Book Review "Lean for the Public Sector..."
Lean for the
Public Sector: The Pursuit of Perfection in Government
Bert Teeuwen (2010)
223 pages, paperback, $29.95
Kindle Edition also available
The term "perfectionist" is often used with a negative
connotation. That being said, is striving for perfection the thing
to do, especially in the public sector? And is it attainable? In
Lean for the Public Sector, Bert Teeuwen admits you will
never attain the perfect situation and changes are constant but aim
for perfection nevertheless and the result is continuous
improvement. I believe him. This book is a must read for all public
sector leaders - federal, provincial and local.
After reading 12 chapters, I have concluded it is best described
as an attitude - it puts the "customer" center stage, adds value to
all processes, eliminates wastes and helps employees own government
processes. I particularly like Teeuwen's take on the citizen -
playing varying roles of customer, user, subject, voter, taxpayer,
partner, administrator. For every action we take, for each process
we have, it has made me stop and consider "who is the customer in
this case"? and "are we adding value with this step of the
The concepts outlined in this book are for creative and
innovative leaders only. Especially when it comes to eliminating
waste, which include well used checks and balances (aka red tape to
the customer.) This is a difficult possibility for many public
sector administrators (and politicians) who cannot accept anything
other than zero risk of error, loss or embarrassment. But
with financial and human resources becoming scarcer every day, this
kind of thinking is no longer reasonable and eliminating the red
tape and managing (not eliminating) risk is critical.
Readers beware! Chapter 4 "Mapping the Value Stream" and Chapter
5 "Flow and the Pull Principle" took me forever to read - I found
myself rereading many parts over and over. Figures 4.2 and
4.3 definitely need to be shown together without having to flip the
page and the "spaghetti" diagrams in Figures 5.4 and 5.5 make me
cringe! But they are a crucial prelude to other "lean" principles,
such as mobilizing employees and building Kaizen (continuous
improvement) teams - so find a nice quiet place and settle in for
some uninterrupted time before tackling these chapters.
Finally, the workplace organization 5 "S" strategies - sort, set
in order, shine, standardize and sustain - may seem to be common
sense, but the chapter devoted to this is practical and well worth
reflection. One word of caution for Teeuwen - no mention is made of
the Access to Information legislation most of us are required to
follow so he may wish to reconsider his "when in doubt, throw it
out" advice. I like this book and the concepts contained in it - it
will help move my city forward.
The Pursuit of Perfection in Government Services
Reprinted with permission, eFocus Municipal Assessment &
About the Reviewer
Michele Peach, CA, is the Chief Administrative Officer for the
City of Mount Pearl, NL. She has worked for 34 years in the public
sector and was an Audit Manager with the Provincial Office of the
Auditor General for15 years before beginning to work for local
government. She can be reached at .
Packed with international case examples and clearly delineating
principles as they apply to public sector organizations, Lean for
the Public Sector: The Pursuit of Perfection in Government Services
demonstrates that Lean in the public sector is neither rocket
science nor a typical profit-driven improvement program.
The book begins with coverage of the basic philosophy of Lean
before detailing specific methods for improving processes in the
public sector. It addresses concerns specific to the public sector
environment and considers the role of the citizen, not only as
customer, but as a voter, taxpayer, and community participant. The
author provides a clear explanation of methods such as 5S, kaizen,
standardization techniques, and Value Stream Mapping shaped to Lean
Government. His approach provides a reality-based view of
value-added services and waste in the public sector.
Written specifically to address the application of Lean practices
in government and the public sector, this how-to workbook gives you
the wherewithal to combat the 'We don't make widgets' mentality.
Providing the tools to manage the entire Lean transformation
process, the book helps you immediately integrate the Lean way of
thinking and its tools into your improvement program.
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