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‘The Toyota Way’, this term, therein emphasizes the idea of improving the workflow without any unevenness or fluctuations, with a consistent elimination of waste. It simply means, if one has to achieve smoothness in their workflow, without having to forgo productivity, one should optimize the workflow with minimization of waste and be adaptable to the various situations that may arise. Taking this into consideration, there has been an increasing awareness among the government agencies to implement Lean principles while rendering services to the citizens.
The idea of Lean government, though improbable, is finding its way in most government agencies. Author Chew Jian Chieh, in his article about Lean government, has put forth eight ideas that can bring about revolutionary changes in the way the government processes take place. The main intention of Lean is to maintain one-piece flow, that is, there should be a steady continuous flow without any disturbances. The eight viable Lean strategies outlined by Chew Jian Chieh are summarized below.
Foremostly, for any organization to run, it should revolve all its processes around Takt time. Takt time is a concept in Lean which describes the rate at which the production of goods is required to conform with the customer demand. For example, consider that a government employee has to work for 8 hours a day, inclusive of the 1-hour lunch and tea breaks, as also another 1 hour for other miscellaneous work. This gives him available net time for actual work of about 6 hours [8 – 1 – 1 = 6 hours (360 minutes)]. If he has to pass 360 bills per day, then he would be required to pass 1 bill per minute. However, this is not possible, as people or machines cannot deliver 100% efficiency every time. There might be some hindrances in the workflow which prevent it to be a one-piece flow process. Usually, the government agencies do not follow the concept of Takt time. This results in the undulating pile of work for the employees. Therefore, they might face some issues for delivering the work on time to the customers. On this, the author emphasizes that in order to speed up the processes or cut down on the unnecessary steps, the government agencies should adopt the Lean methodologies for improving effectiveness. They should ensure that they make use of the Takt time concept for the betterment of the processes.
Secondly, for any processing step, in order to be in sync with Takt time, it should be of the right duration. One of the challenges faced by the government agencies are the variations in customer demands. There is not always a consistent flow. Eventually it can result into the downtime for the agency, but on the other hand, if there is a rush of customer demands, their service might get delayed, owing to that the counter process is not in sync with the incoming flow of demands. Thus, if a proper track is kept, required personnel can be made available to meet the requirements. Not only should the staff be proficient in their work but also, they should be adjustable to any given environment.
Besides, the layout of the most government value streams is based on the grouping of a similar type of function at one place. They are categorized into different departments such that, only a specific type of function can be carried out on that specific counter after which one might have to traverse a certain distance to complete the next function. With these setups, it becomes cumbersome to take on a task. A lot of time is wasted in waiting and transportation. Lean methodologies imply that the structure should be in such a way that all the departments should be huddled together or arranged one after the other in form of cells, which will help the customers perform all the necessary functions serially. Therefore, there are no in-process inventories. Moreover, no question of batch jobs being kept waiting for the further functions to be completed. This saves almost 50% of time and efforts. Additionally, everyone should be equally skilled and flexible with any given type of work for the smooth flow of the process.
Normally, in government agencies, they are of the mindset that, once the similar type of work piles up, they will start working on it. Government personnel have to multi-task, they have to equally look after a number of tasks, other than some overriding issues. As they believe that once a setup has been done for a particular work, they can fulfill all similar type of work in one go, which helps them increase their personal efficiency. Even though it is not that easy to establish work cells in the government agencies, there could be a workaround to manage all processes well in time.
Furthermore, every organization should follow the First In, First Out policy. This generally means topmost priority should be given to the work that comes in first. However, in government agencies, it is not the case, as the orders are delivered in the form of an in-tray. The outcome of this is usually, whatever comes in last is completed first. Hence, this leads to disturbances in the processing times of the orders, which ultimately results in an overall delay of the customer requirements as a whole. There should always be a pull system instead of a push system, in order to avoid delayed deliveries.
Generally, it appears, a single person ends up doing all the work. If a person is known to complete a given task effectively, he is often loaded with that type of work. This develops an imbalance in the work that is allotted. Therefore, for an organization to maintain a steady balance between the work culture, they should adapt methodologies for standardizing the work and see to it that the load is equally divided.
Likewise, to be devoid of any pending work it is better to finish off that work on the same day itself. Government officials are of the opinion that the work assigned to them cannot be completed on the same day. Because of which they end up with a lot of backlogs. Consider 200 assignments come in for officials to complete per day. Out of which only 50 gets completed the same day. For the next day, they again receive 200 assignments and only 50 are completed. With this, the 150 assignments of each day pile up and are never completed. For this, the value streams should be designed in such a fashion that the work gets done, the day it was received.
Lastly, the author rightly says that in any government agency a value stream map should be followed. Value stream mapping essentially means taking note of the current situation and accordingly planning out the future events of the product or service delivery, with a view to eliminating Lean wastes in comparison with the current scenario. On realization of value stream mapping, the government officials are then aware of their tasks, as also they come to know of the overall time that got wasted in non-productive steps, the in-process inventories that caused fluctuations, the waste that gets created owing to rework and time wasted in transportation. Thus, it is beneficial for the government officials to map their value streams which gives them an overview of their functions to be performed in the near future.
On reading the article of ‘Lean in Government’ by Chew Jian Chieh, one can get a gist of all the prevalent notions of existing Lean practices in government agencies. Though all the roadblocks have not been mentioned in detail in the article, one can derive that in spite of all these challenges, Lean can be implemented in an effective way for the overall improvement of all the processes. An article about ‘5 Barriers to Lean in Government’ by authors Mark Minukas and Garrett Ulosevich highlights 5 reasons why Lean cannot be implemented in government agencies. On the bright side, along with the mention of the problems, it tells us about the proper use of the Lean methodologies.
I have had an experience of the lengthy process of getting my driving license back in my hometown. Initially, the services provided to the citizens took a lot of time. One had to wait for a lot of days to get just the temporary driver’s license. There was not enough standardization of processes involved, which in turn affected the output. There were not enough resources available. However, over time all got in place. Adapting to the Lean methodologies for almost all sections, it changed the entire scenario. Work was completed faster and effectively. Maybe budget would have been one of the constraints initially. Once all was in place the efficiency of the workforce also improved. After the implementation of Lean practices, it all got better.
In conclusion, as the authors mention, in the initial stages of Lean implementation it might seem a bit difficult. The results of lean are not seen immediately, it takes a lot of time, however, once you start with it, over time one gets to see the impressive results. It is a long and continuous process. But starting small would certainly do wonders at a later stage.
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