2 Reasons Why Improving Government Processes Is Challenging & Countermeasures To Fix That - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Every industry has challenges when it comes to applying process improvement. Government agencies have their own set of unique challenges that often make it difficult to achieve success.

This means that when government agencies succeed with process improvement, it must be shared and celebrated. Sharing success provides much needed inspiration and helps government workers to face the next challenge  in their process improvement  journey.

Here are two reasons why process improvement is particularly challenging when applied to government processes. Interestingly, they are completely intertwined:

  1. The Need for a Low Risk Environment
  2. The Amount of Oversight Required and the Number of Stakeholders Involved

Challenge #1: The Need for a Low Risk Environment

Public disappointment has led to intense scrutiny for government agencies. It doesn’t help that a growing American pastime is finding fault for our collective woes in government. Naturally, when any organization attempts to change things for the better, there is always a chance of failure.

Unfortunately, most government agencies can’t afford the negative public exposure with a failed experiment.

Unfortunately, most government agencies can’t afford the negative public exposure with a failed experiment.

Just like private sector companies, government agencies don’t want to publicize their problems, even if they are trying to fix them, because they fear the resulting bad press. It’s hard to fix problems if you can’t even acknowledge them.

Countermeasures For A Risk Averse Environment

Creating a blame-free environment is key. Here are 3 ways you and your leadership team can create an environment for success: 

Create an environment where employees can experiment.

Promote that it’s okay to experiment with the process. Make it clear that employees will not be blamed –  that they’re safe – if they are trying to improve a process for the customer. Publicly promote the adage, “Focus on the process, not the people.” I’ve seen government leaders do this really well and it makes all the difference in the world! Far too often it’s the people who work in the process who take the blame when things go wrong, but the culprit is the poorly designed process and the worker is just the victim. A bad process will beat a good person every time. Allow people to admit when the process is broken without making them feel like it’s their fault.

Select low risk opportunities. Leaders should help identify process improvement efforts that won’t expose the agency.

The idea of which opportunities constitute a “low risk” must be defined by each agency. As a starting point, avoid high-profile processes or cross-functional, complicated processes. An area that is relatively small in scope is a great place to start. Give employees direction by creating criteria for project improvement, by identifying specific boundaries or by suggesting an area or process to work on. Not only will this encourage employees to attempt improvement, but this will simultaneously build their process improvement skills and their confidence.

Encourage employees to take calculated risks and recognize them when they do.

When employees attempt to improve the low risk process opportunities, be sure to celebrate both the failures and the successes! Recognize and thank employees for taking calculated risks regardless of the outcome. This is critical. Unfortunately, leaders rarely acknowledge the failures or thank employees for trying, especially if it doesn’t work.

OK_To_Fail

Safe environment means: It’s okay to fail! Try again.

Not only will this encourage employees to attempt improvement, but this will simultaneously build their process improvement skills and their confidence.

Challenge #2: The Amount of Oversight Required and the Number of Stakeholders Involved

Since there is such intense public scrutiny of government agencies, there’s a tendency to involve lots of people and add multiple layers in making decisions and changes. It’s unbelievable how many stakeholder hands, eyes and ears are involved in approving changes to government processes.

The more scrutiny to ensure nothing goes wrong, the more layers of bureaucracy.

Once created, it’s difficult to question or challenge these approval layers which results in a vicious cycle. The more scrutiny to ensure nothing goes wrong, the more layers of bureaucracy. And the more layers of bureaucracy, the more delays in changing anything for the better.

Countermeasures For Too Much Oversight

Recognize When You (The Leader) Contribute To The Problem

Do you ever wonder why so many steps require your signature? Do you actually look at all of it? Do you, as a leader, secretly believe that some reviews are unnecessary? Well, this is your opportunity to model the way! In the spirit of process improvement, identify and share with employees where you’re willing to be removed from a process. Carefully select steps where your involvement is not needed and help the team remove unnecessary steps and shorten the process. Even better, ask them where they think you could be removed from the process! Your employees will be so shocked, you’ll inspire them to look for more wasteful steps to remove!

Even better, ask them where they think you could be removed from the process!

Walk The Process and See the Waste

Pay attention to areas where people check and re-check information. This shows how many people are involved in review after review after review.. People become highly motivated to remove a redundant step after seeing 4 people conduct the exact same review! For more information on Process Walks, check out this blog and helpful webinar

Quantify the Amount of Waste Resulting From Excess Oversight

Quantifying waste creates a good business case and motivates employees to reduce unnecessary steps. Here’s an example of quantifying waste: We conducted a Process Walk of a government Travel Approval Process. The travel packet was reviewed by the supervisor. Next the Manager reviewed it. After that it went to the Division Deputy, then the Division Director, and finally, the Department Director reviewed the travel approval packet. The process required 4 or 5 approvals by high-level management. Think about the time and money wasted on all those management reviews! Discovering this type of waste is what motivates management to improve and streamline the process. The team quantified how much time and money management was spending on duplicate reviews, and management agreed to improve the process.

Think about the time and money wasted on all those management reviews!

The countermeasures recommended here require commitment from agency leadership. Change isn’t easy. Changing government culture is challenging, but it is critical to address these cultural components if you want process improvement efforts to stick in government. And change starts with leaders first.

Have you faced similar challenges in Government?

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at University of California San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.