Lean Government

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Lean Government refers to the application of lean production (also known as "Lean") principles and methods to both identify and then implement the most efficient, value added way to provide government services. Government agencies have found that when Lean is implemented, they see an improved understanding of how their own processes work, that it facilitates the quick identification and implementation of improvements and that it builds a culture of continuous improvement.[1]

Lean for government focuses on governing and serving citizens with respect and continuously improving service delivery by cutting out "waste" and "inefficiency" in processes; this in turn will result in better services overall, engaged civil servants as well as more value for tax-supported programs and services. Generally, proponents also see that a Lean government is a means to expand the capacity of government to provide more services per unit of investment.[2]

Common methods and approaches[edit]

Many Lean manufacturing methods have been successfully adapted to identify non-value added activities (waste) in administrative, transactional, and office processes that are common in government agencies.[3] Common Lean methods include:

  • Value Stream Mapping (VSM) – Value stream mapping refers to the development of a high‐level visual representation of a process flow that is involved in delivering a product or service (called a “value stream”) to customers. VSM events, which are typically 3–4 days, focus on identifying the sources of non‐value added activity and prioritizing possible improvement activities.
  • Kaizen – Kaizen means to change for the good of all and is based on the philosophy of improvement, without regard to its size, type or duration. Kaizen activity is often focused on rapid process improvement events (called kaizen events) that bring together a cross‐functional team for 3‐5 days to study a specific process followed by implementing process changes.
  • 5S – 5S is the name of a workplace organizational method that uses a list of five Japanese words which, when translated into English, start with the letter S—Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.

As more and more government services are delivered electronically, Lean government initiatives are commonly applications of Lean IT.[4]

Lean government approaches typically have the following characteristics:[5]

  • Take a customer service perspective that seeks to optimize value delivered to the public, the regulated community, and/or other stakeholders;
  • Involve employees and external stakeholders in continual improvements and problem-solving activities;
  • Deploy a rapid continuous improvement framework that emphasizes implementation over prolonged planning;
  • Seek to reduce the complexity of processes and the variation in process outputs;
  • Use performance metrics and visual controls to provide rapid feedback to improve real-time decision-making and problem-solving; and
  • Approach improvement activities using systems thinking.

Lean government does not necessarily promote low taxes, only efficient use of those taxes levied. Tax policy is discerned by the legislative and executive branches of government with oversight of the judicial branch of government. Lean government is implemented by the administrative function of government through executive order, legislative mandate, or departmental administrative decisions. Lean government can be applied in legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.

Types of waste[edit]

Several types of non-value added activity, or waste (muda in Japanese), are common in government administrative and service processes. Lean methods focus on identifying and eliminating these wastes. The list below identifies common administrative process wastes.[6]

Administrative process wastes with examples[edit]

  • Inventory = Backlog of Work, Excess Materials or Information
  • Defects = Data Errors, Missing Info
  • Overproduction = Unneeded Reports, Doing Work Not Requested
  • Complexity = Unnecessary Process Steps
  • Waiting = Unnecessary Approval Cycles
  • Excess Motion = Trips to Remote Printer or Files
  • Moving Items = Report Routing, File Storage

Wastes in administrative and service processes can relate to:

  1. collection, use, and management of information
  2. design and implementation of work processes
  3. the efficiency and effectiveness with which individuals work.[7]

Lean government activity[edit]

Numerous government agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the States of Iowa, Minnesota and Washington, are using Lean to improve the quality, transparency and speed of government processes. As in the manufacturing and service sectors, some government agencies are implementing Lean methods in conjunction with Six Sigma process improvement approaches.[8]

A source that lists all current vetted Lean Government initiatives at the Federal, State, City, County, and K-12 school levels is the Lean Government Center (since 2008): http://leangovcenter.com/govweb.htm

U.S. federal government

Some examples of federal government organizations with active Lean Government initiatives include:

U.S. state government

Some examples of state government organizations with active Lean Government initiatives include:

A source that lists all current vetted Lean Government initiatives at the Federal, State, City, County, and K-12 school levels is the Lean Government Center (since 2008): http://leangovcenter.com/govweb.htm

The Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, works to support and coordinate information sharing among U.S. States implementing Lean Government approaches in public environmental agencies.[10][11]

U.S. local government

Some examples of municipalities where lean government practices have been implemented include:

A source that lists all current vetted Lean Government initiatives at the Federal, State, City, County, and K-12 school levels is the Lean Government Center (since 2008): http://leangovcenter.com/govweb.htm

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) supports a program to assist local government organizations to improve government processes using Lean.[14]

Canada - Saskatchewan Provincial Government


  1. ^ See U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (March 2008) and Graham Richard (2008).
  2. ^ Ken Miller, “ The Promise of Going Lean”, Governing, May 21, 2009.
  3. ^ Venegas, Carlos (2007). Flow in the Office: Implementing and Sustaining Lean Improvements. Productivity Press.
  4. ^ Gilbert, Maria. “The City of Cape Coral Enables Leaner Government with AMX and JD Edwards” Reuters. March 6, 2009.
  5. ^ "U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Council of States, Working Smart for Environmental Protection: Improving State Agency Processes with Lean and Six Sigma" (PDF). Publication #EPA-100-R-08-007. U.S. EPA. March 2008. p. 3.
  6. ^ "U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lean in Government Starter Kit: How to Implement Successful Lean Initiatives at Environmental Agencies, Version 2.0". U.S. EPA Publication # EPA-100-K-09-007, May 2009, p. 5.
  7. ^ Carlos Venegas, Flow in the Office: Implementing and Sustaining Lean Improvements, Productivity Press, 2007, pp. 10-38.
  8. ^ For example, see Michael L. George, Lean Six Sigma for Service: How to Use Lean Speed & Six Sigma Quality to Improve Services and Transactions, The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2003.
  9. ^ "hud lean program expedites loan approvals". http://nreionline.com. External link in |publisher= (help)
  10. ^ Lee Garrigan. "PROJECTS". ECOS. The Environmental Council of the States. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  11. ^ Staff (17 June 2011). "Lean". US EPA. EPA. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  12. ^ Krings, David, Dave Levine, and Trent Wall, “The Use of ‘Lean’ in Local Government,” Public Management (PM) Magazine, International City/County Management Association, 88:8 (September 2006).
  13. ^ City of Irving, Texas, “City Manager’s Report: February 4, 2009,” page 4, available at: www.cityofirving.org/city-manager/pdfs/city-manager-reports/2009/CMR-020409.pdf; see also video at www.sixthsigma.com/2009/09/irving-texas-utility-uses-lean-six.htm
  14. ^ See http://icma.org/main/bc.asp?from=search&hsid=1&bcid=1126

15.^Kenworthy, Harry, "Getting Started with Lean Government Projects," Government Finance Review, pages 22-28, June, 2013.
16.^Kavanagh, Shayne C., Kenworthy, Harry, Cole, Jeff, "A Guide to Starting the Lean Journey - a White Paper," (http://gfoa.org/guide-starting-lean-journey), Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), 42 pages, 2014.

Further reading[edit]