Category Archives: Government

Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Designed to Add Waste

Sometimes you just wonder if people design processes in order to create waste.  Like it is a hobby and creating all the waste is just fun for them.

People I am close with recently had a death in the family.  He was a veteran with illnesses from handling Agent Orange in Vietnam.  He passed at the VA hospital.

The family believes the unexpected complications that lead to his passing are related to his illness from handling the Agent Orange.  The VA hospital asked the family if they would like to request an investigation and the family did.

After close to 6 months, the family receives a letter stating the investigation is complete.  If the family would like to see the results they need to submit a request for the results.  Really?!  How many people do you know that request an investigation into anything and don’t want to know the results?  So the VA wants to create more paperwork and processing to send something the family requested months earlier.  Again, the family originally requested it.  Why wouldn’t the VA just send the results?

As ridiculous as that sounds, that isn’t the biggest waste of this ordeal.  A week later the family receives a letter stating they will receive the results via the mail within 2 weeks.  What?!  Why wouldn’t the VA just send the results?  They have already set the expectation that it won’t happen quickly because the investigation didn’t.

Someone has a job that is sending letters saying the information is being sent.

I don’t know where to even begin with this.  The family has been through enough.  The VA should be making things easy on the family and not more frustrating.

Quick simple solution.  When the family requests an investigation have the results sent directly to them after the results have been finalized.  No requests for sending the results.  No letter saying the results are in the mail.  Just send it.

When you hear of something like this, you really have to wonder if anyone is paying attention to this process and how it got designed so poorly.


Root Cause and Guns

Normally, I don’t dive into the hot politically charged topic of the week, but the gun issue has really struck a cord with me.  I don’t care which side of the issue a person falls on, right to own a gun or very strict laws almost preventing gun ownership.  Everyone has a right to their own opinion.

The issue I have is with people, more accurately politicians, using tragedies to further their own agenda without understanding the true root cause.

Sandy Hook was an enormous tragedy.  I went home that night and hugged my kids and didn’t let them go the entire weekend.  What happened shook me at my core.

What has happened since then has been upsetting also.  Laws are proposed and passed on gun control that do not address the root cause of why these type of mass shootings are happening.  Guns are being obtained legally and with background checks.  A lot of these people are not any system as having “issues” or being arrested or whatever the case may be, so they will pass a background check.

Stricter background checks can just cause people to get guns illegally.  It is just like making alcohol illegal in the U.S.  Prohibition in the 1920s didn’t stop alcohol from being made or consumed.  It just made it illegal.  People went into business with distilleries and crime went up because of it.  Not just the  making and consuming of alcohol but people robbed and killed over it to build empires because no one would call the cops if a criminal stole from a criminal.

If a person wants a gun bad enough, they will get it.

The question is, “What is causing people to want to do these acts?”  How do we prevent people from wanting to do something like this?  Do we need to work harder on stopping bullying?  Do we need to help to make people better aware of how a stable family can help?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do believe that what has been going on for years with just looking at controlling guns is not the answer.  It hasn’t’ worked since the Columbine shootings and I don’t see it working moving forward.

What are your thoughts on helping to prevent the root cause of gun violence?

Harvard Business Review Blog Talks U.S. Manufacturing

If you are a regular reader of Beyond Lean, you may know that I am a very big supporter of U.S. manufacturing.  I believe it is the foundation for economic prosperity for our country or any country for that matter.  Lean thinking and principles can help guide any business to success and overcome many economic and governmental situations.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review Blog has had posts talking about much of the same.  Here are a few of the posts.

The U.S. Needs to Make More Jobs More Creative

The authors break jobs into two categories.

But we were able to classify all jobs as either creativity-oriented or routine-oriented. And within the routine-oriented classification, there are three distinct types: routine-physical (e.g. an auto assembly plant worker); routine-service (e.g. an accounts payable clerk); and routine-resource (e.g. a coal miner).

The authors explain that creative-oriented jobs pay more and pose a great question.

…the real challenge for the U.S. economy is what to do with routine-oriented jobs in dispersed industries.

And their response to this:

There is no quick fix for this problem. But my view (and Richard’s) is that we have to rethink how we utilize workers in our advanced economy.

…But I believe that America can influence the slope of the line of increasing creativity-oriented jobs by leaning toward creativity; giving workers the encouragement and space to innovate; utilizing the most of their brain, not the least of it. That would be the grass-roots way out of America’s economic doldrums that everyone is looking for.

I interpret this as engaging everyone in the organization, even those doing what is considered a routine-oriented job, in innovating the business.  Innovating is also about how to change the process to be better.  Engage the minds and hearts of the employees not just the hands and feet.

Unglamorous Freelance Manufacturing Could Boost U.S. Competitiveness

The U.S. competitiveness debate too often devolves into a cry for more Apples and more Ciscos on American shores, when what the country really needs is more Hospiras.

