What’s Behind the Buzz about Transforming Government

Most leaders have by now been exposed to a veritable alphabet soup of quality improvement initiiaves.  There were Quality Circles, TQM, SQI and CQI; remember those?  I do and have even  taught them.

Now LEAN and Six-Sigma are the popular intiatives to reduce waste and improve efficiency.  LEAN had it’s genesis in the Toyota Production System Kaizen philosophy.  This approach has been applied with notable success in an improvement resistant sector, healthcare.

Now we have an increased call to drive waste out of government, to reinvent it, make it more like business and so on.

This is not actually new, news though.  Take this quote:  “We don’t want to get rid of government.  We want it to work better and cost less.  We want it to make sense.”  Sounds current, doesn’t it.  That’s actually from then Vice President  Al  Gore.

Many people, when asked, feel there is waste in government and often epitomize this perceptions with the snapshot view of the highway construction worker leaning on a shovel.

The core question about transforming government is where to begin and that involves identifying the problem which may lack the convenient simplicity of popular sloganism as most lasting problem solving does.

In the next post, we’ll explore views from quadrants as diverse as the 9/11 Commission and the Missouri Drivers’ License Bureau about the state of government.

Is Extreme Government Makeover Really Extreme?

Last time, we introduced Ken Miller’s work called Extreme Government Makeover. Unlike many waste cutters and efficiency improvers, Ken comes from government service. He cut his process improvement teeth working to reduce the waiting lines at the Missouri DMV. After that, he spent a decade on the road as a consultant.

He claims to have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t from his combined experience in government and as a consultant.

At the root of his approach is his view that most attempts to cut waste out of government are doomed to fail because they focus on exactly the wrong aspect. The cost cutters usually cut the people first because in a service industry, that’s the most visible expense.

The problem is the cutting the people doesn’t fix the gummed up processes of government. An example here are the long waiting lines at a DMV. Cut down the number of staff and the lines just get longer.

Miller contends that citizens are mostly not wanting reductions in the capacity of government to do good. They want the potholes filled, the license plates renewed, the deeds filled etc. What they want is that this is done more efficiently.

His argument is that you need to change the efficiency approach entirely. Don’t bash the government employees as most are hard working and loyal people. Use his approach to fix the processes that don’t work and then the costs will reduce and the citizen customers will be more and more happy with their government.

I find the approach refreshing and in line with what Dr. Deming taught in the early days of process improvement work in the 1940’s. 94% of the problems are not due to people!

After the approach, I would say that the techniques recommended seem to be mainstream process improvement tools.

If you are interested, read more about Ken Miller on his blog