Operational Excellence in government is not an oxymoron

March 24, 2017|Kevin Shaver

Operational Excellence programs aren’t just being implemented in manufacturing settings. Government entities at all levels have found value in igniting their own Operational Excellence efforts, allowing them to streamline processes and get more reach out of their tax dollars.

Operational Excellence enables an enterprise and its leadership to continuously improve all areas of performance—including decision-making, ongoing investment, profitability, customer and partner services, and human resources capabilities. Operationally excellent enterprises possess the processes and structures, or the “intangible assets,” that give them the visibility, control, tools and management practices necessary to drive greater operational effectiveness and efficiency.

What is Operational Excellence?

Operational Excellence is a growing term that encompasses principles and methods to both identify and then implement the most efficient, value-added way to provide services. Those services can be government services just as much as commercial services or products. Government agencies have found that when tools like Lean, Six-Sigma and process analysis are implemented, they see an improved understanding of how their own processes work. The tools facilitate the quick identification and implementation of improvements, and that builds a culture of continuous improvement. A culture of continuous improvement leads to best practices or…Operational Excellence.

Benefits to government and its constituents

Operational Excellence for government focuses on governing and serving citizens with respect and continuously improving service delivery by cutting out "waste" and "inefficiency" in processes. This in turn will result in better services overall, engaged civil servants and more value for tax-supported programs and services. Generally, proponents also see that improving processes in government is a means to expand the capacity of government to provide more services per tax dollar spent.

Operational Excellence is generally attained by use of Lean and Six-Sigma process improvement techniques. Both of these had their start in manufacturing, but over the last 20 years have progressed into health care, administration, sports, sales and, yes, government. Lean focuses on improving the efficiency of processes and Six-Sigma focuses on improving the quality or repeatability of a process. The two combined result in a quality process with minimal waste, which results in Operational Excellence. Whether you are for-profit, not-for-profit, or a government, these tools can help you improve to operate more efficiently.

Operational Excellence is growing in many city, county, state and federal governments. Many have links on their web pages to track the process improvements that they have accomplished and some have established separate departments or government organizations just to focus on improving processes. Why is this happening? What types of benefits have been realized? What are examples of improvements that have been accomplished?

  • Consolidation of office supply purchases by type and supplier to reduce waste, cost, duplication and inventory levels, leveraging purchasing power through consolidation.
  • Documentation of all procedures into a visual layout that both documents the proper procedure and also provides a training manual for people new to a role or position. It allows quicker training, reduces errors and drives a single repeatable method for a process or activity.
  • Reduction and standardization of forms as well as conversion of forms to electronic format.
  • Reduction of duplicate entry of data in various forms and computer systems.
  • Faster processes of citizen interface activities like, applications, filings, citations, permits, and more.
  • Merging of two or more departments and standardizing procedures, tools, techniques, systems and records to gain positive predictable results within the targeted budget.

Operational Excellence and the tools of Lean and Six-Sigma are not solutions looking for a problem. It is not the initiative of the day, month or year. Operational Excellence and the tools are a way of doing business—they transform processes by using the ideas of the people who work in the processes and know them the best, along with a trained facilitator. As mentioned earlier, many governments have their own internal programs now with trained facilitators to help lead the various projects that are targeted for improvement.

Someone once stated that for every pair of hands you get a free brain. I love that statement. It is the essence of change and means that you should use the ideas that you already have to fix problems and improve processes, not just work with the ongoing issues you know exist.

Beginning your Operational Excellence efforts

To get started you have to find the pain points in your governmental organization or department. Bring in a facilitator to help you make improvements using the tools of Lean and Six-Sigma. See the results and find people who have a passion for process improvement. As many government organizations have done, get people trained to grow the techniques in your organization and watch it become a way of operating every day.

Don’t try to solve world hunger on your first effort. Focus in an area of pain or opportunity for improvement and get some small wins before you expand to other areas. Try to keep each effort at a manageable size so you see the benefits in frequent increments to maintain the momentum. Transition to using the tools to manage and run your operation at a level of excellence to continually improve.

Deepening Levels of Understanding Process Excellence

Deepening Levels of Understanding Process Excellence

The bottom line is government is very much like any business, especially if you look at its elements. The highway department has all the same characteristics of a construction company, health care-related units are like a clinic or hospital, the police departments are not unlike a security firm or the military, there is a purchasing element bringing in supplies to run the various departments, and you’ll find all the same administrative functions as in any institution, service business or manufacturing company. Examples of these are accounting, human resources, finance, payroll and building maintenance, among others.

The fact that some processes drive for profit and some manage to a tax-funded budget does not change the way we should look at how we operate. In all cases, Operational Excellence focuses on taking out waste while improving the quality of the work. Doing this in government can reduce costs that can then be reallocated where they can bring additional benefit to the government and the tax payers who benefit from the services provided. The process of working toward excellence will also improve employee morale and allow them to engage in increasing both their efficiency and their job satisfaction. Operational Excellence enables positive, predictable results in all areas of government.

For assistance with your Operational Excellence efforts, contact Kevin Shaver or another member of the Schenck Operations Consulting team at 800-236-2246.


Kevin Shaver, CM, SSBB, LE, director – operations consulting, has more than 30 years of large-scale business process re-engineering experience with a consistent track record of converting organizational goals into deliverable results. He has extensive experience working hands-on in manufacturing, health care and government.