Why every government agency should embrace the lean process

Venu J. Gupta
Superintendent of Buildings & Fleet
City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Member, APWA Facilities & Grounds Committee

The increasing pressure on every single department and agency across all levels of the public sector requires making major changes in the way government has operated in the past.

Lean principles are often thought of as related to manufacturing. Every activity is part of a process, and lean teaches us that any process, and not just the manufacturing process, can be improved using lean thinking. Many in manufacturing have started on this journey to lean, but the government has yet to embrace. Manufacturing organizations have shaved off 30 percent, 40 percent or even more from process costs by simply eliminating waste from the process. There is no excuse why we in the government sector cannot do the same. Lean thinking has grown from a paradigm shift in the manufacturing domain to a revolutionary approach in business processes in every industry.

The beauty of the lean process using Kaizen philosophy is the fact that it can benefit any kind of process or service. As a matter of fact, its application to government services is much easier than the manufacturing processes. The lean process or the philosophy of Kaizen embodies all the notions of total quality control, continuous process improvement, zero-error production, and just-in-time production, and takes a holistic approach to foster improvements without large capital improvements. Lean process implementation consistently improves productivity and reduces costs through the optimization of facilities, people, resources and equipment.

Kaizen—the philosophy that whatever you are doing, you can do better—drives the lean thinking process. Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning never-ending improvement in home life, social life and working life. Whether one calls it world-class service, lean, or Kaizen, it is the most remarkable cost-reduction business operating or service delivery strategy of the 20th Century and it is beautifully simple. Toyota embraced the Kaizen philosophy-based lean system that has taken them from eradication to a world-class competitor and envy of the entire world as a class act to follow. While all lean system techniques are designed to eliminate waste, they are also intended to develop direct action for people to function autonomously, both running processes and improving them.

Lean 101 for government
Lean process thinking provides a way to specify value, line up value-creating actions in the best sequence, conduct these activities without interruption whenever someone requests them, and perform them more and more effectively.

In short, lean thinking is lean because it provides a way to do more with less—less human effort, less equipment, less time, less space—while coming closer and closer to providing customers with exactly what they want.

By closely observing the activities at the workplace, a supervisor and/or an employee can often identify areas that can be readily changed and improved with little or no cost to the service organization.

The lean process identifies and eliminates waste (activities that add no value or little value) by using a series of techniques to continuously improve the service as needed or requested by the customer. It provides speed and responsiveness, maximizing customer satisfaction by improving quality, reducing cost, and meeting customer delivery requirements.

Lean processes focus on elimination of all waste, in every process. The result is our ability to produce services in the most efficient way and ensure quality and on-time delivery for every customer.

When a maintenance mechanic walks a long distance with a tool in his hand, he is adding no value to the service. When the driver waits a half-hour while the vehicle is being repaired, the waiting adds no value to the service.

Work is a series of processes or steps, starting with raw material and ending in a final product or service. At each step value is added to the product, to the service being performed, or to the document being processed and then sent to the next step of the process. The resources utilized at each process—people or machines—either add value or no value. Any activity that adds no value is waste.

What does "value-added" mean? Any activity that changes material, moves or transforms material, or changes or provides information by producing something that the customer requires, is value-added activity. An activity is value-added if (1) the customer recognizes the value and is willing to pay for it, e.g., taxpayer is willing to pay for garbage collection; (2) the product/service or information physically changes or work is produced during the process, e.g., filling the pothole with asphalt, creating a schematic, or filling information on a form; and (3) the activity must be done right the first time, e.g., all rework is non-value-added or waste. Lean process thinking relentlessly pursues systematic waste reduction. If the customer wants a five-page report and the worker prepares a seven-page report, that is waste.

As mentioned above, everything that does not directly transform material or information to create value for the customer or the taxpayer is waste. This does not mean the activity isn't necessary. However, waste shows up throughout processes and minimization of that waste is how you move towards ideal conditions. If you cannot eliminate the waste, then don't quit; start reducing. If you do this relentlessly, continuously and daily, you will have a much higher ratio of value-added to non-value-added work. The greatest leverage in the war against waste exists in the upfront design and planning process.