More what?

Hospira is an advanced contract manufacturer.

The author talks about the importance of manufacturing for innovation.  Something I believe to be true and how we must open our mind to what the definition of innovation can mean.

In the U.S., “innovation” typically means just one thing to people: novel gadgets. Few policy makers realize that much of the innovation that has propelled China’s economy, for example, is of the incremental or process type. Many of us admire Apple for its originality but tend to forget the importance of its power-supply innovations, all of which were done in China by a Taiwanese company.

When it comes to process improvements, American companies are stagnating at best, and in many cases slipping backward. Policy makers need to appreciate the value of keeping incremental and process innovation in the United States.

I don’t agree that the U.S. needs policy makers to give tax breaks and help U.S. companies realize the importance of manufacturing to all types of innovation.  There are U.S. companies that have realized that on their own.  I’m sure even Apple has realized the importance of the innovations from their suppliers.  It is the companies that need to realize the benefits of this and make the effort to change their thinking around this.

It’s Time to Bring Manufacturing Back to the U.S.

A growing number of executives of U.S.-based companies are repatriating their manufacturing capabilities — moving some production operations back from overseas.

Many companies have been moving manufacturing back to the U.S.  In fact, enough have done it the movement has a name…reshoring or onshoring.

The post talks about governmental help to support this movement.  While, the governmental help would be nice it is not necessary.  There are plenty of companies that have made the move without help from the government.

Here are three bullet points the author says the governmental help recognizes:

  • Companies compete on cost and responsiveness, and this balance shifts dramatically when labor costs rise and the locus of demand shifts.

Labor cost has nothing to do with responsiveness.  Quick lead times and location has to do with this.  When total cost is looked at from end-to-end companies usually find that cheap labor really isn’t lowering their cost either.

  • Local talent and skills are essential to productivity and innovation. Long-term depletion of manufacturing skills will make it hard to reverse the trend.

I think this is right on.  It will be hard to reverse the trend but I think with more companies bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. this is helping to keep the skills from depleting.

  • Research and development incentives provided by the U.S. government must be tied to manufacturing operations. Otherwise, whatever is developed with taxpayer money could easily be moved to other regions associated with low-cost manufacturing.

I don’t agree with this.  This comes down to a company’s morals and beliefs.  If they want to move some innovation out of the country they will do it.  Their are companies innovating and manufacturing in the U.S.  It just may not be the high profile company like Apple.

It is great to see more and more discussion about the importance of manufacturing in the U.S.  That was not the case just a couple of years ago.  Especially on a high profile site like HBR.  The authors there are still spouting off too much about how the government needs to change regulations.  They need to start asking how all the companies that have already moved manufacturing back to the U.S. did it.  If they did, they might start writing more about Lean and end-to-end value stream thinking.

When All Else Fails Eliminate the Value

It is no secret that the U.S. Postal service is in dire straits and getting pressure to improve it’s financial position.  I thought I had seen it all until I saw this article last week in the USA Today.

The U.S. Postal Service’s plan to save $2.1 billion a year and fend off possible bankruptcy threatens to end almost all overnight delivery of first-class letters and postcards next year.

Isn’t the way the U.S. Postal Service adding value by delivering letters and packages as quick as possible from Point A to Point B?  So instead of addressing waste in the process, they are going to eliminate a value added feature.

This will surely affect businesses.

“Everyone from Netflix to timely magazines to the greeting card industry to political campaigns who still rely massively on traditional mail deliveries will be negatively impacted,” says Adam Hanft, a consumer-marketing specialist who heads Hanft Projects.

Online retailers — not to mention small and midsize businesses — that are dependent on timely shipping could feel the pinch. Nearly one-fourth of local merchants use direct mail as a crucial marketing strategy, according to MerchantCircle, the largest social network of local business owners in the U.S.

This just is just backwards.  If you are going to cut something, cut something that is adding little to no value.  That would be something that is not being used by your customers.  Would an automaker stop putting radios in cars to save money?  No.  They add value for the customer so it would stay.

Plus, stamps are going up next year again.  I’m sure another raise in package rates is right behind it.  If a normal, business cuts an item that adds a lot of value for its customers and raised it’s prices at the same time it would not survive.

These moves aren’t going to save the Postal Service.  They are going to squash it.  What a chance for UPS and FedEx to jump in and increase it’s business.

If the U.S. Postal Service wants to survive, it should focus on the customer needs and eliminate what does not add value.  Not what does.

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.

Newt Calls for Lean Six Sigma

Newt Gingrich is promoting Lean Six Sigma for the federal government.  Newt is stepping up and saying what the whole lean community has been saying for years.  Cut the budget and reduce the deficit without raising taxes or cutting programs.  The article says:

Implementing Lean Six Sigma throughout the federal government could cut program costs as much as 25 percent a year, its devotees claim, ending the threat of Social Security benefit cuts for baby boomers and Medicare death panels for Grandma.

