Public sector organization faces a lot of challenges such as meeting the citizen’s expectations, managing workforce transition, reducing risks in implementing new technologies, and financial limitations. Lean management, one of the major buzzwords within management today, addresses these challenges. Lean in English lexicon denotes thin and well-trimmed. Thus, an organization that is aiming to be lean cuts away its excesses in all aspects of work wherein repeated processes take place. To be lean, an organization may need to cut down the number of its employees, although this should not always be the case. The organization, through lean management, has to listen more to its stakeholders and in the case of the public sector – to the citizens. Lean Management is a system that refers to a collection of principles and methods that is focused on the identification and elimination of waste in any process. Its origins can be traced in industrial production and now the concept of Lean has swept across the private and public sectors. Lean has five basic principles – identifying customer value, creating value streams, creating flow without stops, introducing new guiding principles and practicing Kaizen every day. Lean also practices eliminating waste or “muda” in Japanese. These eight wastes are:

  1. Inventory (backlog of work, excess materials and information, obsolete databases and folders)
  2. Defects (data errors, missing information, typos, confusing requirements)
  3. Overproduction (unnecessary reports and copies, excess email messages)
  4. Complexity (too many steps in a process, too many signature levels, unclear job descriptions)
  5. Waiting (long time to wait for approvals or decisions, waiting for information)
  6. Excess Motion (travels to meetings, trips to printer and copier)
  7. Moving Items (transport of documents, document storage)
  8. Environmental Resources (excess use of energy, paper, and water)

To implement Lean, an organization must first analyze the steps of a process and determine which steps add value and which do not. Next, it needs to calculate the cost associated in removing steps that have no value-added and comparing its cost versus the expected benefits. It also has to determine the resources required to support the value-added steps while eliminating those without added value. However, many organizations encounter these typical pitfalls which lead to failure of implementing Lean.

  1. Management loses focus on Lean – There are times when management, despite good results, lose their focus and later on, backslide in implementing lean. What must be understood is that Lean is not a band-aid solution and should be implemented in a long term.
  2. Lean is treated as a project – As mentioned above, for Lean to be effective, it must involve the whole organization and its future. It should not have a start and end date. It should be inculcated all aspects of operations as well.
  3. Lean does not involve all employees- Lean must be sufficiently anchored to all the employees. The implementation should also consider the ideas of the employees and not just of the management.
  4. Insufficient internal anchoring of Lean knowledge and competencies – In starting Lean, an organization may seek the help of external consultants on Lean management to train its employees and to later on, build its own competencies to be able to continue working with Lean.
  5. Insufficient performance management – Performance management is one of the core aspects of Lean. An organization must ensure that there is continuous improvement by measuring results in a regular basis.
  6. Lack of management power – As with other productivity and quality tools, management’s commitment is critical. The management must be able to motivate and engage its employees to practice Lean.

It is normal for an organization to encounter one or more of these pitfalls. However, it should not discourage it from continuing with Lean. Lean entails a simple mindset, and not too shocking changes, and delivers results in a few months.