Obama says he's going to scrutinize the federal budget line by line. Good luck with that. Although I applaud his desire to cut wasteful spending, looking at a budget isn't going to do it as you're looking at entire programs, systems, and services. You aren't looking at how efficiently value is created by those programs. This is how we get ourselves into the fallacious zero-sum mentality that cutting spending is somehow related to cutting value or cutting programs, and the even more perverse converse of what added spending will accomplish.
Jon Miller over at Gemba Panta Rei touched on this in an amusing post detailing nine wishful surprises for U.S. manufacturing in 2009. I'll just note number 1, which is relevant to my point, and let you go to his post to read the rest.
Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack sidetracks
every cabinet meeting, committee meeting and press conference he is
invited to with talk of lean manufacturing and kaizen until the Obama
administration looks into it and decide to apply it to the U.S.
government. The result of kaizen applied to the $3 trillion of annual
government outlays is a 33% reduction in wasteful spending, which is
immediately plowed back into economic stimulus programs and a virtuous
cycle of economic growth, higher collections of taxes, reduced tax
rates, further growth and prosperity.
And his attached graphic:
Yes, 33%. And those of us that have executed kaizen programs know that level of savings is very real. A basic first-pass value stream map typically shows that well over half of all activity is waste, much of which can be quickly reduced.
And guess what, government is already doing this. Several cities and states have active lean programs, as does the military. Here's just one example from last week's paper.
Maine's death certificates are being issued so quickly these days
that an out-of-stater recently confessed to a state government official
that he wants to die there.
In Ohio, the time it takes to
get a complaint decided at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation has
plummeted _ from an average of 142 days to 34. Licensing a snowmobile
in Iowa involves 90 percent fewer steps today than it did two years ago.
by the uncanny effectiveness of the Japanese notion of kaizen, or
continuous improvement, a growing number of cash-strapped states are
attacking bulky bureaucracies that have been eating up workers' time
and frustrating residents and businesses for decades.
Lean and kaizen are often counterintuitive, so it takes a while to get buy-in.
In five-day kaizen exercises, managers, workers, lawyers,
regulators, technicians and end users of a single government process _
say, getting a coal mine permit _ are assembled in one room, all
getting educated about the big picture, and all there to talk about
their little piece. The task that's being targeted is meticulously
mapped, using colored sticky notes to identify junctures where
paperwork must be filed, decisions made, sign-offs obtained.
sometimes across a conference room wall, the results emerge as an
impressive, complex matrix. Participants gaze, admire _ and then set to
work trying to eliminate most of what's there.
"Admire" is a good term for it. The results are truly spectacular, and it becomes downright embarrasing that so much waste existed in the first place.
Instead of assuming we must raise taxes, cut programs, or increase spending to increase value, how about trying a different path? Organizations, even in the government, have been doing it for years now. It works. Really.