Take for instance the way many agencies implement travel policy. A simple and cost-effective way would be to come up with estimates of what point-to-point travel should cost (more or less a generous average), provide the employee with that amount, give them an arrival date, and let them go. Many would go cheap and pocket the difference. Some would pony up the extra money to keep from being squeezed into a middle seat in cattle class, and some would go at the government rate. It wouldn’t cost the government any more than it currently does – and might even result in savings as it would minimize all the paperwork currently required. So, can we do more with less? No, but with a little common sense, we could do better with any amount.
October 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm #143756
Yes, you can. Its called innovation and transformation. You have to look at everything individually and in combination and re-engineering or eliminate redundant functions. Do not merely automate…that just institutionalizes outdated, sclerotic and defunct processes.
Unfortunately, government in general is not organized or incented to do so, so such initiatives tend to degenerate into political debates and power struggles.
Completely new ways of thinking, acting, managing and compensating are required. Its a huge issue.
October 24, 2011 at 3:26 pm #143754
It is nuts…and IBM is much less vertical than it once was…
This is the premise behind the Smarter Local Government concept…when you look at the 3000+ counties and 30K+ cities/municipalities across the US, they are all organized in similar fashion (vertical functionality with an administrative umbrella over them), which is, as you say, a 19th century hierarchical model. Such was necessary for many organizations, including corporations and the military.
Not so anymore. We cannot afford 19th/20th century government in the 21st century. Its unsustainable.
If you want to see what is possible in doing more with less, just look at IBM’s transformation story over the last 15 years. If you want valid proof of doing more with less, look at IBM’s stock and dividend performance since Lou Gerstner began to fix the bloated bureaucracy that IBM had become.
Stock price and market valuation are just common KPIs for private sector public corporations. Similar KPIs can and are being developed for public sector organizations. We can have philosophical discussions elsewhere.
Note that we can keep our dysfunctional political organizations and uninformed elected officials around for as long as we want to or can afford to (not much longer, IMHO). We just need to change the business of government underneath the political theatrics.
DISCLAIMER: I’ve worked for IBM for 26+ years, 30+ years in the IT industry. I’ve covered Public Sector on and off over the years. Its not been pretty…
October 24, 2011 at 6:30 pm #143752
I’ve been with the US Federal Government over 14 years. I can honestly say only once have I seen an instance of “corruption” and it was a well-intended if misguided attempt to unfairly influence the awarding of a grant. The worker truly thought he was doing the right thing, trying to get what he thought would be the best prooject funded in his program. When I think of my time in government, I think of workers who blew me away with their integrity, intelligence and long hard hours of work, often overtime and weekends, but not getting paid a cent more. My experience has been in various agencies of HHS, and I know people are currently overworked, working evenings and weekends with precious little support staff (had to privatize remember?) just to keep current with programmatic work.
Someone in a comment way back said something about future cuts meaning that GS13’s and 14’s would be doing their own purchase orders and photocopying. You mean they don’t now? Everyone I know (I’m a 14) does their own paperwork, photocopying etc. There is absolutely not enough support staff to keep up with the work, so much of it has fallen to program staff.
Sure there is always room for improvement, always somwhere to cut corners, but the idea that government workers are wasteful and unproductive is ill-founded. I’ve seen budgets cut to the bare bones, so much so that pur next cuts will have to be “body parts,” instead of an “arm” or a “leg” we’ll be cutting programs, research,service delivery, and regulatory functions. Much saving from increased “efficiency” will be chump change compared to the federal deficit. I do think that privatization of many government functions has cost the population more. For what federal workers would do as part of their regular salary, we pay contractors’ salaries plus alarmingly high markups and overhead costs.
Commenters here have spoken about reduncies and layers of oversight, etc. I’m completely supportive of more horizontal organizations, I think better work gets done that way. However, we are being called on for increased transparency and accountability, there is a cost to this. It takes worker time and effort as well as increased oversight, so cost savings here are not a slam dunk.
The population needs to decide what it wants government to do. Frankly, I don’t think most of the citizenry realizes just how much benefit the federal government brings to their lives, and we the government used be able to bring more. I know it doesn’t always work well. I’m a New Orleans native, remember Katrina, and the federal response? So I don’t sing the praises of the government lightly.
I think if budgets are to be cut, then programs and services will have to be cut. The citizenry should be made aware of just what is being cut and what these cuts will mean for their well-being and that of the nation as a whole. At this moment in time, many of these decisions are being decided according to political concerns and not necessarily according to citizen will. The American public really should have a stronger voice in this.
Well, I thank you for your indulgence, if this has been a rant, but after 14 years (more for many others) of budget cuts and being told to do more with less, I’m really fed up. Oh, and you know, we could always raise taxes. That could be part of the solution.
October 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm #143750
“Commenters here have spoken about reduncies and layers of oversight, etc. I’m completely supportive of more horizontal organizations, I think better work gets done that way. However, we are being called on for increased transparency and accountability, there is a cost to this. It takes worker time and effort as well as increased oversight, so cost savings here are not a slam dunk. The population needs to decide what it wants government to do. Frankly, I don’t think most of the citizenry realizes just how much benefit the federal government brings to their lives… “
Bingo. There are some competing priorities here, some soul-searching required, and a wee bit of marketing to do as well.
