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Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Lean Management in the Public Service

By Joanne Zuk

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This blog post is based on the paper Perfect Pair or Better as Just Friends: Is the Public Service Ready for Lean Leadership by Joanne Zuk, which was awarded the grand prize int he IPAC 2015 Blueprint 2020 National Paper Competition.

Three things to know about government and Lean management:

1. Lean management is difficult to adopt in government. Lean process improvement focuses on what the customer wants, but governments have many customers – citizens, legislators, interest groups, consumers, – all with different wants.  

2. Implementing Lean process improvement means engaging front line staff in new ways, asking them to experiment to deliver better value to the customer. Many staff have never experienced this type of engagement, and may be resistant to a new level of responsibility. Building a psychologically safe environment becomes very important.

3. Leadership plays the most important role. Ministerial responsibility imposes a limit on the amount of change that can happen without political approval, but that doesn’t mean improvement cannot happen. Senior leaders need to establish expectations of coaching so that the plan-do-study-act cycle becomes part of daily routine.

Three myths about government and Lean management:

Myth #1: Lean is about public service downsizing.  

The Reality: Not usually – it’s about reducing the overburden on employees so they can focus on tasks that are valuable.

Myth #2: Applying Lean approaches will result in cost-savings for government.

The Reality: Sometimes – but it can also improve response times and improve perceptions of public service. 

Myth #3: Lean can be applied to small projects.

The Reality: Without a concerted effort to change culture, the effect of process improvement will be isolated, and a decade from now, governments will be challenged to improve processes that were improved during the current cycle.

Joanne Zuk is a graduate student in the Joint Masters of Public Administration program at the University of Manitoba and The University of Winnipeg. She is also the Manager of Policy and Planning at Manitoba Student Aid, for the Government of Manitoba.

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