Twelve Years of Change and Nothing Has Changed

I remember when I first started working with the Federal Government in 2005 my first big project was with an organization that had been around for more than 100 years.  I remember being nervous about my lack of organizational knowledge and thinking they must have very complex and mature business processes since they had been doing essentially the same thing for more than 100 years.  My role was to provide process engineering expertise in the improvement of a truly mission critical process.  This being all I knew prior to the first meeting, I envisioned complex analysis of detailed process and performance data, modeling and simulation of various alternatives, followed by integration with some enterprise systems along with related instrumentation and reporting.  I envisioned seasoned experts would be running the processes.  On the first day, I was slapped with the reality that this mission critical process was total anarchy.  The information tools were antiquated and based on a platform that in its prime was a bench warmer.  The people manning the process didn’t even see it as a process, just work and they had no subject matter expertise.  Many items were not processed using the information system. Performance of the process was totally based on the person championing the item.  The customers of the process had no transparency.  There were numerous unnecessary handoffs and reviews.  You get the point.  The process, despite being around for one hundred years, was totally immature, inefficient, and did not deliver results.  Does this sounds familiar? Have you also been part of dozens or even hundreds of “improvement projects” in the last decade, but look around and see that things are still very manual, lack transparency, perform poorly, and are near impossible to measure?

Okay, truth is, that some processes have been improved over the last decade, and in rare cases continued to improve.  I will cite what DoD has achieved in air fields, maintenance depots, and arsenals as the best examples of transformation that has lasted the test of time.

However, we still see the preponderance of processes and functions operate at a very low-level of performance and maturity.  Process performance is rarely measured.  The measurements that do exist are very manual and not reliable.  We have to ask ourselves why.  Why, with all this Lean, Six Sigma, Process Re-engineering, Process Automation, combined with massive IT investments and enterprise BI and reporting tools, are governmental process still immature, hard to measure, and riddled with mistakes?  Why is it that industry is able to create efficient and internationally competitive processes through the same investments?  Here are a few differences between industry and government that explain the problem.



Focus on customers and profit Focus on work and tasks
Clear and immediate impact Abstract impact
Consequences for failure lagging and rare or none at all
Career progression based on performance Career progression based on tenure, training, & politics
Shared accountability, shared rewards Individual performance plans
High demands, intense pressure for outputs Pressure to develop reports, letters, policies, and plans
Deep specialized expertise Generalists often with mismatched skillsets
Process centric IT systems Function centric IT systems
Constantly seeking newer and better ways to beat the competition Hoping no more improvement programs bother them
Poor leadership swiftly punished, good leadership significantly rewarded Poor leadership has to be waited out, good leadership constantly moving to the next thing
Management involved with operations and embraces Lean, visual management, collaboration, data based decisions Management working to promote personal or political agenda
Our Money Other Peoples’ Money

Creating a governmental organization that breaks this cycle is no simple task and there is no single answer, but a few key things have proven successful that when employed in combination break the cycle and begin the path to maturity and performance.

  • Leadership adopt an operational performance discipline proven effective by industry (e.g., Lean) and boldly profess the importance.  Also, learn from the way industry employs the discipline, do not create some bureaucracy heavy governmental approach.
  • Adopt Hoshin Planning
  • Enforce process oriented design and require matrix based design and/or design for Lean Six Sigma for all software systems
  • Eliminate individual performance plans and replace them with team based performance plans.  Hold the teams accountable.
  • Eliminate decision making via slide deck in lieu of real time data dashboards

Seriously, something has to change. It is unacceptable for our government organizations to continue the never ending cycle of immature operations.  If we are able to create government operations of high performance, government employees will enjoy a more rewarding and enjoyable work life and the citizens of the nation will be much better served.  It just makes sense.

%d bloggers like this: