This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Implementing TOC in Government #TOCICO16

Kristen Cox, head of the Utah Governor's Office of Management and Budget gave the opening keynote of the 2016 TOC ICO conference.  She has moved from implementing Theory of Constraints concepts in a department to an agency to now implementing across all agencies.  Here's what I said about her keynote at the 2014 conference. Of course, there are the usual challenges, but her vision is of a much better government for the people of Utah.  This is a great way to think about the classic conflict: More Government vs Less Government - why not just go with Better Government?  

How does she go about defining "better?"  She uses what she's learned in Theory of Constraints. One of those things is to ask, "What does good look like?"  I love this question - particularly when asked as a group and amongst the stakeholders who care about the answer.  One example is in the context of the topic of intergenerational poverty: people from family services, social services, education, and business must be part of the solution.  Without the stakeholders involved, the What Does Good Look Like will be missing an element and the solution will be limited - or may die on the vine.

As she's done this within more and more departments, she has come up with a basic approach that looks like a Strategy and Tactics tree.  While she didn't provide all the details, the basic elements of her tree are

  • Understanding the infrastructure.  Understand what is the system in question.  Don't surrender to the temptation to dive into the details - stay at the wholistic level.  She talked about an "agency profile" that helps them define this for the agencies within Utah.
  • Ensuring flow.  With an understanding of the pieces and the interactions, ensure that things flow. This is where concepts of controlling work-in-process, full kit, etc., come into play.  Another example is the one-stop-shop: rather than making this a policy, make it a logistical approach that ensures good flow for everyone.  The goal is not to ensure government employees are kept busy, but that the services or transactions are delivered as quickly as possible.  
  • Innovation. Understanding the system and the current flow, where do we need significantly different thinking about the challenges affecting the system.  See my next post on Rami Goldratt's portion of the talk. 
  • Sustain. How to sustain the improvements and changes in governmental agencies where there is plenty of churn driven by election cycles or by the ~500 bills that get passed annually in the Utah legislature.  One of the biggest aspects of this is building the deep belief that it is possible to create a big change in the government.

Her results have been excellent - whether implementing during the economic downturns or implementing now when Utah is seeing significant growth and still keeping the cost of service low while improving quality.

Some other tidbits from this talk:

  • A familiar approach to improvement: "I have a great cost-savings initiative, it will cost you XYZ to implement."  Kristen's approach is to improve her own system first (without spending extra money) and then use the uncovered capacity to continue improvements elsewhere.
  • Using the right language is important. She has spent some effort in using language that will make sense to her constituents.  Example: Don't use the words "Exploit the constraint" when working with the social services that deal with exploited children.  Yes, these are different concepts, but the words matter and they can easily alienate people who are looking for reasons to not listen.
  • Looking at government systems, drawing the circles around "the system" can be difficult as many services interact with each other.  And policies and measure can be set to make those interactions more or less difficult.
  • Understand the system well enough that you can keep it in your head - if you can do this, you can describe it with others more easily. You will have a fighting chance.  Overly complex descriptions / depictions suggest that you may not understand it well enough. (Insert classic quotes about the Nobel prize going to the people who have created the "of course" results.)
  • There are many types of environments found in government departments. Ms. Cox described these eight types: policy, project, people, social service, transactional, regulatory, resource, and marketing.

Innovation using TOC #TOCICO16

It's all fine, really