The New Gold Standard: Why the Public Sector is Going Lean

If you don't already know, our offices are located just outside of Washington, DC. Being so close has given us a special affinity for our nation's capital, so we make it our business to stay on top of the latest developments within the public sector.

We believe that affecting change within our own communities, whether at the local, state or federal level, is one of the greatest ways to pursue continuous improvement. Turns out, we aren't the only ones that feel that way.

The race to 'win' at Lean government has already begun, and here's why. 

Lean Government Innovators

In keeping tabs on the public sector, we saw that Lean principles have already found a place within government initiatives at all levels - federal, state, and local.

In fact, at the federal level, agencies such as the EPA, the Department of Defense, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have made a meaningful commitment to Lean.  The same is true at the state (e.g., Ohio, Washington, Colorado, MarylandIowa, Minnesota, and Rhode Island) and local (e.g., Ventura County, City of Dallas, City of Lakewood) levels.  

This, of course, begs the question, what has led to the tremendous growth in adoption of Lean in the public sector?  There appear to be at least three factors worth noting.


Meeting the Demand for More Transparency

There is little doubt that citizens are demanding more transparency from the government organizations that they fund through their tax dollars, which has spurred action. In 2006 President Bush signed into law the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which was legislation requiring full disclosure of agencies receiving federal funds. 

Two years later President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government and shortly thereafter his administration launched the Open Government Initiative.  Many state agencies and local municipalities have followed suit by establishing programs and implementing tools to foster greater transparency.

This move toward transparency is also driving higher levels of accountability. Citizens want to know that their government is taking steps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness with which they do their work. In that regard implementing Lean to drive out waste and improve employee engagement makes a ton of sense.


Doing More with Less

For many government agencies the demand for the services they deliver has increased faster than the budget dollars available to provide those services. So, in order to meet their institutional mandate to the citizens they serve, these agencies must figure out how to be more productive with their existing resources.  

Once again, Lean can be a major piece of the puzzle when it comes to staying on top of the latest regulations by forcing a thorough examination of which activities are truly adding value (i.e., directly meeting the needs of the citizenry) vs. those that are actually wasteful (i.e., not required to meet the needs of the citizenry).

Lean: It just works

While the two factors raised above certainly contribute to the rise of Lean in the public sector, neither of them would carry any weight if Lean wasn't effective. However, there's a strong track record in the private sector. Numerous companies across varying industries successfully implemented a Lean culture and experienced tremendous operational, financial, and cultural benefits from having done so.


The numbers don't lie

These same private sector benefits can be realized in the public sector as well.  For example, the US Army has claimed a cumulative savings of $19.1 billion from their implementation of Lean Six Sigma between 2006 and 2011. At the state level, the Colorado Department of Transportation used Lean methods to reduce Oversize/Overweight permits issued to truck drivers by 50% while also cutting the time to process a permit application. What's also exciting about the Colorado DOT story is the amount of engagement that's generated by creating cross-functional, localized improvement teams to solve problems and implement improvements.


The future of Lean government

As more and more government institutions start down their Lean journey, they'll find that a key challenge is cohesively managing the various "moving parts" associated with it, such as:


  • Aligning the workforce on strategy
  • Establishing and implementing standard business processes
  • Applying a disciplined approach to project management
  • Tracking the benefits

At the end of the day, sophisticated programs need sophisticated solutions. And we mean sophisticated, not complicated. Think you're ready to take the next step with your improvement? We'd love to learn about your current and future plans and see how EON could help you get there, faster.

Talk with an EON Opex expert to learn more

About the author

EON Team

The EON Platform team works tirelessly to write content that provides valuable, actionable insights.