If ever a man deserves sainthood it is John Vicklund of Impact Washington – the MEP out there. By way of background, the governor – Christine Gregoire – has gone all in on lean. She has reduced the number of government agencies and departments, has everyone engaged in value stream mapping and has made lean mandatory for the whole state government. So far, so good – in fact, so far, great.
Someone came up with the idea that an executive order from the governor was not good enough. All of leadership should stand in support, hence House Bill 2138 Maximizing the Use of Lean Strategies in State Government.
A hearing was held a couple of weeks back so the august members of the Washington State Legislature could investigate the matter before deciding whether to support it. If you have a little better than a half hour and need some comic/tragic relief you can view the hearing. Settle in for a clown parade the Ringling Brothers would envy.
First up, John explains lean in layman's terms to the committee, citing a value stream mapping exercise that had recently been conducted including state employees from several agencies aimed at rooting out all of the redundancy and needless waste and delay facing small businesses when they have to deal with the state. Then the comedy begins.
First up is a career political hack by the name of Gary Alexander. Concerning all of the waste, redundancy and delay facing small business, he says, "we have been knowing this for three decades, so why do we need a new process?" I would have come unglued and said something like, "Precisely because you do-nothing, pin-headed morons have known about it for three decades and have done jack squat about it." John, however, after pausing for a moment clearly trying to figure out how to formulate a non-offensive response to such an inane question, goes on to do just that. How he maintained his composure in the face of such idiocy I cannot possibly imagine.
Next out of the chute is a lawyer named Arthur West from some outfit called the Northwest Poverty Law Center. After qualifying himself with the acknowledgment that he knows nothing about lean, and has not bothered to take the time to learn the first thing about lean, he launches into a tirade about the ineffectiveness of it, declaring that improvement can only come from slashing headcount. He ends with the proclamation that lean is the purview of condo-living, brie eating, chardonnay sipping consultants who do nothing but toss buzz words about.
For Crissakes, Kevin is a brie-eating chardonnay sipper, but I am a midwestern wings and beer guy. Brie and chardonnay are left coast things – not lean things. I even had to look up how to spell chardonnay to write this post. The real issue is why this guy was allowed to speak at all. In any other forum in which you begin by announcing that you know absolutely nothing about the topic at hand and haven't spent a minute trying to learn, you are promptly told to shut up and quit wasting everyone's time. Not here, of course, where we see democracy in action.
It doesn't end there, however. Another blowhard named representative Overstreet weighs in with the observation that lean may well work in the private sector because the profit motive creates an incentive to improve, but for the life of him he can't see why anyone in state government should want to improve. Through it all, long after I would have reached the limits of my professional vocabulary and arrived at the point at which I could not respond to any of these guys without dropping an f-bomb, John maintains his composure, although it is painful to watch him struggle to do so.
One sane voice on the panel, Representative Miloscia who is the sponsor of the bill, tries in vain to put in a plug for some funding for leadership training for the various state agency department heads, but his peers will have none of it. No doubt every nickel they could sweep up in the state treasury has been invested in pork and stuffed into every barrel they can find – none left for leadership training.
To John's great relief, the cavalry finally arrives in the form of Wendy Korthuis-Smith from the governor's office who politely informs the 'idiots on parade' that they really don't need their money. The governor has gone begging, hat in hand, and lean outfits around the state such as Boeing and the Seattle Children's Hospital have volunteered experts to do the training. The governor just thought it would be nice if the the state employees could see that the representatives stood with the governor for the long haul in supporting the cultural change lean represents.
With that, the reps decided that, so long as no one was spending any money they guessed lean was OK by them. And with that rousing support they all went home … for a well deserved brie and chardonnay refreshment break after another tough day dealing with the affairs of state no doubt.