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10 Commandments for Lean in Government

Posted by Matt Banna

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Feb 22, 2017 3:04:00 AM

Harry_Kenworthy.jpgNot many people would be qualified to hand down 10 commandments for Lean in government, but as you can see from his QPIC biography profile, Harry Kenworthy is uniquely qualified. Kenworthy, Principal and Manager of the Quality and Productivity Improvement Center (QPIC, LLC), which he founded in 1984, was one of the first practitioners to apply Lean in the Government sector. Though he began helping private sector clients, today 97-98% of Kenworthy’s client base consists of cities, counties, federal agencies, state agencies, and k-12 school systems.

Last September KaiNexus was delighted to host a webinar with Kenworthy titled The 10 Commandments for Lean in Government (and Beyond!).  The webinar was hosted by our own Lean expert, Mark Graban, KaiNexus VP of Improvement & Innovation Services and founder of LeanBlog.org. 

After a brief overview of Lean, Kenworthy got right into his Lean government 10 commandments:


1.  Understand Customer Needs 

When Kenworthy works with a new government client, the first thing he does is test how easily he can navigate its website, paying attention to how easy or difficult it is to get to the necessary forms or information that a customer needs.

“Sometimes you go into websites and if you want to contact somebody through a phone call or something, it can be darn near impossible to figure out who those folks are and to get their phone numbers,” Kenworthy said.

In addition to making sure things can be found, Kenworthy also evaluates how easy to read and understandable the information, forms, and checklists are.

“We see things from a customer’s standpoint. Things should be designed to be at the seventh-grade reading level for customers coming in, that’s the general average reading level in the country, and yet the people that are building the websites and the forms and everything for the customer to interface with, are designing them at the college level,” He explained.


2.  Set Challenge Goals with High Leverage

The second of Kenworthy’s Lean commandments for government is the need for organizations to set challenging goals. These goals should aim for at least a 50% improvement, as that level of challenge necessitates change. 

“The thinking of today won’t get you to that kind of improvement,” Kenworthy explained. “So it does drive people to think differently; using the Lean tools obviously to get there.”

When picking what challenges to take on, Kenworthy says that carefully selecting things that have the greatest leverage is important. Leverage is key.


3.  Kaizen – Continuous Improvement Kaizen Events and Daily Kaizen (Dynamic Idea Generation)

Kenworthy’s third commandment deals with Kaizen, which is the term used to describe implementing continuous improvement throughout an organization. Kenworthy explained that Kaizen events, large improvement events held to solve one particular area in need of improvement, are energizing and motivating to staff, often allowing employees to share and tap into their ideas and frustrations for the first time. These are great, but Kaizen shouldn’t be limited to occasional events.

“And a lot of organizations will flip the switch, have a Kaizen event, everybody will be excited about it, and then [it’s] back to business as usual,” Kenworthy said. “So the culture is not making that shift.”

Instead of a once-and-a-while effort, Kenworthy stressed the important of daily Kaizen, or “dynamic idea generation.” The goal is to get the organization to the point where employees are actively engaged in not only coming up with ideas but also the follow-through on those ideas so that the onus is not on supervisors. 

Kenworthy touched on just how different Kaizen is from typical suggestion methods explaining that the normal acceptance rate of ideas from people are about one idea for every eight people per year using a suggestion system. What Kenworthy prescribes is implementing one idea per employee per month.


4.  Learn to See: More Process Detail Than You Ever Knew Existed.

The next Lean commandment is that organizations must take a very close look at processes – and in particular,  the rework and error rates of staff and customers.

At one government agency, Kenworthy discovered a one-page form that had a 77 percent error rate, which of course meant a large amount of rework associated with tracking down the right information to correct each one.  

“Many times we really don’t know what’s the rework and error rate, and yet it could be huge. We’ve seen error rates of seventy-five, eighty, ninety percent rework levels that come out of that. There’s a huge amount of waste associated with that,” Kenworthy explained.

For those in a managerial position, Kenworthy recommends taking a half-day or a full day off to focus on investigating a key process that’s currently not working well or causing worry. Starting at the very beginning of the process, the manager should walk through it step-by-step.

