Lean Office

How Can American Government Meet Its Productivity Challenge?

By Jon Miller Published on August 13th, 2006

So asks a white paper by the same tile by the folks at global management consulting giant McKinsey & Company.
The white paper cites an interesting statistic. The 2005 U.S. federal budget outlay was 20.3% of the GDP of the United States. If Pareto principle holds true, 80% of the improvement opportunity in the U.S. economy is within this 20%. This is my polite way of saying there is a lot of waste in government processes.
The white paper outlines two pillars to improving government productivity in the U.S., namely increasing performance transparency and supporting performance transformation. Measure it, improve it, in other words. There are six recommendations that elaborate on this in.
I hope the McKinsey white paper gets noticed by some people who are in a position to take its recommendations. But what gives me real hope for Lean government in the United States within the next two or three presidential election cycles are things like AFSO21 (an acronym for Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century).
AFSO21 is described at this Defense Acquisition University link as a blend of “lean, six sigma, theory of constraints, and others”. Furthermore:
First, this cannot be just another program; it needs to become our operating style. In other words, this needs to be the way we see ourselves, how we think about our Air Force, and how we attempt to operate.
Second, we need to retain our primary focus on mission effectiveness. If continuous process improvement doesn’t improve our warfighting effectiveness, then we simply shouldn’t do it.

The brief description states that AFSO21will require commander involvement, participation, and leadership at all levels, measurable results and direct links to programming and resourcing activities, and concludes.
Beyond efficiencies to aid our recapitalization effort, AFSO21’s aim is continuous improvement well beyond any targets we may have in front of us today. Whether we face pending resource reductions or not, this is the right thing to do for our Airmen and our Air Force.
Here is a good speech by Brig. Gen. Robert P. Steel that puts what AFSO21 is in very clear terms.
This may be the most exciting government program that’s being funded today. It is an ambitious task, but I have no doubt that AFSO21 will succeed in its mission.
The other branches of the Armed Forces are also very active in bringing reduced cost, improved quality, enhanced safety and a faster and more flexible delivery to their operations. I am optimistic that over the next several years other branches of government will take notice of the achievements with Lean in the Armed Forces and copy them, taking steps toward Lean government.
So here’s my answer to “How can American government meet its productivity challenge?”
The men and women with Lean transformation experience through AFSO21 and other initiatives will rise to positions in other branches of the government. There they will be unable to tolerate business as usual of government waste. They will influence policy and practice towards Lean government as a long-term and lasting cultural shift. As citizens we can vote them in. We can write to our government representatives and ask them what they are doing about copying programs like AFSO21 at the state and local level. They may be our greatest national resource.

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