October 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm #143748
I would like to put a plug in for a report we recently issued at GAO that is relevant to this discussion “Streamlining Government: Key Practices from Select Efficiency Initiatives Should be Shared Governmentwide” (GAO-11-908). You can find it on our website http://www.gao.gov. We reviewed several efficiency initiatives at the federal level within DHS, VA, DOD, and HUD, as well as in five states–Virginia, Iowa, Texas, Washington, and Georgia. We found that there were generally two broad categories of efficiency initiatives (1) reexamining programs, structures, and functions to determine whether they effectively and efficiently achieved their mission; and (2) streamlining and consolidating operations to make them more cost effective. We also highlighted some key practices culled from these federal and state initiatives that could be applied more broadly across the federal government: (1) using change management practices to implement and sustain efficiency initiatives; (2) targeting both short-term and long-term efficiency initiatives; and (3) building capacity for improving efficiency.
November 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm #143746
I would add:
Cross-train line staff to perform support staff functions.
November 18, 2011 at 6:34 am #143744
Yes, it’s sometimes possible to do more with less. But a great many agencies (especially at the bureau/sub-agency level or in smaller agencies) have already made most all of the changes that allow one to “do more with less”; in order to keep up with external mandates and new responsibilities that increased faster than budgets did; a lack of fixed costs increases even while costs of energy, transportation, critical contracts, etc. skyrocketed; and many other issues. As I heard it stated once: “[many agencies] have been asked to “do more with less” for so long that they are dangerously close to doing everything with nothing at all”. This means that for many agencies, anything we could do to do more with less has already been done, and the only thing we’ll be able to do with less going forward is, in fact, LESS.
The other trick to “doing more with less” is that there has to be agency discretion and management flexibility to determine how to take reductions. It’s pretty impossible for an agency to successfully do more with less under a massive across-the-board, for example; or under a set of externally-directed and specific reductions; as opposed to more focused reductions chosen by the agency that allow agencies to effectively plan and structure reductions.
May 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm #143742
Consider the analogy of putting a square peg into a round hole, with the hole representing the finite workplace resources and the peg being the workload. In order to put the peg into the hole, its shape needs to be changed – in effect, the structure of the workload needs to change. This can be accomplished by reassessing the way things are done (work processes and procedures). Change the structure of the workload by shortening, compressing, and or streamlining it so that it can be effectively accomplished by the (limited) production resources available. Self-service, automation, simplification, reduce or eliminate appeals with hard and fast requirements. Liberalism in production processes creates “creep” and an expanding mid-resolution workload that consumes a disproportionate amount of production resources to resolve. The same quantity of “widgets” can be produced, but the process and qualifying criteria need to be (re)designed to constrain the workload to levels manageable with existing resources.
May 4, 2012 at 4:30 pm #143740
This is a mother-lode of great ideas from folks. This is obviously a topic with a lot of heat for a lot of people.I see two phases to the game called “More-with-Less.”
1. The first is “Musical Jobs:” every time the music stops, people scramble to survive layoffs.
2. Only those with chairs get to play phase two, “Survivor:” then they compete to see how long they can survive as they scramble to do more than they can. The contestants slowly sink into the impossible Catch 22, and on top of that, feel bad for having human limitations. The result is stress, poor work-life balance, and increasing challenge to health, safety, and happiness.
I agree with many commentors regarding the importance of prioritizing and then following the priorities. This is a vital leadership role that includes making sense from information chaos. It is leadership’s job to distill the myriad packages of good intentions into a coherent picture and an integrated handful of priorities.
We’ve chased specialization a long ways in the past century. We have come up with impressive knowledge and results. But the returns on specialization are diminishing. It’s hard to take advantage of all that depth without a sense of how the knowledge fits together. (So what if my heart doctor is brilliant in his field, but doesn’t communicate with other specialists to diagnose what is truly doing on for me?)
It’s time to link and integrate our knowledge; time to identify the redundance and conflicts within all those pieces and organize them into a coherent picture; time to insure that different groups working on the same topics are able to communicate, consolidate, learn from each other, and coordinate efforts.
This is the fundamental challenge, not just for government, but for our times, our generation, and our sanity.
May 4, 2012 at 5:06 pm #143738
Partnerships and resource sharing is key. I work for a City, and I think State and Federal government have a lot to learn about partnerships from the locals, as this is a way of life on the local level. Cities form agreements with developers to spur economic activity and redevelopment. Cities also form joint-powers agreements with other cities to provide police/fire/ambulance services, street sweeping, park management and other basic local services. More advanced partnerships include rolling separate projects into one procurement contract.
For example, we partner with our local Watershed District on design and construction services. Where we have a large street reconstruction project, the Watershed District may roll in a water quality project under the same contract. This is a savings in money and time for both governing units, it gets the job done and improves the relationship with each successful project. Another example is a local city partnering with the YMCA to build a community center on city-owned parkland — and it’s no dumpy place — they have a swimming pool, full fitness center and programs for families and kids!