Knowing how much waste there is in our government processes, I truly believe this could be achieved.

The article defines lean and six sigma as the following:

It combines lean manufacturing processes that reduce waste with Six Sigma, a methodology used to cut defects and improve quality.

Lean is not just about waste.  It is about quality and reducing defects.  Defects is one of the 7 types of waste, so how can lean not be about reducing defects.

That aside, the important thing is trying to improve the processes to reduce the federal government spending.

Mike George is trying to get the presidential candidates to commit to using Lean Six Sigma.

Retired Texas business consultant Mike George, who claims to be the creator of Lean Six Sigma, is attempting to get all the presidential candidates (including President Barack Obama) to pledge to eliminate the U.S. budget deficit by 2017 using Lean Six Sigma practices.

They also would agree to attend a two-day Lean Six Sigma seminar and complete a waste reduction project prior to taking office.

Mike George understands they can’t just commit, they have to understand what LSS is about in order to truly get the candidates on board.  Getting the candidates to take a class and complete a project would be a huge step in the right direction.

So far Mike George has gotten Republicans Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty, who has since dropped out of the race, to take the pledge with Texas Governor Rick Perry expected to do it also.  You can visit Mike George’s website Strong America Now to learn more about the pledge.

The media is not picking this up and talking about it.  Here is what the author of the article found in mainstream media.

The national media is mostly ignoring the issue.

In searching the websites of USA Today, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, I found just one story addressing Lean Six Sigma in the presidential race.

One stinkin’ article.  One!?  Does the mainstream media not think there is any other way to eliminate the deficit but to either raise taxes or cut programs?  That is like manufacturing believe you can only have low cost or high quality, but not both.  Maybe this new article will be a start to more.

I am glad that someone is trying to get the presidential candidates attention.  With the U.S. economy the way it is, this may be the burning platform the government needs to change it’s ways. Maybe the U.S. government can lead the way for other countries as well.

Lean Consortium in Tyler, TX

Three years ago  I was living in Tyler, TX working for Trane.  Tyler is a medium sized town of about 100,000 people and has a lot of industry.  Goodyear had just shut down their plant there.  I knew that lean would have helped them.

My passion for lean needed an outlet.  I decided to write several organizations across the city about starting a lean consortium.  I even called the mayor.  To my surprise, there was a lot of interest.  Approximately 80% of the organizations called me back and wanted to meet.  Including the mayor.  His office called and put me in touch with the city manager.

I met with several manufacturing facilities, both hospitals, the city manager, the president of Tyler Junior College, and senior executives from Brookshires Grocery, the regional grocery chain.

After a year of one-on-one meetings and lunches, we had a group meeting.  Joe Rizzo who was leading the Jacksonville, Fl consortium was kind enough to fly into Tyler and give us some background in setting up a consortium.

A few of us had a couple more meetings and were on the verge of starting the consortium when my family and I ended up moving to Kansas City.  I kept in touch for a few months but we lost contact.  I was hoping the consortium had enough momentum to continue but wasn’t sure.

Last week, I got an e-mail with a link to an article about the Smith County Lean Consortium.  The consortium has been going strong for 2 years now.

About two years ago, after Hood Packaging had already begun to implement lean practices, the business joined the newly formed Smith County Lean Consortium.

Hood was one of the companies I met with that committed to the consortium.  The had been using lean and were very open to sharing.  Another company I met with was Brookshire’s Grocery.  They were the big regional family owned grocery chain.

Scott Reily, senior vice president of logistics for Brookshire Grocery Co., said when Brookshire’s was first approached about the consortium, the company was already looking at continuous improvement efforts.

He and other leaders of corporate development at Brookshire’s formed a team to go through training and come up with continuous improvement initiatives.

He said the lean concept is all about making small improvements – looking at every process, breaking it down and asking how it can be done better.

There are several companies that have joined the consortium.

Entities involved in the consortium from the beginning are Hood Packaging, Brookshire’s, TEEX/TMAC, Vesuvius, the city of Tyler, Smith County and Tyler Junior College.

Other members include Air Rover, Cardinal Health, Distant Lands Coffee, Luminant and Teknor.

I can’t express how happy I am that the consortium has been continuing one and educating organizations in the area on lean.  What really moved me was that after 2 years they were kind enough to mention my part in starting the consortium.  It was something they didn’t have to do, but did.  It meant a lot to me.  I want to say thanks to the consortium for doing that and I wish them continued success as they move forward.

