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LEAN Management — The obstacles

The basic principles of Lean management, like many other process improvement efforts, involve the identification of problems and a team approach to finding solutions through analysis of where errors occur and where time is wasted. No question this approach has a great many advocates and a number of success stories.

But it’s not all beer and skittles. Last month, CPS HR Consulting and the American Society for Quality’s government division put out a new white paper that looks both at the success of Lean practices and why they tend to be relatively short-lived within the agencies that use them.  The study is based on responses from a  small group of respondents from known Lean or quality improvement offices in government agencies.

One of the biggest issues is employee fear.  Twenty-seven percent of respondents said that there was a concern among employees that eliminating steps and wasted time would also potentially eliminate jobs and result in budget cuts. The white paper recommends that process and quality improvement efforts deal with these fears upfront with assurances to employees that their good work won’t result in the loss of their jobs. Another important recommendation is for agencies to retain savings achieved through improvements and not see their budgets cut due to their success.

The white paper also shows the enormous importance – as always – in leadership support.  The lack of buy-in from upper management not only stands in the way of good ideas being implemented, but of successful Lean and quality improvement techniques spreading through the agency.

The study shows that even when teams have demonstrated success, the techniques used are slow to spread. “There is no evidence that Lean Process Improvement spreads throughout an agency based on practiced success in some of its programs and offices,” the white paper says.

Leadership change also means these efforts have a relatively short life-cycle. “Most do not survive more than three to five years due to a lack of structured support.”

The following chart shows some of the responses to questions asked in the survey, which was conducted in the summer of 2016 and was released in mid-March.


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