5.  One-stop Shopping is the Goal 

Contrasted with batch processing, Kenworthy said that one-piece flow is best, with one-stop shopping being the goal.

As he explained, normally people save up one type of work and then when they have enough accumulated, sit there and run through the batch. The problem is that this leaves the workers down the line in that workflow, who may even have a quicker process, sitting waiting for that work to arrive, only to get backed up when a lot of it comes at once. A one-piece flow method, where work is completed as it arrives, stops this bottlenecking.

“The best option is what we call one-stop shopping. The customer comes in the door, or over the phone, and they can contact one person. That one person, without doing handoffs, winds up taking care of all their needs. Now that may require in some cases job-restructuring and the involving of unions,” Kenworthy said. “All of us, as a customer, we would love to go to an agency like a DMV and just talk to one person, and get all of our business done on the spot. And ideally get it all done over the internet so we don’t even have to go in.”


6.  Statutes, Laws, and Ordinances.

Kenworthy’s sixth Lean commandment was more clearly geared toward government organizations as it deals with statutes, laws, and ordinances.

Kenworthy said that the most important step in problem-solving is defining the real problem. As he explained, this step also consumes the most time as it requires everybody to come together and come to a consensus about what the problem truly is.

One problem with this is that Interpretations can morph over time. As Kenworthy explained, staff often change positions and misinterpretations can happen, which can both lead to waste and rework. Kenworthy warns organizations to be careful when adding controls and interpreting policy. Many times what is in the law, statute, and ordinance is not exactly what’s being implemented, which is creating waste.


7.    Benchmarking

Kenworthy highlighted the importance of learning from others and using existing knowledge. As he explained, this is particularly easy to do in in government and school situations as cities and government departments are often keen to share their accomplishments and challenges, whereas in the private sector it can be a little difficult to ask a competitor for information.

“Don’t improve an existing process when you can learn and find out how other folks do the same process. They may get you to a newer higher plateau to begin improvement from there,” he said.


8.    Dynamic Daily Data Collection: Eliminate Errors and Rework.

To help eliminate errors and rework Kenworthy said that staff should collect and see dynamic, daily data. This data collection should not be complicated, but should include simple systems to collect and see data daily, by the people working within the process.

The benefits of daily data collection lie in employee engagement, as it can verify for employees their ideas problems or improvements that need to be made, and can give them the opportunity to problem solve.

“Having the data, not to blame people or point the fingers, but having the data gets away from the opinions of people and says, ‘here’s the facts.’” Kenworthy said.  “And the facts cause people to say, ’how can we do this better? What are the improvements? What are the things that can be changed?’”


9.    5S Everywhere

Kenworthy’s ninth Lean commandment stressed the benefits of implementing 5S (Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain, with a sixth possible S being safety) everywhere.

These benefits include:

  • Eliminate wastes that result from uncontrolled processes
  • Gain control of equipment, material, and inventory
  • Apply control techniques to eliminate erosion of improvements
  • Standardize improvements for maintenance and in the workplace, especially public works
  • Improve delivery consistency
  • Improve quality
  • Improve safety
  • Improve productivity
  • Feel better about the workplace

Kenworthy wrapped up the benefits by explaining that the bottom line of improvement from 5S is that it enables employees to find stuff quickly, which of course has many benefits.


10. Develop Great Leaders

In addition to pointing out that you can’t teach or coach someone who doesn’t want to learn, Kenworthy said that he is a real believer in Mike Rother’s approach, the “Kata” approach. Kata means that a new behavior that is converted into a new permanent habit through deliberate practice. Kenworthy added that he would add coaching to the end of that definition, as you can not just train someone and expect them to be a good leader, you must continue to coach them.

To learn more about Kenworthy’s 10 Lean commandments, as well as his advice about what leaders must do and how to get started, check out the full webinar here:

The 10 Commandments for Lean in Government (and Beyond!)

Watch Now


  • The top 10 commandments for creating a Lean culture
  • The benefits of creating Dynamic Daily Data Collection for greater employee engagement
  • The only 3 things Lean leaders truly need to do
  • The "True North" principles in a Thinking People System (TPS)
  • How to start a Lean organizational journey


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