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Creating a Lean Government Agency with the “5S” Organization Principles

December 11, 2017

Government agency

Federal agencies are working to create lean government operations under M-17-22, issued by the Office of Management and Budget in April 2017 to reform the federal government. The overall focus of the reform is to make the government “lean, accountable and more efficient,” as well as to maximize employee performance.

Essentially, the purpose of the memo from the new administration is for agencies to do the same volume of work with fewer resources (which often means staffing) or deliver more work with the same or current level of resourcing.

Applying the 5S concept to create lean government agencies

Although the concept of lean is often associated with (and was born in) the manufacturing sector, many of its rules and guidelines may also be applied in the service sector, including the government.

One lean concept that can easily be implemented at all levels of government is the 5S organization method, a widely accepted lean manufacturing tool. As discussed in the AMA seminar LEAN Process Improvement: Delivering More With Less, the following tenets of this concept can be applied to individuals, teams, or departments:

Sort. Choose what to keep and what to discard. If you’re like me (a classic packrat), this may be a true challenge. But as long as you remain in compliance with your agency’s recordkeeping policy, take a close look at any physical files, equipment, and other office items that can be discarded or recycled. Clutter not only gives an impression of disorganization, but also makes the items you need to keep that much harder to find when you need them.

Store. Place items where they are easily accessible and secured. There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to find something that you know is around but cannot locate at the moment it’s needed. It may seem like common sense, but taking the time upfront to organize items for easy access later saves a great deal of time and stress in the long run, thereby improving productivity.

Shine. Clean sorted and stored Items. Physical impressions matter for the items that you do keep and organize. Whether you are in the manufacturing sector or the government, clean items can help keep equipment and devices in good working order. Anything that’s dirty or dusty is also less likely to be used, which defeats the purpose of it being in storage in the first place.

Standardize. Ensure consistency in the previous steps. Communicating and encouraging everyone to use your methodology or approach to organization and storage will allow all team members to locate and use items efficiently. With standardization, you are introducing a culture of efficiency and eliminated waste on your team, which will reap ongoing benefits that hopefully will filter across the entire agency.

Sustain. Maintain the 5S system you’ve built. Create job aids and signage to instill the 5S concept in your operations and work culture. Challenge yourself to assess whether your standards are being maintained; otherwise, the inefficient ways of old will slowly creep back in over time.

Promoting efficiency through government employee training

Finally, incorporate the 5S concept into your employee training to ensure that this concept sticks among your team. With training, your employees can help to build long-term productivity and efficiency into your agency’s work culture.

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About The Author

Ray Houdtzagers, PMP, is director of learning solutions at American Management Association. He has been with AMA for over 15 years and has nearly 20 years of professional project management experience, primarily in the development of professional education programs for both classroom and multimedia-based delivery. His current focus is on AMA’s catalog of project management seminars for open enrollment, custom development, and delivery of learning solutions for Enterprise clients in the Western region of the United States, as well as for the government sector. He also serves as the head of the Project Management Office (PMO) for AMA’s USME seminar division.

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