iSixSigma

The People Side of Lean

In the beginning… there is some valid concern expressed about the people side of lean and how individuals are affected by Lean initiatives in the public sector. There is a common, prima facie response when lean thinking is first introduced in the public sector. “We are about serving people not making cars”, they say. This is a normal reaction that overtime is proven inaccurate as the benefits of lean thinking are realized through mapping of the work process, an increase of value added activity and a reduction of waste. This leads to a significant increase of morale among employees who have participated in the value stream mapping process. Each response is certainly individual but most become owners of the future state that is created and as owners, continuous improvement becomes the natural order of things.

Additionally, lean initiatives are in most cases introduced as a management initiative and thus suspicion is the first reaction from those representing labor’s perspective. It is easy to assume that lean metrics are an evolution of Frederick Taylor’s scientific management and thus a “top down” management initiative. This certainly is part of lean thinking in that leadership must make a conscious decision to pursue lean thinking, however, there is a significant participatory aspect included since each value stream is completed by the people who do the work. This is best understood by reviewing the three basic paradigms of public management, Universalism, Pluralism and Participatory management styles. During my graduate studies I had the great opportunity to write a paper about the three basic paradigms of public administration. (see http://geocities.com/scrate/three_paradigms.html). I have concluded that lean thinking and the value stream mapping process is a successful blend of universalism and participatory management paradigms bringing the best of both approaches to a wonderful evolution of employee satisfaction, high performance and a highly functional public organization.

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Another critical factor regarding the people side of lean relates to its overall influence on individual performance. No employee wakes up in the morning and says I will do a terrible job today. I plan to perform at my worst for the whole day. That does not occur. Everyone would like to rise to their greatest potential at every opportunity possible. Remember those NBA games when Larry Bird hit 10 for 10 from the foul line, 7 three-pointers and 9 from the field? It might be said he was operating in the zone, or demonstrating peak performance. (I know I am aging my self.) This is an easy concept for most to understand. But what of the administrative public employee completing a service request for a citizen or the professional technical staff person running that program analysis to compute federal statistics justifying units of service. Do they regularly get any acknowledgement for top performance? Does anyone even measure their tasks? Do they have any personal goals or “stats” to work against? If they did, their satisfaction would be increased and performance enhanced. They would move from viewing their job as a chore to valuing their service to the organization. So goes government.

The Value Stream mapping process can provide this feedback, increase value and reduce waste resulting in higher employee performance. When performance is increased employee satisfaction is increased, turnover is reduced and overall organization function is better. People (employees) are transformed to a more satisfactory view of their job and the public organization rises to citizen expectations and thrives in excellence.

Comments 1

  1. Michael McBride

    Excellent post Mr. Crate. In my opinion your ideas apply to most any business. Lean gets a bad rap when applied without the intent to involve employees. Which is why consultants have a hard time using it as a cost cutting tool. Sure it has elements of Taylorism, but the scientific management aspects of it are tempered with a belief in the worker which is the kind of balanced approach that produces lasting success.

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