Success Leaves Clues: The Core Principles of Government Improvement

“Works better; costs less.”  A catchy phrase, a good slogan. When it comes to the work of government, regardless of political orientation, everyone agrees they want government to work as well as possible.  Without getting into the issues of what government should be doing, we can still think about how government should be making itself better.

Despite the pronouncements of pontificating pundits, government can be as excellent as any other business organization.  In fact, there was a time in the not-so-distant past when government agencies were winning rigorously-judged awards for acheving sustained improvements and superior results.  Do you remember the 90s?  Sure you do.  Did you know that agencies like NASA, and the IRS were winning awards for excellence back then.  Yes.  The IRS centers in Fresno and Ogden were winning Quality Improvement Prototype awards.  Those were customer service centers.  Yes,  IRS and cusotmer service awards- in the same sentence.

How did this happen?  No magic.  The IRS and many other Federal agencies embarked on long-term initiatives to deploy Process Improvement methods.  Back then, Total Quality management was the dominant approach.  Today, Lean Six Sigma builds on the same foundations of improvement taught by W. Edwards Deming.

No matter what method is used, in or out of government, the successful improvement organizations have some things in common:

1) focus on the Process, not the People.  Deming and others taught that 80-90% of the problems with the output or outcomes of a process of work, are the result of a lousy process.  NOT the fault of the people.

2) everyone has to acquire deep knowledge of the current process in order to make meaningful change.

3) decisions need to made based on data and facts, not people’s opinions.

4) differences of opinion need to be fully considered in open, respectful dialogue.

5) failure is an opportunity to learn.  All results provide iinformation to help drive future improvements.

6) It’s not enough to just make it “better, faster, cheaper.”  Aim also at creating “more smiling faces” among your employees, customers, and suppliers.  You’ll be glad you did.

That’s the main part of it.  One more item is needed, in the private sector, but especially in government. 

7)Maintain the commitment to continuous process improvement.  Leaders must support the work, making time and resources available to meet, act, and learn.

If these points, or a similar list, were drawn up as a Charter to Improve Government, would you support it?  Would you encourage your government organizations to sign the charter, and commit to continuous improvement?

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