Lean methods have been transforming manufacturing and software development – so could they be applied to public services too?
As the public sector undergoes its digital transformation, the ground is fertile for new ideas and new methods that can deliver more effective outcomes: and lean innovation might just hold the key.
Wait, what is lean?
If you’re not familiar with lean methodology, it has many similarities to agile in that it represents a set of principles meant to help achieve speed, quality and customer alignment. Its premises revolve around eliminating waste; building quality; creating knowledge; and delivering quickly while optimising the whole outcome.
In short, the idea is to eliminate anything that does not add value to a concept – eliminating everything from useless documentation to meaningless meetings. It means eliminating the inefficient methods and spending time building what you are sure will work.
Why does the public sector need lean methods?
There are many potential barriers that could get in the way of the digital transformation of public services. Among the most obvious are financial constraints with the country attempting to reduce its deficit without raising taxes; political interests, both internal and external that could slow down potential changes as people look to safeguard their own positions, among other reasons; the general change that would be needed to an organisation’s processes and culture with so much focus on new digital systems; the skills and experience that would be needed; and much more.
These barriers however, can be tackled in a number of ways when adopting lean methods. By taking a lean approach, the emphasis can be put on outcomes that actually meet needs, nurturing from both the bottom up and top down to adopt best practice behaviours that help overcome these barriers. It may also mean turning to external help to inject energy and momentum into the proceedings.
Applying lean principles
No matter what area of public service you work in, if you’re aiming to enhance outcomes you should focus on policies that support re-inventive change. This will mean not being afraid to try new things – and in fact, actually embracing the “fail fast, fail often” approach that will see you regularly try methods that don’t work in an effort to find an optimum outcome and ultimately make the process more efficient. In addition, it will mean having strong leadership and a permissive culture that gives people the right to have their say and try their ideas without worrying about negative feedback.
There should also be added emphasis on listening to new ideas and being willing to bring in external support, resources, training and coaching. Don’t assume that your in-house experts are always right – if that was the case then the system would already be working optimally and there would be no need for change. The idea of adopting new methods is to listen to truly new ideas from new voices and not just the “same old suspects”.
Above all, however, you should aim to minimise waste by focusing on the needs of the customer and their purposes. Have them in mind from the outset and you can streamline your operations. By putting the user first, you should be able to quickly define the end goal and be able to rapidly mobilise your ideas.
Putting the theory into action
To bring the methodology to life, Arrk has created the EmbArrk™ time-boxed lean discovery method. This takes on several stages:
Finding the problems
The first stage is to investigate the problem. Carry out interviews with customers to assess their feedback; analyse competitor offerings and be honest about what they are doing better; make contextual inquiries; and examine analytics, among other potential methods of investigation. This should be carried out, typically over a period of two-five days, to clearly establish the issues.
Considering the issues
The next step can be referred to as consideration. It will see your team create choices through brainstorming, gaining insight from external experts, and mapping out the customer experience from the initial feedback. Over a period, typically of more than a week, you will be generating ideas and conversing before shortlisting the solutions you feel can work best.
The third step is realisation: that is putting things into practice. This will see you define the minimal viable product and bring this to life through storyboarding, information design and prototyping before customer testing.
The next stage is the wrap up stage, where you are confident enough to put your service out there and showcase it to the public. Just remember that this should never be considered the “final” stage because lean development should be an ongoing cycle that you revisit to ensure you maximise efficiency.
Using EmbArrk™ for your public service transformation
EmbArrk™ can help you achieve your objectives with a systematic approach to your individual project. It involves a strategic design that is customised for your service, a clear discovery stage to outline the issues and how they can be resolved; and a low-level business process redesign that can help make the digitisation of your service a reality.
The key with reinventing any service is to look beyond the status quo and be willing to make efficient changes that will maximise value and bring the customer what they need and demand. EmbArrk™ can put you on the right track.