Flip the Thinking – Can Lowering Taxes Help a City

Over the holidays, my wife and I visited family.  We have family outside of St. Louis, MO.  On our drive through St. Louis we talked about how the quality of living and the safety of the city has dropped.  St. Louis is now #1 on the most dangerous place to live in the U.S. list.  Houses are dilapidated, streets are run down, and manufacturing jobs are leaving at a rapid rate.  Nine years ago we wanted to move to St. Louis to be near family.  Now we don’t.  The city doesn’t present many opportunities or at least not as many as it used to.  Throw in the crime rate and it isn’t appealing.

What amazes me is the cost of living for St. Louis and the surrounding areas.  It is expensive compared to where we live (Kansas City, KS) and used to live (Indiana and Texas).  The cities we have lived in have been very nice.  They have their run down parts but there aren’t as many as in St. Louis.  We discussed how downtown St. Louis (as other cities I’m sure) raise taxes in order to get the lower income to move out and create revitalization.  Raising taxes to force out low income means those with low income get hit harder and are forced to stretch their means further.  Moving isn’t cheap either, so how can low income families (bordering on poverty) even afford to move out.  This could lead to more crime as people take drastic action to help feed and provide shelter for their families.  I know the city gets more revenue or at least they perceive they do. If people can’t pay it, then the city really doesn’t get the money.

In lean, we want people to flip some of their thinking.  “Don’t think in silos, think flow,” or “Don’t look at the price per piece, look at the total cost.”

What if a city flipped their thinking about raising taxes to revitalize the city.  Instead of raising taxes, the city lowers taxes.  People would get to keep more of their pay check which means possibly spending more in the local shops or being up-to-date on bills and not feeling stressed about what to do this month or keep their house in good shape.  The city would actually get the money and be able to reinvest in the city’s infrastructure.  This reinvestment could then attract more people and business because it is nicer plus the cost of living isn’t as high as surrounding areas.

I am no political or economic expert and I will never claim to be.  These are ares of little interest to me.  I know none of what I proposed has been proven.  It may or may not work, but isn’t it worth a shot after many years of a city eroding?  Isn’t it worth trying something new?  It isn’t a short-term strategy, which people love to see results now, but a long-term strategy that takes time.

What if a city flipped it’s thinking?

Lean and the Federal Government

This post is not meant to be about political beliefs.  I want to state that up front.  I believe that most people would agree that the Federal Government has a lot of waste in it.  One way to get at eliminating the waste is to use lean thinking and principles.  It has been successful for state and local governments.  These are some example posts here and here and there are plenty more.

There is one part that I am stuck on with using lean to eliminate waste in the Federal Government and it could be from my lack of experience in working with government offices.  What do you do with the freed up people after the waste has been eliminated?

A lean thinking person does not look at laying off people due to improvements.  If you have ever done that, you have seen how quickly it can stop employees from engaging in the improvement process.  We want to reassign them to other areas where the help is needed or to run more improvement projects or in areas where we want to grow the business.

This last one is where I have trouble.  Should the Federal Government (or state/local government) be wanting to grow?  Your answer may be based on your political beliefs.  But for this discussion lets say that government shouldn’t growing.    At some point, you would have to believe the improvements are outpacing natural attrition.

So if government shouldn’t be growing and the improvements are outpacing the natural attrition, then what do you do with the people?  Is this a case where laying people off is the appropriate thing to do in order to see the savings?

To be frank, part of me says yes.  If this happens, less tax dollars may be needed to run the government, which can be used to pay down the deficit.

But there is a part of me that says the answer is no.  There are ways to continue to reassign the people.  Don’t layoff due to improvements and eventually attrition will take care of it, but in a longer time frame.

What are your thoughts?  How do you see this dilemma?  Should this be treated any differently than a business?

Cape Coral, FL Uses Lean City Government

A link from the website for Reliable Plant, led me to this video promoting lean in the city government of Cape Coral, FL.

The City Manager, Terry Stewart, talks about the lean city government being the most important initiative in the city’s history.  Clip of Terry shows him talking about engaging people at every level to improve the work.  I have to give Terry some credit here because this point is essential to lean and he drives it home.

The video also calls it lean thinking.  The video does not mention tools (kanban, 5S, visual management).  It mentions continuous improvement.  In fact it says to improve, then improve, and when done…….improve again.  Seems to be driving home the mindset of fixing problems.  I would assume they have used some lean tools like visual management to help them get some of the work done, but that is not the focus.

One example they give is cutting the lead time to hire a new fire fighter from 66 days to 30 days.  May be just a hiring process, but the exhaustion that firefighters could gain from working OT to cover the shifts until someone is hired could be very dangerous.  The exhaustion could cause a fire fighter to lose concentration even if for only a second can lead to anything from someone being hurt to the death of someone.  I would think the fire fighters are very happy about this improvement.

Kudos to Cape Coral.  I hope the efforts continue and they are even more successful.

Now can we pass this along to our Federal Government?