Monday, October 3, 2016

Lean/TPS in the Public Service – What are the Obstacles?

By Pascal Dennis

In my last blog, I noted that morale in the US and Canadian federal governments is at all-time lows.

Morale In The Public Sector

Moreover, the growing gap between performance in the private and public sector fuels a corrosive cynicism and disengagement – surely the last thing we need nowadays.

Why shouldn’t civil servants have the opportunity to develop what Deming called ‘pride of workmanship’? Why shouldn’t they be involved in developing and improving their work processes? Why shouldn’t their work be fun and motivating?

What are the obstacles to Lean/TPS in government? Let’s dig in

Obstacle 1: Government is culturally predisposed to making decisions for political reasons

Ontario residents are enduring a crippling example of this one. Although energy prices have never been lower, Ontario energy bills have never been higher. In fact, the past decade, Ontario energy prices have tripled, and are now among the highest in North America.

Ontario electricity has never been cheaper, but bills have never been higher

Ontario’s Power Trip: Irrational energy planning has tripled power rates under the Liberals’ direction

Ignoring the advice of industry & government energy professionals, the governing party has repeatedly made ill-considered forays into the notoriously tricky energy market. (Remember Enron?).

Overall cost will exceed $ 30 billion, or $ 30,000 per resident. Needless to say, the Ontario economy is blighted.

In Lean/TPS terms, the governing party has jumped to countermeasures to an ill-defined problem, and made a mess. Pity the poor government engineer, manager or executive working to develop rationale countermeasures to clearly define problems!

Obstacle 2: Absence of customer or client feedback

Rule 2 of Lean/TPS states that ‘customer-supplier connections must be direct, binary and self-diagnostic’. Such connections drive improvement in the private sector and sometimes contribute to it in health care and education.

Our Toyota plant (TMMC) had abundant feedback through multiple sources including organizations like J. D. Power, and our 3/6/9 month in service audits. My dad’s legendary restaurant, The Imperial Grill, also sought and received direct, frequent & binary customer feedback.

The most common checkpoint was the plates coming back. “Hey Martha,” Dad would say, “you didn’t finish your moussaka. Didn’t you like it?”

“Oh yes, Frankie, it was delicious. But it was big for me.”

“But you liked it! Okay, Spiro wrap it for the lady. She can have the rest at home!”

Obstacle 3: No Continuity of Leadership

Building an integrated management system took us five years at TMMC – and we had constancy of purpose and leadership. (Not to mention splendid, tolerant senseis)
Do government organizations have the same?

Are there any countermeasures?

Difficult obstacles, no?

I invite our readers to share their thoughts on countermeasures. I’ll mull it over too.

The stakes are high for public service members, and for the public.

Best regards,


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