Applying the Lean for the Public Sector Certificate in my daily work

I recently completed a Certificate in Lean for the Public Sector at the University of Ottawa (which has now changed to the Certificate in Lean Management). The certificate consists of five courses focused on problem solving using scientific approaches, establishing proper support for the project, tools to ensure successful implementation and an elective course on leading through transition.

After each completed course (spread across 10 months), I noticed some gaps between what I was learning and what I was experiencing in my daily work. Here are some of my main observations:

Traditional Drivers of Change

The Lean approach recommends transitioning away from the view of the command and control model (senior management) as the driver of change.  Instead it recommends that we empower and engage the people most involved in the process. Discussing and developing opportunities for improvement with those most directly involved is one way of achieving this shift.

Senior management definitely has a large role to play. They need to communicate the purpose of the process changes through a clear vision and strategy, recognize that transformation is a long (but accomplishable) journey, and always put clients at the centre of the change efforts.

Undocumented Processes

The Lean approach assumes that documented processes are available.  Documented processes, although ideal, are not readily available within most organizations. When formally documenting current state processes, there are challenges (and many iterations required) given the fact that process steps are viewed slightly differently each and every time.

Process maps are tools to help analyze the flow of information through various stakeholders. The more that we can align different perspectives and bring to life a common and recurring scenario, the greater the chance of gaining validation and developing a more viable future state process.

Unsure of Value

The Lean approach assumes that the true meaning of value is universal or unanimously derived.  Arriving at what constitutes value in a process or process step is often challenging. When documenting processes, it is particularly difficult for people to assess the perceived value associated with core activities in their routine.

To help identify value within processes, we should all improve our ability to respond to the following key questions:

  • What is the widget? For example, what is the thing that is being produced?
  • Who is the client? For example, is it Indigenous Communities, Canadians with disabilities?
  • What is the value for the client? For example, is it time, quality, security, etc.?

Another way to specify value is to map the activities within the process map into a value stream map. This helps determine which activities are taking the most time to be performed (process time), or which do not provide value to the client (waste).

There are two types of waste:

  1. No value, but necessary for business (BNVA): Business or governance required, unavoidable (for short term)
  2. Pure waste (NVA): Can be removed without impact

Classifying activities into value-added (VA), BNVA and NVA, can help us to understand which activities are causing delays and frustrations. Developing processes that have minimal BNVA and NVA will go a long way to streamlining processes and creating the efficiencies we seek.

Where is the Flow?

The Lean approach assumes that work, particularly knowledge work, has a clear flow.  Processes do not always have a clear flow, meaning activities do not always have a clear, logical, route to the end activity.  This can result in too many handoffs creating confusion, duplication and higher workloads.

We could all be doing more to clarify or break down problem areas, and develop countermeasures to avoid reoccurrences. Even with the implementation of recommendations, the key is not to implement them and move on. Studying the results and taking ongoing corrective action is necessary, to eventually standardize the successful processes.

Over-reliance on Systems

The Lean approach assumes that people are interested in manual methods for assessing work.  The only digital information and technology used in the course was a PowerPoint presentation and external links to videos.  The bulk of our learning occurred through paper. This was an interesting change from the constant reliance on digital information and technology that many of us experience in our daily work.

On the job, we see the tendency for people to over-rely on systems to solve department-wide problems. Technology may help us analyze data or create professional looking documents, however, in more complex situations, a technology solution will not create more informed individuals that will work together collaboratively to make improvements.

During the course, we mapped processes, built effective meeting boards, and completed other exercises with sticky notes that let us make mistakes and move things around. It was extremely effective to have a group gathered around a wall, engaging with each other to find a solution.

The certificate made me continuously ask “why”. “Why are you doing this?”, “why is this document required?”, “why can’t we change this?”. My mind wanders to how to make improvements in every process, no matter where I interact with it. There is a term we use in Lean called Kaizen, which when broken down in Japanese, means a change that is calm. Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement through everyone’s involvement. With new initiatives and projects being implemented, it is easy to get lost in the havoc. Instead we should all focus on being the advocate for a calm change, and how everyone in the process has a voice that will impact final performance.

Do you have experience implementing Lean principles in your place of work? If so, share with us your barriers to success or approaches to solutions.


Lisa is a consultant with three years of experience focused on lean process management, user experience and business strategy development. She has completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Marketing from the John Molson School of Business in Montreal, finishing her studies at the Copenhagen Business School in Denmark.


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