Here’s How GH County Is ‘Lean’-ing


See? This is what you missed if you were unable to attend Leadership Day at the county admin building today. (I like to hit the important stuff first.)

About 30 department heads/managers from various county departments were on hand for today’s training presented by Debra Hentz, Lean Specialist with the Local Government Performance Center. Associated with the State Auditor’s Office, the Center is “a resource for local governments that need to solve problems, reduce costs, and improve the value of their services to citizens.” It offers free training and tools to help local governments improve performance and effectiveness.

In case you’re wondering, “lean” isn’t an acronym. No. It’s. Not.  The methodology came out of Japan. Think Toyota.

Explained Hentz, “‘Lean thinking’ was a term coined by James Womack to describe the Toyota production system. MIT researchers ‘discovered’ it in the 1980s.”

Via a Powerpoint presentation, Hentz explained that Lean is a set of principles and tools that help people learn to see and eliminate waste following a methodology that is customer-focused and employee driven. It creates flow through the elimination of waste. “Waste” is what frustrates you in your job. It can include waiting, over-processing, transport, motion, inventory, correction, non-used talent and over-production.

Commissioner Vickie Raines suggested that three departments – Roads, Accounting and Personnel – may be “over-processed.” Like having to get 9 million signatures/approvals before any movement takes place on a given issue or topic. Usually at the speed of a growing redwood. Environmental Health Services Director Jeff Nelson suggested code enforcements and complaints may fall into the same category.

Noting that the current permitting process for anything going through Building and Planing moves about as fast as a shifting glacier (my words, not his), Commissioner Wes Cormier also identified B & P as well as Roads and Accounting as areas where he’d like to see improved processes. He said, “I don’t think we can afford not to do it” (apply Lean principles to processes for improved efficiency).

Jeff Nelson echoed Cormier’s sentiments, saying he’d like “Lean” to be applied to the permitting process.  Assessor Dan Lindgren identified the Tax Title Process as a candidate for Lean application.

Utilities and Facilities Supervisor Mark Cox suggested the county’s inability to handle credit card and online payments as an area for Lean process improvement. “It’s probably our #1 complaint,” Cox said. “It’s definitely something that effects the general public.”

Lean is about helping governments work better and earn greater public trust. Cost less. Developing highly engaged, committed employees.  Continuous improvement and operational efficiency. Delivering higher value to their customers. That’d be the citizens. You and me. Lean is about being curious and asking questions, not finger-pointing or blaming people.

The training was originally suggested by Budget Director Brenda Sherman. She explained that she attended an intro to Lean training 2 or 3 years ago. “Knowing some of the issues facing the county, I thought we could benefit from the service,” explained Sherman, “and it’s free.”

Commissioner Wes Cormier followed up with an invitation to the Center. “I’m all for improving processes and increasing efficiencies in government,” said Cormier. Pizza Lunch was on him. It looked like:


Is this place great, or what?