Practice What We Preach

The federal government doesn’t sing the praises of its employees enough. I came to federal government a little over a year ago. I am continually impressed with how mission oriented and hard working federal employees are. They are passionate about their work and see their jobs as service to the people of our country. However, the systems of government often do not let them do their best work. Like most large organizations, government has evolved over many years, with lots of layers, processes and requirements. What we call in engineering “control steps” places along the way to assure adherence to rules and procedures. Too often these control steps have become a bureaucracy that wastes the time of federal employees hampering their ability to live out this service to Americans. I have had the pleasure of witnessing the tremendous transformative power of lean in government. I have been amazed at how quickly tfeds have taken to lean and how effective they are at leveraging it. I was surprised by this, as I have worked in organizations in the past that have embarked on change use lean. In those places it took longer for success and culture change. One reason is that our HHS Entrepreneurs project is working with the teams that oversee federal programs in health care quality improvement. These people believe in quality, believe in change and have rich prior experience in quality improvement. In some ways, the lean transformation is using their quality improvement expertise in things like root cause analysis and plan, do, study, act models on their work in government. Another reason is the terrific team doing this work- the leadership has been terrifically supportive in giving the teams the freedom to discuss issues, identify waste, collaborate and change. Mindy, as our lean HHS innovation fellow, is fantastic in the way that she is adaptive with lean, streamlining it to each purpose. She is also a gifted teacher and coach- very patient with us. However, the greatest reason lean is so successful here at HHS; it’s giving a path for the dedicated, intelligent, mission focused government employees to fix the issues that get in their way. Lean gives them a framework to analyze their work, a process for group decision making, a platform for managing up and a way to continually iterate. Lean gives the tools and structure to unleash the innovator in all of us for in the work we actually do day to day.  Our mission driven federal employees can now focus more time on the parts of their work that truly matter and less time cutting red tape.