The following schematic illustrates the major concepts and foundation of the lean process using Kaizen philosophy and principles:

Illustration based on Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management by Musaaki Imai, McGraw-Hill Publications, 1997


The following three key building blocks or pillars support the structure of the lean process. All three must be practiced in unison to achieve maximum success.

  • Eliminate waste: The lean process identifies a number of areas in which waste can exist and can be eliminated.

  • Good housekeeping: The lean process offers five steps of good housekeeping that provide a way to maintain order at the workplace and practice self-discipline. These five steps are called Seiri (organization), Seiton (neatness), Seiso (cleaning), Seiketsu (standardization) and Shitsuke (discipline).

  • Standardization: There must be agreement on standards, and those standards must be maintained and continuously improved.

Many of the past statistical quality control movements have failed because not enough importance was given to these three foundations. You need to put the workplace or the service territory in order first.

Eliminating waste using the lean process
The lean process identifies the following seven wastes in service:

  • Defects/repairs/rejects/rework: Refers to poor quality due to method, design, process or material, e.g., errors in documents; drilling wrong size hole; improper patching of a pothole.

  • Transportation: Wasted effort in moving materials, e.g., transporting documents to several floors to get signatures; walking all the way across the plant to get parts.

  • Overproduction: Overproduction is a function of the mentality to produce more than necessary just to be on the safe side when one is worried about such problems as machine or equipment breakdowns, rejects, absenteeism, etc. All this results in using additional space for inventory or additional administrative costs, e.g., the order calls for making two tables, so you make three knowing that an additional one may be needed in a few weeks; two copies are requested but you make four just in case. In the lean process, overproduction is regarded as crime.

  • Waiting: Waiting occurs when one is waiting for the next step, waiting for parts, waiting for equipment to be repaired, waiting for someone to finish a document, waiting when someone puts you on hold, etc.

  • Processing: Inadequate technology or design leads to waste in the processing of work or service. Using the copy machine to sort and staple documents automatically, rather than performing those steps manually, helps reduce process time. Purchasing subassemblies can reduce the time wasted to assemble the parts. Eliminating a process not needed in the first place can reduce waste.

  • Movement: When a person is walking, he/she is not adding any value. Any action that requires great physical exertion should be avoided or eliminated. Rearranging a workplace can eliminate unnecessary walking. Not having a well-organized and well-maintained work area leads to wasted time and motion in locating the parts or items needed for the process.

  • Inventory: When excessive parts, supplies, semifinished products or final products are kept on hand, they add to the cost of operation or service by occupying space, requiring additional facilities and unnecessary administration to maintain the inventory.

Anything that does not add value is waste and therefore this list can be extended to represent the process or the service. In addition, improper use of talent is considered a waste. Employing certain professionals to jobs that can be mechanized or assigned to less skilled people is considered a waste of talent.

City of Milwaukee relocates its tire shop using the lean process (a case study)
We want to be the Rolls-Royce of tire shops, as demanding and business oriented as Wal-Mart, to deliver service at the speed of FedEx with the quality and lean process thinking of Toyota.

For Buildings & Fleet Services, the key enabler to achieve the objective of doing more with less and to do it faster and better has been to embrace the lean process philosophy.

Early in 2003, the tire shop needed to be relocated from the central garage to an existing nearby building to make room for a body shop. Like many old public garages, the existing layout of the DPW's tire shop developed over time and the material flow through the tire shop had become cumbersome. Excessive time was being spent looking for tires or retrieving tires from outdated racks that were added over the years for convenience and to not disturb the ongoing operation. Tires were stored in various parts of the central garage as far away as 100 yards. Many large tires would simply lie around aisles and other less-used rooms.

The tire shop responsibilities include all tire repair and replacement needs for the DPW cars, trucks, and heavy equipment, as well as for the entire city's Police Department. The relocation of the tire shop allowed us to consider ways of improving the function of this department. The application of lean process thinking became a natural path to take.

