King County Washington Turns to Lean to Help with Budget

I came across an article on Monday about a county government in Washington state using lean to help reduce the budget shortfalls.

Lean is not traditional top-down budget cutting. It is often a five-day “event” where a single department — for example, one processing car-tab renewals — puts every job on a board and figures out how to streamline and improve the process. Employees are active participants.

While it sounds like they do understand lean isn’t just a budget cutting device cut from traditional slash and trash, they may still need some help to understand it is more than 5-day events.  It is about the thinking and how they operate day-to-day.  At least they are starting somewhere and they are getting some help with it.

Boeing has loaned a Lean consultant part-time to King County to share the wisdom, which is good community involvement.

No matter what you think about Boeing’s lean efforts, it is good to see someone willing to help the government offices get started.  It can show the government office how powerful lean can be so they want to continue.

What was the first process they tackled?  One we all hate……car license plate renewal.

The time between the county receiving an envelope with a check for car-tab renewal to the moment of putting the tabs in the mail declined from 19 days to 5.

Wow!!!  Almost 75% reduction.  Can they help my DMV?!!!

Sounds like the officials were impressed enough to invest more and start to tackle other budget issues.

The sheriff’s overtime budget is up next and could be fruitful. About 6 percent of sheriff office spending, $4.5 million, goes to discretionary overtime.

The county wants to spend $600,000 for Lean facilitators and implementers.

That’s a lot of money in a county lacking funds. But if working with employees to find redundancies and savings can save real money, it may well be worth the investment.

The reason the county government wants to use lean is…

The county takes in 3 percent in additional revenue annually while general-fund costs increase by roughly 6 percent. That has created a need to find an annual 3 percent efficiency boost every year. Lean is all about getting a grip on the cost-spending curve so services remain the same, but new ideas discovered through innovative sessions wring out more efficiencies.

While usually I would say lean is about growth, in this case it is about cost cutting.  Government offices can use lean slightly differently.  They need to keep the budgets low and operate within the tax money they receive.  The key is NOT to let service slip.  In fact, it should increase.  If a government office can do this extremely efficiently, then an ideal state would be to eventually start to lower taxes or have a tax give back because they are operating with such a big surplus of cash.

The government may be the one place where using lean to shrink the right way is what it is all about.

I hope the King County offices continue to have great success.

Posted on October 19, 2011, in Government, Waste and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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