I no longer believe ANY agency can fund or provide a service in this day and age on their own. Whether it’s public-public or public-private, any governing unit or agency should always explore whether or not another agency can provide the service or need better through a partnership.
May 4, 2012 at 5:16 pm #143736
Management by cliché does not work. Do more with less, low hanging fruit, best practices, think outside the box, work smarter not harder and the list goes on. There is a point where programs fail because they are not staffed or funded properly – regardless what the boss or the budget says. When staff are over worked, under resourced and then raked over the coals by media and in our case Congress – for being lazy, inefficient and incompetent, catchy phrases are irritating.
We all see places we could save money, revamping acquisition procedures, revising HR regulations, updating travel regs, bringing technology and staff together in real solutions. When half the agency is using Windows XP and Office 2007 and the other half using Windows 7 and Office 2010, or collaboration tools are installed but not able to be used fully – unless you are a political appointee or SES – because of funding, bandwidth deficiencies or image releases, people get tired of looking for solutions. It is frustrating for staff to put forth an effort only to lose funding and staff or political support.
I am not sure the Government is really designed to be innovative – the immune system is such working smarter vs harder is not easy – so many rules and regulations. What are the chances that FEDCLOUD will really work –http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-UnitedStates/Local%20Assets/Documents/Federal/us_fed_The_Future_of_Federal_Work_092011.pdf? And will it solve problems or create more? Will manager/supervisors support it or ignore it like telework? Many of us want to do better, be more efficient – but we need the support from managers, politicals and Congress – not just catchy phrases. We could do with less oversight and more freedom to try new things.
May 4, 2012 at 5:56 pm #143734
Harry W. KenworthyParticipant
The most effective “new approach” that’s being used is applying Lean from the private sector into the Government sector. Lean works to eliminate wastes/costs while also increasing capacity/service. There are clearly enough examples of this being a very effective approach with the caveat being there has to be good leadership (which can certainly be a problem in Government). Lean resource investments that are made return at least 10X on a fairly immediate basis. We help people “learn to see” and once this is done, the aspects of wastes become clear to enable the organzation to be able to move to a much more effective improved process/state. If you go to this web site link, you will find numerous Government links that are using Lean to deliver more with less, or deliver much more with the same: http://www.leangovcenter.com/govweb.htm.
I appreciate any comments or questions to [email protected].
May 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm #143732
Doing more with less means becoming more efficient. I agree that layers of gov’t need to be eliminated, that our focus must be on value to those being supported. This will not occurr unless non-value work, to include DTMs and regulations that add no value, is eliminated. It will not occurr unless gov’t agencies focus on cost; until we adopt financial metrics used by corporations and control these costs. Supply chains must be leaned and become more efficient as well. Organizations must be reconstructed.
May 4, 2012 at 8:52 pm #143730
May 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm #143728
May 6, 2012 at 6:40 am #143726
I agree that Lean is a great methodology for freeing capacity, allowing organizations to do the same with less. Furthermore, Lean can enable innovation by freeing up resources (by eliminating non-value added activity).
I think it’s important to acknowledge, however, that Lean doesn’t answer the question of whether certain work needs to be done at all, or create the kind of disruptive innovations that create entirely new products/services or new novel ways of delivering existing services (like inter-departmental, inter-jurisdictional, or inter-sector partnerships). It may be a necessary precursor though.
September 17, 2012 at 1:14 pm #143724
September 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm #143722
I think a big way to do more with less – is not about more or less – it’s about different.
That’s why I loved this post on reforming public notice – https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/public-notices-the-case-for-radical-reform?xg_source=activity
Yes, we can have more (reach more people with public notices) with less (it will cost less money) – but to do that, it’s about doing different (let public notices be not just in print newspapers but online with enough audience)
September 23, 2012 at 8:38 pm #143720
I had accounting compile but not print & distribute a dozen interim monthly reports, without notifying anyone of this change. The result was one person out of 200 who received these reports called to ask about the delay in one of the dozen. We killed the other reports and gained 1/2 an FTE who could do ‘meaningful’ work.
Doing more by eliminating unneeded tasks creates space to do more. However, if personal agendas, external influences, and random across the board quotas are imposed, too much is lost in overcoming the barriers to permit much efficiency from change.
Government looks different in a post more-for-less atmosphere – repetitive tasks are done mostly by articulate computers, with user support of various levels. The potential of a big data solution is gathering data once locally and use it throughout all agencies (after the privacy considerations are solved). Expectations and accountability will also look different.
Best of luck with the panel discussion.
September 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm #143718
November 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm #143716
While people are doing more with less, they’re too busy to ask, Does what we’re doing make sense? Can we do it differently? and other strategic questions. Shrinking budgets can aid the process of making intelligent reductions, but only if leaders are savvy enough to step back, take a deep breath, and engage their teams in answering these questions.
November 2, 2012 at 6:51 pm #143714
Paul L. RauParticipant
The private sector has been able to much more with spending less and having less employees. The government needs to do the same.
November 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm #143712
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