Many challenges exist when trying to implement lean in a governmental context. These include workforce structure, complex relationships with stakeholders, policies that discourage risk taking, and the problem of challenging existing structures.
Although it is difficult to introduce lean thinking into government circles, it is possible. People who have worked in lean-focused change programs within the public sector have found that leaders get discouraged easily, shying away from the methodology for a variety of reasons which can easily be overcome if they take on a lean mindset.
Below are some barriers to service delivery in the public sector and how lean principles can be used to overcome them.
Dealing With Lack of Time and Limited Resources
For a large number of government agencies, the amount of work to be done, the expectations of the citizenry and needs of various stakeholders have increased without a corresponding increase in the number of government employees. The result is that the workforce comes under ever increasing pressure to produce results. For this reason, leaders worry that their people do not have the time to implement lean as they work on other priority areas.
Still, this can be resolved by holding daily meetings and putting up visual boards that clearly show where backlogs lie as well as who is responsible for handling the issues. This will serve to energize workers, offer a sense of urgency and provide government employees with much more control over their areas of responsibility.
Understanding Complex Bureaucratic Processes
In reality, the concepts of lean thinking can be applied to any process. This is especially true of complex bureaucratic processes in which waste can easily be hidden behind a mountain of rules and a widely distributed network of experts. Common problems that governments face when trying to offer services to citizens include: an unclear view of the process customer, poor coordination between work groups and unnecessarily complicated instructions.
If lean is to be used to resolve these issues, leaders should first undo the notion that the methodology will offer a cookie cutter solution to the many complex problems they face. However, it will offer government with a collection of principles and best practices that help them and their teams to uncover areas of hidden waste, bring stakeholders on board with regard to the changes required and provide effective and consistently positive outcomes.
Facilitate Long-Term Planning That Is Unaffected by Political Changes
For a large number of public sector agencies, timing is vital when carrying out process improvement initiatives since political sentiment and political appointees are constantly changing. While any complex organization can take years or decades to attain true transformation of their systems of management, leaders within government who want to implement lean do not have the luxury of time. This is because they only have a short elective term to show tangible results.
However, this political dynamic is the exact reason why lean leadership works. When new leaders have an awareness and positive outlook on lean methodologies, they ensure that lean implementation continues, even under a new administration.
Also, when lean is done in the right way, it helps to build inclusiveness and a culture of learning within governmental organizations. Because it has a bias on swift action and inclusivity of the entire organization, it allows government leaders to achieve rapid progress on small issues and build the foundation for the resolution of tougher problems. Regardless of changes in leadership or goals, management practices stay the same.
Delivering improvements in service delivery has special challenges, especially for governments. They face budgetary and resource constraints, complex stakeholder relationships and processes and constant changes in leadership and policy.
In spite of this, the situation is far from hopeless. The adoption of lean by government offers a practical and effective method of creating positive change in the way services are delivered to citizens.