The new issue of Businessweek has an interesting article on how Iowa has a program to improve state services through lean services (Iowa’s Lone Efficiency Ranger, Aug 23).
Lean, a management theory popularized by Toyota Motor, focuses on kaizen, or, loosely translated, “change for the human good.” The idea is to first map all of the steps, stops, time, and personnel involved in making a product or executing a process, then rethink how it could be done more efficiently. In white-collar offices that’s hard because many of the steps are invisible. Still, a 2010 kaizen at the Iowa Department of Transportation resulted in a 46 percent reduction in the number of steps it took to issue a temporary restricted license, dropping the backlog of people awaiting them from 600 to about 100, and response time from 30 days to just five. “It’s a continuous improvement mind-set, and one of the things that you have to be doing is constantly reassessing,” says Mike Rohlf, the administrator of the Iowa office.
Issuing temporary restricted licenses hasn’t been the program’s only win. The Iowa Department of Management’s website list the various projects they have undertaken as well as the benefits they have seen.
Two interesting things here. First, as the article tells it, this is a one-man show. Mike Rohlf quoted above is it. He goes into agencies, pulls together a temporary team from the relevant department and goes at it.
The second point made in the article is that to date most of the efficiency gains are showing up as service improvements as opposed to cost savings. To some extent this is not too surprising. Toyota’s kaizen efforts famously are done in a way that doesn’t threaten employment. (It is obviously a lot harder to get employee to actively participate in kaizen events if they routinely put employees out on the street.) Of course, Toyota always has the option of selling more Corollas. For most state services, it is hard to drum up more revenue-producing customers. I honestly don’t know what constitutes a temporary restricted license and probably wouldn’t run out to get one even if it can be done in just a week.