Book Review: Practical Innovation in Government

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I ordered the book, “Practical Innovation in Government: How Front-Line Leaders Are Transforming Public-Sector Organizations” through Audible. But I was pleasantly surprised, and actually listened to it a second time to make sure I didn’t miss anything. If you work in government, or process improvement, you will definitely enjoy this book.

The reason the authors (Alan Robinson and Dean Schroeder) wrote the book was because government agencies require a different approach to process improvement than traditional business. Since many politicians are elected and do not have as much experience as the front-line workers (much less than private industries), the improvements need to be driven by the workers. In addition, the years of experience from workers allows them to better understand key stakeholders and system-level issues to consider when making improvements, something most elected officials do not understand.

In Robinson’s previous book, Ideas Are Free, he shares data that “80% of an organization’s potential for improvement lies in front-line ideas.”

Employee-driven ideas are better for many reasons:

  1. Front-line workers can see more opportunities than managers and consultants, since they know the process better than the managers. Shigeo Shingo is quoted as saying “the biggest waste is that not seen.”
  2. Small ideas don’t seem as big as they actually are (small improvements add up when repeated multiple every day over months and years), so management doesn’t support or notice them as much initially.
  3. Many front-line employees making small improvements adds up to large improvements over time.
  4. Small improvements can be applied and replicated in many other places and departments more easily than large improvements.
  5. Big problems aren’t actually one big action, but require many small improvements, along with support from management.
  6. Creates a learning organization led by front-line employees through the sharing of ideas across other departments.
  7. Small improvements require intrinsic motivation, as there is less financial incentive (extrinsic motivation) to implement them.

Here are some examples of success stories highlighted in the book:

  • City of Denver Excise and License
    • Long wait times (up to 8 hours) due to incorrect forms and incomplete information. Many customers arrived due to poor voice messaging system. To improve, they created pre-assembled form packets organized by license.
    • Created job aid for residents to reduce interruptions during filling out background check entry forms, and aligning the form to match the computer entry.
    • After 18 months of transformation, the average wait time went from 1 hour and 40 minutes down to 7 minutes, and peak wait times were reduced from 5 hours down to 15 minutes.
  • Province of New Brunswick (Canada)
    • Education: Launched a Six Sigma project to boost the percentage of students reading at the appropriate age level from 22 percent to 78 percent using a Pareto chart to identify the top reasons for distractions in the classroom
    • Finance: To meet two years of budget cuts, they conducted Lean Six Sigma training, Value Stream Maps, Kaizen Rapid Improvement Events, Waste Walks and Daily Management to reduce costs by 750,000 CAD and 1.3 million CAD in soft savings.
  • The Royal Mint
    • Were asked to produce Olympic medals for the London games in 2012 , but didn’t have the time or capacity to meet the demand. They reduced the distance with a new work cell layout from 7.5 km to 122 m, which helped them meet the Olympic demand in time. This also reduced the workspace by 25%, and work-in-process (WIP) from 3500 tons to 750 tons.
  • Highways England
    • They needed to reduce costs by 1.2 Billion, but 95% of their budget was with contractors (not in their control), so they worked with their contractors to train and implement Lean Construction Institute methods across supply chain. They developed a Lean Maturity Assessment to help measure progress of the program. They also came up with an innovative program to incentivize sharing across suppliers, where part of any savings goes back to the supplier with the idea, but the others would receive some of those savings to encourage sharing and replication of those ideas.
  • Ramsey County (St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota)
    • Shared knowledge to find parole violations across different cities and counties by setting up a report each night send to all Parole officers.
  • Washington State Patrol
    • Evaluated vehicle conversion process and removed 53 wasteful steps, added cross-training, and eliminated last-minute customization jobs.
    • Reduced maintenance costs while reducing miles used per vehicle from 150,000 to 110,000, saving $500K due to the higher value of vehicles.
    • Rearranged flow of vehicles coming into garage and organized the vehicle keys.
    • Developed magnetic alignment templates for cutting or drilling holes, and selected plastic seat covers instead of replacing and storing entirely new seats.
    • As a result, were able to triple the vehicle conversions with no new people (12 to 36)
    • Improved wire harnessing process to reduce costs from suppliers, and eventually brought work in-house due to freed up resources, resulting in $500 reduction per harness.
  • City of Denton (Texas)
    • It was taking 65 days to hire employees. After evaluating the process during a Rapid Improvement Event (RIE), they removed excessive reviews and delays (10 wasteful steps), removed batching of applications, added custom questions to each application to reduce review time and more quickly find the best applicants, and created a Pareto chart of common defects types.
    • As a result, were able to shorten the application window from 1 month to 1-2 weeks, and reduced 25 days from the hire process (65 days down to 40 days)

Other case studies presented in the book are from: State of Arizona, Colorado Department of Transportation, British Library, York County (Ontario, Canada), and MindLab (Denmark).