Do not separate us, we grow together

Do no separate us

by France Bergeron and Joanne Gaudet, July 2015

When traveling to Singapore a few years ago, I tended to one of my passions: visiting local grocery stores.   As I was walking through the aisles examining local produce and intriguing advertising, my eyes fell on a sign beside the bananas: “Do not separate us, we grew together”. Sometimes I feel we need that sign to remind us of the relation between improvements and work. Let me explain.

Recently, the Public Service of Canada has been very interested in Lean as an approach to improve service delivery to Canadians and to reduce internal red tape. Although Lean is relatively new to the federal public service, Canada is not the first public sector organization to adopt it. Many before us, including the United Kingdom, had their share of successes and failures with Lean. One path that several public organizations in Canada are now engaging on is very similar to the path the UK took more than 10 years ago: creating armies of internal facilitators and over-relying on Lean workshops and tools. This path has proven to be unsustainable (Radnor, 2013).

The problem with armies of facilitators is the separation of work from improvements that reflects a lack of understanding of what Lean truly is: participatory science. Understanding  Lean as participatory science is to understand that knowledge about problems (and countermeasures) resides with the people doing the work, in their context. Lean is about creating a culture of making everyone, at all levels (including senior management) responsible and accountable to solve problems in their work, every day. In such a culture, value is determined collaboratively with external clients, not solely by and for internal clients.

In contrast, armies of facilitators assigned to specific “Continuous Improvement Divisions” or “Lean Units” generally lead to a culture of improvement ‘experts’ who are responsible for planning, implementing and reporting on improvement activities. A hammer looking for nails. Solutions in search of problems. Daily work meanwhile remains disconnected from improvements. Lean in these organizations is unfortunately reduced to applying the same Lean tools regardless of problems. Lost is the strength of participatory science: a deep, shared understanding of the problem, of what holds value and of countermeasures, in context.

Work and improvements cannot be separated. They must grow together!

Reference: Radnor, Zoe and Stephen Osborne. 2013. Lean: a failed theory for public services? Public Management Review. 15:2. 265-287.

Originally published on LinkedIn Do not separate us, we grow together

Lean for government… a fad that will pass… really?

KM-FishCartoon1The two days whizzed by. Executives dropped by our booth at the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada’s (APEX) annual symposium to chat about Lean for government. Lean thinking in the federal and provincial public sectors is definitely gaining momentum in Canada. One executive, however, surprised me when he assertively declared: “Lean. Here’s another fad that will pass!”

I spent 20 years in the federal public service, almost half of which as an executive. I saw fads, growth, cuts, re-orgs, decentralization and centralization, but never have I lived such a promising approach to truly improving government. Lean is a scientific approach to problem solving and creating learning organizations, where everyone at every level is a problem solver. With its pillars of ‘continuous improvement’ and ‘respect for people’ and its focus on delivering value for citizens in a better, faster, easier and cheaper way, Lean for government should not even be an option. Every taxpayer in this country wants his or her hard-earned dollars to be invested where value is delivered, every day. I have yet to hear one taxpayer who would declare ‘there is no need to continuously improve government every day’. Lean for government a fad? I don’t think so.

Originally published on LinkedIn Lean for government… a fad that will pass… really?

Value for client in the public sector


(c) Alpen Path Solutions Inc.

By France Bergeron

The first principle of Lean is to define value from the client’s perspective. Trying to understand value for client in the public sector has always been a challenge, and the challenge seems to get bigger and bigger as the system of delivering value to citizens gets more and more complex. Complexity in the Canadian public sector seems to owe mostly to increased reporting – not increased services.

Value in the public sector can be defined by the ultimate client: citizens. Governments and public servants must create and provide value for citizens, the collectivity. Democratic governments are elected to help guard the good of the collectivity. Citizens delegate their powers of decision on the collectivity to elected officials who, supported by an impartial public service, manage the common good in a manner that returns value on the investment the citizens have made through their contributions, i.e. taxes.  Canadian citizens elect members of parliament and give up to 50% of their hard-earned money for these members to manage it in a way that creates value to the society they live in.

Value is defined ultimately by citizens being safe, secure, healthy and living in a clean environment. Value is defined by the freedom of religion; of expression; of peaceful assembly; and of association; and by the respect of the democratic, legal, mobility, equality, language and aboriginal rights.

This is the ultimate value citizens are looking for.  The question now is: are processes aligned to produce “widgets” that fully support this value?

Originally published on LinkedIn Value for Clients in the Public Sector