When announcing her proposed budget reduction strategy, Governor Gregoire also highlighted one way the state hopes to improve service delivery even as changes are made to program funding levels: Lean management.

Gregoire noted at her budget press conference:

“One example is we have partnered with Boeing to launch lean-management tools across our agencies, and we already are seeing early successes.”

What exactly are Lean-management tools?

Here is how Wendy Korthuis-Smith, Director of GMAP, describes Lean in an October 17 blog post:

“When resources are thin, and getting thinner, we have to ensure that every tool we have is used in the most effective way to get every ounce of benefit out of it. Several of our state agencies are showing true innovation by following Lean principles – and the payoff is a more efficient system with more positive results. We’re seeing faster response times, less complaints and a more motivated staff. And while the purpose of lean isn’t to reduce costs, we’re seeing financial savings in some areas, as well.

Lean describes a set of proven principles, methods and tools that focus on streamlining work so that it can be done in less time, with less hassle and with a focus more on what matters most to citizens. Although Lean grew out of the manufacturing industry, over the years, Lean has spread through many industries including distribution, services, retail, healthcare, construction and government. Washington state has been using Lean tools for improvements, and is partnering with the private sector, including Boeing, to learn best-practices.”

I met with Wendy after the Governor’s budget press conference to learn more about the state’s Lean efforts.

According to Wendy, what started off as a “coalition of the willing and able,” has evolved into a cabinet wide directive from the Governor for agencies under her control to embrace and utilize Lean (this excludes independently elected offices like OSPI). To help the state with this undertaking Boeing has been providing in-kind (free) consultant help.

I asked Boeing for comments on the role it is playing to help the state with Lean. Here is Boeing’s response:

“As the world’s leading aerospace company, we have seen the power of Lean in action. In an increasingly competitive industry, we have used this methodology to streamline our operations, improve the quality of our products and services, cut millions of dollars in cost, improve the productivity of our employees and improve workplace safety. We continue to reap the benefits of these improvements while establishing a culture of continuous improvement.

We have assisted nonprofit organizations and other industry sectors to apply Lean with significant results, and interest is increasing among government circles as they face economic challenges and pressure to do more with less. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire sees Lean as central to her effort to transform state operations, which will improve the ability to serve the needs of citizens more effectively and efficiently.

Boeing is a major employer in the state  — we pay taxes and our employees pay taxes. Therefore, we have a vested interest in seeing our state and local governments run as efficiently as possible so they can be successful. It is in our collective best interests to make our region more competitive and create conditions of prosperity for Boeing, the business sector and the people of the region.

We are honored to contribute our expertise to this effort. Unusual times demand collaborative and innovative solutions, and we welcome the opportunity to help Washington state leaders achieve their vision for a healthy, competitive, stable and responsive government.”

Here are some of the preliminary results from the state’s Lean efforts:

  • DSHS Economic Services Administration
    • 65% reduction in time to process applications (14-18 days to 4-7 days)
    • 99.7% reduction in wait time (from 4 weeks to 5-45 minutes)
    • Increased operational efficiencies by more than 20%
  • Labor & Industries
    • Reduced delays in the workers’ compensation protest and appeal process by 81% making it easier and faster for an injured worker to receive an appeal decision
  • Corrections
    • 90% reduction in time to process paperwork down from 30 days to 3
    • $2 million cost avoidance to agency in offender clothing recycling program
    • $1.3 million cost avoidance in food to the agency through standardized menu offering

Washington is not the only state taking advantage of Lean management reforms. According to the Iowa Office of Lean Enterprise:

“Lean recognizes that for most processes only 5% of activities add value for the customer, which means that 95% are either necessary non-value adding activities or waste. By clearly defining value for a specific service or product from the customer’s perspective, non value activities and waste can be targeted for removal. Eliminating waste is the greatest potential source of improvement in process performance and customer service. Once waste has been identified, processes are redesigned to allow service, information or product to flow through the new process without interruption . . .

During the 81st General Assembly, legislation was passed that authorized the Department of Management to lead the expansion of Lean efforts in Iowa state government. The Office of Lean was created within the Department of Management to promote and facilitate continuous improvement through the use of a specific set of proven tools and methodologies collectively known as Lean.”

In these tough budget times it is very encouraging to see Washington officials exploring ways to improve service delivery. It is equally impressive to see Boeing providing the state access to its Lean experts at no cost to help with this reform.

For additional information on Lean, here is a good report by State Auditor Brian Sonntag.


[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: ]