Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Government Lean Six Sigma

Topic: Management Improvement

Deep Thinkers by Kimberly Palmer,

"This is not a fad that will die out. It's been tried, it's been tested, it's true. If you look at the best-run companies in industry, this is part of the heart and soul that's making them successful," says Mark Price, president of George Group Federal Services, part of Dallas-based George Group Consulting.

Unfortunately I would have to say the article does strike me as talking about fadish behavior ,not true transformation in management approaches. I was involved in management improvement efforts in government for years and the government does have examples of very well managed organizations (as well as poorly managed organizations). And too often superficial improvements were seen as a significant achievement. The article talks about things that are fine but just touch the surface of the needed improvements.

One of the problems in government management improvement is the mobility of management. To an even higher degree than Deming noted as a "deadly disease" of American business excessive mobility of management in government makes significant long term management improvement difficult. Exceptional managers often move up or move out long before the changes they start take a firm hold.

When looking at lean initiatives in government I think it is sensible to separate political from operational efforts. Ideally the political decisions should be informed by knowledgeable management experts. However, focusing on that is a recipe to frustration as political decisions will often remain mostly political (which have as factors how efficient and how effective a solution may be, but those are only factors and rarely the primary factor).

However, much of what government does is carry out the political decisions that are largely settled. And within those areas a framework eliminating waste is a great goal (as is effective solutions - elimination of waste is necessary but not sufficient). The decision on how the saving from elimination of waste should be used is again a political question.

Once the political decision has been made to eradicate polio then that desire can be carried out - and politics really has little impact. Other examples are not as simple. A political decision to eliminate AIDS runs into political controversies in selecting the best strategies to accomplish the goal.

A desire to eliminate hunger, poverty or homelessness run into differing opinions on how those problems should be addressed. I can't imagine any politician against the elimination of those problems. However, many politicians will be against various tactics to accomplish those goals.

Political decisions have management components but arguing about the poor management effectiveness of political decisions is a bit too advanced for our current capability, I believe. It seems silly for a government to subsidize mansions being built in hazardous areas where insurers would not insure construction, but for political reasons it continues. It seems silly to have the political leadership prohibit the government from negotiating lower drug costs from suppliers (Drug Dealings - Working to fix the problems with the new Medicare law), but they do.

Why would a government provide special tax breaks to big oil companies (Corporate Tax Bill, HR 4520 - House OKs energy bill laden with tax breaks) and they a few months later hold hearings on imposing special taxes on big oil companies "windfall" profits (Oil industry under fire - Oil Doesn't Want Focus on Big Profit). These political decisions, are worthy of both political and managerial criticism.

If aiming for management improvement in government there are huge targets of opportunities that will not run into political controversy. These areas of opportunity for extensive management improvement are the most sensible place to focus on government management improvement (almost nothing is free from politics but some things are less subject to those whims than others).

Focusing on more sensible systems thinking in political decisions is also fine but I think the focus there should be political. The focus should be on finding politically venerable decisions and pointing out the ineffectiveness of spending resources in such a manner.

If you want to see some examples of effective government look at the rates government pays for plane travel. When government agencies are freed to do their jobs they often do well - they also fail to do well. The scope of government is huge and includes examples of great and poor management.

How much credit does the United States government get for creating the conditions that allowed for Yahoo, Google, Ebay, Amazon... to grow? How much credit does it get for assisting in the sequencing the human genome? How much credit for creating a interstate highway system that allows for efficient transportation system? How much credit for create a society with the rule of law? How much credit for rebuilding the spirit of New York City? How much credit for creating and enforcing the American with Disabilities Act? How much credit for funding a child welfare system and giving a child a chance to flourish and become a productive member of society? How much credit for taking criminals off the street? How much credit for regulators taking action to provide clean water and air? How much credit for providing health care to those who do not have insurance or a way to pay? How much credit for educating a child? How much credit does the Japanese or Singaporian governments get for the economic growth the citizens have enjoyed? Most of these figures are unknown and unknowable?

Federal, state and local government needs to improve their management practices (as do other portions of our society). However, government also does well.

Some examples of effective government management:

1 comment:

Eric H said...

How much credit for create a society with the rule of law?

None. Government doesn't create society, it's the other way around. As Paine put it, "Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one." Bastiat's The Law is a longer essay on the topic, especially section 35, "A Confusion of Terms". The same could be said for several other things on the list. Depending on the context, you should differentiate between "society", "politicians", "bureaucrats", "enforcement officials", and "contractors". Each faces different incentives, and their level of success varies accordingly.