Changing LEAN Government from Incremental Improvement to Sweeping Agency Transformation

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Wouldn’t you agree that while management teams struggle to institutionalize a LEAN program they often discover that it provides little value when a clear strategic vision to give it context and meaning is absent?

We all know the importance of context when making choices and determining priorities. The decisions that we make can be polar opposites depending on the circumstances in which alternatives are weighed. But organizations seldom consider setting a context when instituting process improvement and monitoring apparatus.

The LEAN approach is a well-known and often misused process improvement tool because it is regularly implemented without the benefit of a well articulated strategic vision. In the absence of sufficient context, the archetypal LEAN effort overstresses operational efficiency at the cost of proficient strategic execution.

Without a solid understanding of the “big” picture in place, a quick fix here can result in a bigger problem over there, e.g., a shuttling of the problem further downstream to another department.  Stated another way, “Without the necessary context to set direction and to guide decision-making, how can we be sure that the changes that we’re proffering and, for that matter, measuring are the ‘right’ things for our agency?”  Simply put, we can’t!

It is for this reason that BlumShapiro approaches its LEAN Government engagements with a much broader perspective in mind.

A  Better Approach to LEAN Government

LEAN work must be framed by an agency’s strategic framework in order to deliver desired improvements and stripping of waste from core processes.  Characteristics like the following must be considered:

  • Management Style
  • Customer Demographics
  • Growth Strategies
  • Service Delivery
  • Reputation
  • Operating Model
  • Workforce
  • Governance Frameworks
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Leadership Models
  • Product/Service Sets
  • Service Distribution
  • Community/Stakeholder Partnerships
  • Organizational Structure
  • Process Transformation
  • Performance Metrics
  • Project Portfolios (Work Management Structures)
  • Communication Infrastructure (Internal/External

With the right foundation for understanding in place, LEAN efforts can be conducted that will more adequately support agency management’s ability to monitor their organization’s progress towards the achievement of its key strategies and better delivery of its core mission.

Likewise, any related initiatives (recognized through an improved approach to LEAN) required to realize an Agency’s key business strategies can more readily be identified and folded into a strategic plan for the organization.  In this way, related projects that are essential for lasting transformation (like those aimed at vision achievement, employee empowerment, engagement and trust, for example) are better understood and accepted by an agency’s senior leadership.


The typical LEAN effort, that has the tendency to move problems and backlogs downstream, overemphasizes “quick and dirty” change at the expense of overall agency execution. This needs to shift.  The desire for incremental change, like that which is achieved through traditional LEAN, must be retired and replaced by a broader perspective for transformative change. After all, does gaining a better understanding of “the average time spent answering emails” mean much if employee engagement and worker trust are low?

To close, the amalgamation of agency vision and strategy used to inform LEAN programs will heighten new ways of thinking and doing. Indeed, the approach can provide a strategic platform from which to introduce new programs, and extend existing programs, that better position state agencies to be more responsive and broader-reaching enterprises.

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