Monday, December 13, 2021

Lean/TPS in the Public Service – Part 3 – Obstacles & Countermeasures?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

In my last blog, I noted that morale in the US and Canadian federal governments is at all-time lows, and that the growing gap between performance in the private and public sector fuels a corrosive cynicism and disengagement.

I noted three major obstacles to Lean/TPS in government. What are the possible countermeasures?

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

In Lean/TPS terms, governing parties frequently jump to countermeasures to ill-defined problem, and make a mess.

Possible Countermeasure: I’m stumped. Is this an endemic failure mode in democracy?

The skills required to win an election are very different from those required to govern wisely (see the ending to old Robert Redford movie, The Candidate).

New governments and leaders bring with them an army of new staff who are bright, ambitious, inexperienced and too often, arrogant. 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

Possible Countermeasure: Another tough one. Government agencies are usually monopolies isolated from, and too often, indifferent to the customer. (Where you gonna go?)

How to amplify the voice of the customer? Could independent performance rating organizations, like J.D. Power, provide annual, widely publicized ratings of government agencies based on detailed customer feedback, as they do for other industries?

Obstacle 3: No Continuity of Leadership

Possible Countermeasure: This one would require a wholesale change in government Human Resources practices – not dissimilar to the changes enlightened companies have implemented the past decade.

Senior government leaders and bureaucrats would be rewarded and promoted based on the footprint they left – i.e. the management systems they built, and the capable successors they’ve groomed – rather than on the tired old ‘get your ticket punched’ routine.

(The current practice of shifting senior managers every few years actively discourages the development of the management systems and culture required to sustain Lean/TPS.)

None of these countermeasures are easy, reflecting the scale of the challenge.

Are there others? No doubt – I’d love to hear from senior leaders in the public service. What do you all think?

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

Best regards,


In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…

Lean/TPS in the Public Service – Part 2 – What are the Obstacles?
Is Lean/TPS Possible in the Public Service? – Part 1
Henry & Edsel Ford – the Pride & the Sorrow
Ethics Enables Leadership

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