Three Myths in Improving the Government

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I'm currently reading a book titled We Don't Make Widgets: Overcoming Myths that Keep Government from Radically Improving and I am excited to have discovered the book! I'll have a full book review written up shortly, but I wanted to share three general myths that the author introduces in beginning of the book.

#1 We don't make widgets

I've heard this many times in my career that the process improvement techniques don't apply because we don't work on a manufacturing line. In other words, the work that we do in government isn't repeatable and therefore not measurable. Specifically, for my career, working in construction and infrastructure maintenance, that statement is true ... on the surface.

Every construction project is unique. Every water line break, downed electrical pole, or broken HVAC system has a unique problem solving element to it. Every building is configured differently and the maintenance on it must be unique.

But I argue that the tasks taken on, whether in construction project management, emergency repairs, or general maintenance, can be (should be) repeatable and therefore measured. I've had success in getting my teams to understand this repeatability and measurability. It's a forward step in systemizing processes and getting to improved processes.

#2 We don't have customers

We absolutely do! Everyone in government service has customers. They are just not the normal, paying type that we think of with the word customer. As a government employee, you create some sort of output which someone else uses as an input. The exchange that happens between you and the receiver is a transaction and that receiver is your customer.

One important step we all take in process improvement projects is to define the customer. I've often heard that our customer is the "tax payer" and, while I don't disagree, the tax payer is to nebulous of a concept and I challenge the team to think of someone more concrete or closer to them. Thinking about inputs, outputs, and transactions often helps in getting to a good definition of a customer, although it might take a few minutes of work to get there.

#3 We're not here to make a profit

That's fine. I agree. We don't make money, and so, yes, we would be considered a "cost center" for those business types that would classify government service. So the next logical question for those that think this is "Why do we need to improve?" After all, we're going to get paid regardless of how efficient we are.

The most powerful way I've been able to overcome this thinking is to put the improvement in their terms. What if they had more time? What if they could do less rework and do more meaningful work? What if they could be less stressed in their work day? Showing how improvements not only impacts them but could improve their work days is powerful in convincing others to join your improvement efforts.


Coming soon!

I'm excited to have discovered the book and look forward to getting it complete over the weekend. (So far, it's a short concise read.) I'll post a link to my book review here.

Lean in government is something that is always on my mind and I'll post the "good" online resources here as well.

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