Toward a streamlined, solvent and citizen-centric public system: Lean Government

Daisy Escobar. Professor. IE Business School

1 November 2013

The cuts been made in public administration make this an excellent time to introduce a management model designed to make the public sector more efficient, and therefore less costly, more sustainable, and more useful.

There is currently growing interest among public leaders around the world in Lean Government as a management model that could transform and modernize public administrations. Part of the UK’s National Health Service, the administrative services of a number of states and cities in the US, and Portugal’s legal system, are just a few of the more interesting exercises in lean government,  all of which are producing magnificent results.  

Some examples of more specific results produced by Lean Goverment are: drastic reductions in the waiting times for public services, far less time spent on tedious processing, the end of duplicated tasks due to badly coordinated public entities, and more streamlined procedures. Less time is lost, and there is less frustration and discomfort for citizens. Moreover, thanks to the use of simple tools to identify improvements that can be swiftly implemented, these public organizations are now continually searching for new ways in which to give the citizen more and better services (more effective!), using fewer resources (more efficient!). 

What exactly is Lean Government and why do public leaders like it so much? Lean Government is the adoption within the public sector of practices known as lean management, which have enjoyed great success in the industry sector. More specifically, it is the continuous search for more value for the citizen, coupled with less waste. If applied correctly it brings about significant improvements in public services by focusing on citizens’ needs. It frees up resources to be used better, and eliminates activities that do not add value for the citizen. It motivates employees because it involves them and equips them with new techniques to do their work well. Above all, it makes efficiency and continuous improvement in citizen service an organizational dynamic.

In Spain we are seeing a spate of cuts in public services and downsizing coupled with tax increases and rising prices for public services, and necessary as it may be to balance budgets, it is not sustainable. Lean Government seems to bring solvency to society’s new, more complex demands, which, together with the pressure to improve the performance of public services, requires a modern and more robust management model. Fortunately here in Spain, a good number of public institutions, including Madrid’s San Carlos Hospital, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and the tax authorities, thanks to the determination and the professionalism of their employees, are now applying Lean Government with great success.

Lean Government can be a great tool for public leaders in their aim to transform and modernize public administration. These leaders face two big challenges: First, they have to be very well prepared if they are to be the architects of a new system, and secondly, they have to develop the competences needed to secure, on the one hand, the commitment of their employees, who will be expected to perform in such a way as to meet society’s demands, and on the other hand find creative ways to get their citizens involved. It is vital that, as co-producers, citizens also assume their responsibility for the quality and efficiency of the services they demand of their public institutions.

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