Graef, Anhalt, Schloemer & Associates, Inc. (GAS) was selected to assist the city because of their previous experience with the lean process at a local manufacturing company. Joe Schuller, AIA, John Ustruck, the tire shop manager, and Todd Nowak, shop lead worker, formed the project team. An ignition meeting was held where DPW staff, including representatives from the various departments involved in the tire shop, reviewed project scope. GAS drafted and distributed questionnaires to all tire shop staff in an effort to get feedback from every employee. This included all shift workers as well as the shop manager. The questionnaires dealt with those issues that would have a large impact on the day-to-day activities performed in the tire shop, as well as the perceived needs of the staff such as employee support areas.

In 2002, the tire shop mounted approximately 4,075 tires and repaired over 7,500 tires. This includes everything from a car tire to large endloader tires. During the course of the year the tire shop staff of six employees, who collectively represent 85 years of tire experience, handled 4,845 service calls and in-shop tire changes.

GAS designers shadowed the tire shop staff in order to document the existing process as well as lean process needs. The shadowing included understanding why certain tasks were completed before others, as well as what equipment was needed to accomplish these tasks. The documentation of current processes is called "Value Stream Mapping" and evaluates all steps to determine any non-value steps or wasteful practices that can be eliminated. This is one of the most important steps in lean thinking that helps eliminate waste.

The old shop is depicted in the following photographs which represent inefficient layout, poor work flow, poor lighting, and tires scattered all over the shop and certain outdoor areas.



Next came the benchmarking. GAS visited a number of private tire companies that perform similar work as the DPW tire shop, and also visited some of those companies that supply materials to the tire shop. Pomp's Tire Service and Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire were benchmarked to gain perspective on best practices used in the industry. This accumulated data served to benchmark the current best practices in the industry and performance levels within the field. Staff was asked "why" many times and existing process flow was well documented. A flow chart for each of the separate tire changing and repair stations was constructed. A time and distance study from workstation to workstation was also done to take any opportunity to reduce waste in the process. Tire shop staff worked closely with GAS to streamline the formation of new cells (work areas).

The new layout included good housekeeping practices using the five S's of lean principles and provided strong visual management of all tires and supplies by using proper racking. Tire shop employees worked with GAS to configure each tire repair operation as a cell to reduce travel and processing time. Moving tires through the various cells smoothly, along with safety and housekeeping, were important factors in designing the cells.

Because of the amount of space taken up by products and materials in the tire shop, GAS and the entire shop staff investigated various storage racking options. The team worked together to optimize the quantity and mix of tires kept onsite, and explored options to order tires from vendors using a "just-in-time" process.

All parties participated in many process and tire shop layout meetings during which pros and cons of each option were discussed. Eventually a consensus was reached that resulted in improved shop efficiencies. In the tire repair bay, ten 400-watt metal halide fixtures retrofitted with F Bay Cooper Metalux and two fluorescent high-bay fixtures using T8 lamps to improve the illumination level, are expected to save 9,610 kilowatt hours of energy per year.

The new tire shop was completed in July 2003, and soon thereafter the staff relocated without disrupting any services. The staff is extremely pleased with the new quarters. The new tire facility can be called "best in industry" judged by local comparisons.

  • Total square feet space: old tire shop - 10,660 square feet; new tire shop - 8,259 square feet

  • Total number of tires: old tire shop - 1,650 tires; new tire shop - 1,400 tires

  • Total number of rims: old tire shop - 500 rims; new tire shop - 70 rims

  • Repair area light level: OTS - 25-35 foot-candles; NTS - 60-70 foot-candles

  • Types of tires: 147 different types

New tire shop
The following photographs show work performed using cell arrangement, all tools and supplies arranged to minimize time for repairs, and work areas highly illuminated.


Are we done? Of course not! The lean process/Kaizen tells us that the process to continually improve never stops. The staff is already looking at opportunities to reduce tire inventory and exploring newer technologies that would help streamline tire repairs and maintenance while reducing any wasted efforts.

Venu J. Gupta will present a session on the lean process at the 2004 Congress in Atlanta. He can be reached at (414) 286-3401 or at vgupta@mpw.net.