The duty of government is to serve its citizens. Provincial and state governments play a crucial role in providing essential services, from healthcare to education, transportation to public safety. This wide range of responsibilities needs to be met with limited resources. Operational excellence, the practice of continuously improving processes and systems by minimizing inefficiencies, is essential for provincial governments to deliver high-quality services while reducing costs and enhancing citizen satisfaction. If governments are not working towards operational excellence, they are failing in their responsibility to serve their residents.
The implementation of Lean techniques within the provincial government can be instrumental in ensuring the citizens’ needs are the priority, while doing so in an efficient manner that utilizes all resources available.
More and more, provincial and state governments are implementing Lean Six Sigma initiatives in various departments such as transportation, health, and human resources. For example, the Government of Ontario launched the Lean and Continuous Improvement Office in 2019 to find inefficiencies, reduce barriers, and remove redundancies across the public sector. ServiceOntario was able to increase the productivity of its Accessible Parking Permit process by 20%, which allowed them to increase their output by more than 200 permits per day.
However, challenges and inefficiencies in such a broad system of government will always persist, and there exists many opportunities to enhance operational excellence by ensuring that resources are being optimally allocated. Operational excellence is not an endpoint, but rather it is a journey of continuous improvement. Lean Six Sigma methodologies can make services simpler, faster, better, and cheaper. Improving processes can lead to increased job satisfaction for employees and enhanced customer satisfaction for residents.
What is Lean?
The Lean methodology was developed with the ultimate goal of reducing costs and increasing efficiency by identifying and eliminating activities in a given process (service or manufacturing) that fail to add value and yet consume resources. In the Lean terminology, value is defined as ‘what the customer is willing to pay’. As a result, lean is heavily oriented not only to efficiency and cost reduction but also to creating value to ensure customer satisfaction.
On the other hand, Six Sigma is a system developed with the goal of controlling variation and making processes more consistent and reliable to ensure the quality of deliverables. The combination of Lean with Six Sigma results in a faster creation of value at the lowest possible cost.
Continuous Improvement within the Government
Operational challenges within the public sector can differ substantially depending on the type of service offered to the community; however, the underlying principles regarding waste and inefficient allocation of resources remain consistent. A few examples of challenges to efficiency that are frequently observed are delays in delivering services, poor quality, customer complaints, and, most importantly, a lack of a customer-centric view where the resident receiving the service fails to be the driving force for how the process is developed. In the private sector it is more natural for the customer to be the focal point; even though this can be challenging to achieve in the public sector and may require a paradigm shift driven by the leaders, it is just as crucial.
How can the government overcome these challenges (and others) in pursuit of continual operational excellence? The Lean system offers many tools and methods that are able to approach any challenge from multiple perspectives, while focusing on reallocating resources to minimize inefficiency. For example, Lean methods may be able to identify that certain processes could be streamlined such that the same amount of end product can be performed by fewer employees without requiring more work per person. This frees up resources where employees can take on additional tasks or processes and increase productivity without increasing workload.
But first, in order to achieve tangible results through Lean, it is crucial to identify and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs), which vary quite substantially from one service to another within the different levels of government organizations. KPIs that are common in the private sector could still be relevant in multiple government departments:
- Cycle Time: Measuring the time it takes for a process to be completed from start to finish can help identify bottlenecks in the process and areas where improvements can be made to streamline the process. Service cycle times are often delayed by redundancies, excessive bureaucracy, and recurring errors that contribute to bottlenecks. These roadblocks consume resources without adding value to the service.
- First-Time Quality: This measures the percentage of work that is completed correctly on the first attempt and does not require steps to be repeated.
- Cost per Unit: This measures the cost of producing each unit of work, which could refer to a service being offered.
- Customer Satisfaction: This measures the satisfaction of customers with the service provided. Again, it is critical that provincial and state governments are customer-centric and prioritize the customer experience of their residents.
By tracking these KPIs, provincial governments can identify areas where improvements can be made to increase process efficiency and achieve operational excellence.
One of the key methodologies that Lean Six Sigma uses is the DMAIC tool, which stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. After defining the problem in detail, relevant KPIs are measured to understand the quantitative element of the problem with tools such as the value stream map or process flow maps. These are important methods to understand the problem and how it leads to inefficiencies, redundancies, delays, bottlenecks, and other sources of waste that consume resources but fail to add value. The analyze phase investigates root causes and variables contributing to the problem, where Lean tools such as fishbone diagrams and Pareto charts help to identify root causes and their correlation with the problem. This allows energy to be directed toward eliminating or minimizing the root causes that are the major contributors to waste, rather than expending resources on root causes that are not a significant source of waste or inefficiency. The improve phase focuses on implementing methods that enhance efficiency and reduce waste, which includes tools such as Poka Yoke (error proofing), 5S (workplace organization), and visual workplace using Kanbans. Finally, the control phase emphasizes the importance of maintaining the gains to efficiency rather than reverting to old, wasteful patterns.
Other examples of governments that have begun to implement Lean techniques and initiatives in various sectors include the states of Michigan, Texas, and Washington, as well as the provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. The states of Michigan and Texas have implemented Lean methodology in their government operations to streamline processes and reduce costs. Also, the state of Washington has implemented Lean Six Sigma initiatives in various departments: among the achievements gained through their initiatives, they experienced $33 million in savings while eliminating one million hours of waiting time in the Department of Licensing lobbies.
The Government of Saskatchewan has implemented Lean Six Sigma programs focused on improving processes in areas such as human resources, finance, and procurement. In the Health Care system, Saskatchewan is working on transforming to a patient-first health system through continuous improvement methodologies. In Alberta and British Columbia, progress has been seen through Lean Six Sigma initiatives in various departments, such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Environment and Parks, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training.
The work continues.
Lean Six Sigma Implementation & Training
At AMSaxum we help our clients with the implementation of process improvement projects and provide onsite corporate training on lean six sigma/continuous improvement methodologies. There are Government grants available in Canada and the USA to cover the cost of corporate training.
Government Funding & Assistance Options
For private companies in North America with ties to provincial or state governments, specifically, there could be applicable grants to aid in upfront costs such as capital investment and employee training. AMSaxum experts in government funding help with the application of these grants and with the preparation of SR&ED tax credit claims.
For more information on continuous improvement and opportunities to pursue operational excellence within the provincial government sector call AMSaxum at 1-888-772-2809 or contact us here.