December 20, 2016 by Leah LaCivita
Government Performance Consortium
Despite rumors of an impending snowpocalypse, over 200 people gathered in Tacoma on December 8 to attend the Government Performance Consortium (GPC) forum, Lean & Beyond: Taking Local Government from Good to Great. The day was punctuated with high-spirited conversations, peer-to-peer learning, and great enthusiasm for improving the way local government works.
Puget Sound-area cities were heavily represented among attendees—no surprise, given the location—and included Tacoma, Redmond, Renton, Olympia, and Seattle. Attendees also came from other places across the state, from Longview and Kitsap County to Spokane and Whitman County.
All attendees shared one goal: to improve their local government in order to better serve its constituents. Or as Larisa Benson, the co-creator of the GPC at the University of Washington, noted: “We have the vision to know what local government can be, the heart to connect with people, and the strength to get us there together.”
The morning kicked into high gear with keynote speaker Teresa Hay McMahon, a founding member and president of the Iowa Lean Consortium. Teresa shared several stories documenting how lean processes first came to Iowa state government and the changes that have come about thanks to hard-working staff who led the effort to improve the way the state did business. At the encouragement of external partners, the state’s Department of Natural Resources used lean techniques to transform a permitting program that originally took 62 days to complete into one that ultimately took only six days to complete.
Teresa also offered encouragement to staff leading the lean effort, noting that lean is about developing a culture of improvement “in which people become problem solvers.” “People development,” she said, “is key.” She encouraged attendees to walk the talk by looking at their own “Say-Do ratio.” In other words, how often do you follow through on your commitments? Continual improvement, she noted, does not happen at the 30,000 foot level but rather in small, focused, and continuous efforts.
Teresa joined a panel of lean project leaders from Spokane and Kitsap counties and the city of Renton, who all shared their advice on implementing lean in local government. John Dickson of Spokane County spoke of the importance of telling stories about lean successes. Andy Hento of Kitsap County discussed the need for a strong foundation, referencing Kitsap’s Champion’s Council, a steering committee tasked with leading the change. Kristi Rowland from Renton talked about the need to develop a strong local team and to leverage the resources available statewide, such as the GPC and other lean leaders in Washington.
GPC panelists, from left to right: Keynote speaker Teresa Hay McMahon, John Dickson, moderator Jim Benson, Kristi Rowland, and Andy Hento.
Other highlights of the day included Lean Coffees, which gave attendees the chance to come together in small groups to identify and strategize on issues, and Shift and Share, with 15 separate success stories and how-to tips from lean leaders across the state. Topics covered in the Shift and Share demonstrated the innovative projects local governments are doing using lean principles in the areas of policing, customer service, employee onboarding, public record requests, capital projects oversight, and much more. These interactions also gave attendees the chance to discuss mutually challenging topics and, in the process, discover ways of overcoming these roadblocks.
A ‘wall of epiphanies’—individualized post-it notes capturing lessons learned throughout the day—attested to the energy of the room and to the commitment to the process of continual improvement. “Work on trust continuously,” “have a routine for celebrating and learning from failure,” and “change happens with or without the naysayers” were just a few of hundreds of useful insights posted on the wall.
Larisa closed the conference by inviting attendees to participate in an ongoing community of practice, for which over 70% of participants responded with an enthusiastic yes. Attendees also weighed in on what types of topics they would like to see at a follow-up workshop: Dashboards/performance measures topped the list, followed by change management, but many in the room were also interested in storytelling or how to have challenging conversations.
What’s clear is that GPC is gaining momentum and creating a support network for change agents throughout the state.