A Lean Governor Inaugurated in Washington (State)


Following up on my post from September on the Washington gubernatorial race (“Lean Management” Debated in the Washington Gubernatorial Race), the winner of the election, Jay Inslee, was inaugurated. His  inaugural  speech (full text in PDF) referenced the application of Lean to state government. From the speech:

Today we begin a multi-year effort to bring disruptive change to Olympia, starting with the very core of how we do business. With authentic, courageous leadership, we will bring the principles of Lean management to all of state government, following the lead of Boeing, Virginia Mason and a growing number of state and local governments.We will provide efficiency, effectiveness and transparency. We will introduce performance metrics where it counts, giving us the data we need to fix what's broken, cut what we don't need and replace rhetoric with quantifiable results.

But this effort is about more than measurement. It's about instituting a culture shift that will endure well beyond my administration.

Moving forward, all state agencies will be rooted in the same three principles: First, we will measure success by the results we produce, not the money we put in. Second, we will know our customers and what they value. Third, every agency will adopt a unique process for continual improvement that engages our state employees.

(hat tip to my friend and Washington resident, Naida Grunden, for pointing this out)

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. This is a great step forward for Lean, and it shows that when intelligent people see first hand just how successful Lean can be they will move to apply it else where as well. The hugely successful efforts of Boeing has certainly awakened some of the leader and people of Washington State, hopeful more political leaders will start opening their eyes to the benefits of Lean and start applying it in other regions as well. Lean can help any government that truly wants to supply good services to their citizens.

  2. Does anyone know if Gov. Inslee has established a “Qualified Job Guarantee”? For example, “No Associate shall be subject to layoff as a direct result of any continuous improvement activity.” And the no-blame policy so essential to worker participation? If not, then what do we really have here? More Fake Lean?

    Page 8 of the Inauguration speech says: “In the weeks to come, I will be taking action to transition to a results- and data-driven government, with continuous quality improvement, employee
    engagement and clear accountability.” Not process and results? Not fact-based? Hmmm….

    • I hope this is a “step in the right direction” and not “fake lean.” Hearing “results-driven” makes me cringe a bit (that’s traditional management, as Bob points out) and “accountability” is often a very loaded term, as in “we’ll blame the individuals for not getting results.”

  3. It seems to be a positive step, but I remain skeptical given the history of this type of effort. Surely top government officials will get some Lean (tools) training and quickly become conversant in it. But that, of course, is not enough.

    I hope someone in Washington State informs us in the future if Gov. Inslee and his political appointees apply Lean principles and practices to their own work… or will they delegate Lean to lower level career state administrators and workers. The question is: How can you lead a Lean transformation if you don’t practice it. Leaders cannot possibly know about Lean if they do not practice it every day.

  4. Chances are that Inslee himself is somewhat early in his own personal lean journey and may have a significant learning curve with his own leadership development. Who knows? Patience, grasshoppa!!!

  5. I live in the State of Washington. It is very disappointing to see us congratulating government employees for talking about, and in some cases beginning to do, what they have had the responsibility and obligation to have been doing for 200 + years, i.e., improve everyday.

    Hopefully this is not another “photo opportunity”.

    • Well, we could say the same about healthcare or many other manufacturing companies… rather than beating people up for having not improved earlier, I’d rather cheer on those who are at least trying (or are appearing to).

      That said, I hope this isn’t just empty talk…

  6. I’ve worked on Lean in government and it can work but the top people have to be doing it, as Bob notes. A core issue is no “profit” driver, just costs. That often leads to wrong metrics and that’s what i heard in Inslee’s remarks. I, too, am in Washington state and we are the 4th most unionized state in the USA. Unless there are employment agreements, it will be fought through subterfuge and smoke and mirrors, of which they are masters. Costs will not go down, they will go up, inexorably and then Lean will die. The departing governors target was one significant project in a year!! Huh!! Clearly never heard of Kaizen or anything remotely related to Real Lean, just faux Lean. Because of the heavy demands on the governor, they have a very hard time focusing. Sorry for the pessimism, I’ll believe it when I see it. I expect all sound and fury signifying nothing.

  7. From a friend in Washington:

    “I’m just excited to think that citizens everywhere could rally around government that actually delivers things that they value. In King County, for instance (Seattle), the time it takes to get a business license went from months to days (I don’t have the exact number.) But it was taking so long that businesses were locating elsewhere. The reduced the time, and businesses came flooding back.”


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