How digital lean can help governments improve their services

29 April 2021 5 min. read

Lean operations can bring tremendous value to government – helping them better understand citizens and deliver more effective services. Four Principles explains how the tech-driven agility transforming the private sector could reform government as well. 

Buzzwords: ‘Lean’ and ‘Agile’ have been floating around the business world for a few years now, pushing for change in the approach to work. Gone are the days of yearly plans, budgets and reviews, or drawn out product and service development cycles – Agile working features short sprints, where solutions are built and tested in Lean fashion in response to customer needs. 

With digital transformation rife, most experts recommend pairing technology with Lean working for true modernisation. Largely a private sector endeavour, these principles could also usher in a new era of government service – according to lean management experts at Four Principles

Four Principles Lean Digital Government model

“Digital transformation has become a must for any public sector organisation that wishes to meet the current and future needs of its citizens,” says Seif Shieshakly, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Four Principles. 

The Lean Digital Government 

Government bureaucracy worldwide has come to be known for redundancies, inefficiencies and consequently ineffectiveness. Lean could eliminate waste, identify value areas, establish continual improvement mechanisms, build new collaboration and delivery models, support digitalisation, and – most importantly – identify citizen needs and put them at the heart of all operations.

Not to oversimplify the task at hand. Transforming government services through technology is a vast and complex affair. Consultants of Four Principles have been building Lean models for over a decade – an experience base that has now informed a template for government transformation. The model is based on Design Thinking – an Agile methodology that embodies the above principles of customer-centricity and continual improvements. 

Four Principles Lean implementation approach

A three phase process is required: prove, iterate and consolidate. Phase one is all about streamlining processes, from one end to the other. Tools are needed to measure citizen expectations and experience, which form a starting point for transformation. It’s also important to set clear performance indicators (KPIs) at this stage, to inform the rest of the process.

Phase two involves changing employee mindsets: breaking down bureaucratic walls and encouraging a collaborative, problem-solving approach to services. Skill development will also be crucial to master digital tools – which form the bedrock of phase three. Where possible, processes should be automated, and e-portals should be set up for digital interactions.

“By following Lean practices which we structured into the 3-phased approach, governments can reduce the costs of developing and maintaining e-services while offering more functionality and content, thereby providing a higher return on public money spent.” says Mehdi Chelhi, Principal at Four Principles.

Sustaining the results

The next challenge is to sustain change, fighting the tendency to fall back into old patterns. The solution is to improve continually, through a cycle laid out by Four Principles. Progress along KPIs should be visually represented, supplemented by clearly defined roles and responsibilities, training programmes, incentives and sustainability audits.

“Combining such a performance management system with Four Principles’s Lean Digital Government framework and Design Thinking methodology can ensure results are achieved and sustained,” noted Manuel Silva, Senior Manager and Director of Digital Kaizen Lab at Four Principles.

Lean results in practice: Saudi Arabia

Driven by its Vision 2030 goal of digitally transforming government and business, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a pioneer of Lean in government in the Middle East and around the world. The Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice was more than 70% digitalised in 2019, and over a third of Saudi Citizens have Unified Electronic Medical Records.

Lean Digital Government results: Saudi Arabia

The government has an online business platform with over 50,000 registered suppliers for over 450 government bodies – processing more than a million payment orders. Lean principles have driven a 66% cut in citizen service lead times; a 50% boost in productivity; a 300% plus rise in team capacity; and a 26% jump in citizen satisfaction as a result. 

Monetary benefits abound: improvements have created a potential revenue boost of more than SAR 2 billion, while savings across the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Municipalities and Rural Affairs amount to approximately SAR 20 billion per year.

The stellar results illustrate the value of Lean in government. And it’s not just Saudi Arabia making strides here. Dubai has saved over AED 4 billion by reducing process times by up to 20%; Washington state government in the US has managed a $33 million saving through a Lean programme; while the State of New South Wales in Australia has replaced 14 different Department of Family and Community Services systems with a single, cloud-based portal.