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January 2016 //

Canadian Government Executive /


How can you reduce Preventable Work

and the Eight Wastes?

• Get a Lean mentor/facilitator


servant or an outside facilitator, with a

solid track record in Lean Government)

to lead an improvement session. The

public servant leading the charge at

the provincial ministry took a facilitator

course that I co-led and led the process

improvement event to create buy-in,

map the process, identify the non-value

steps and sources of Preventable Work,

and to eliminate them using Lean think-

ing and the Lean toolkit.

• Teach your team

about Preventable

Work and the Eight Wastes – then create

habits to eliminate them as second na-

ture – the team in our case study began

doing daily 10 minute stand-up meet-

ings to identify and eliminate waste.

Step 4.

Team Spends its

Capacity on Client Progress

Chasing and Backlog


Unhappy clients make phone calls or send

emails to complain and ask for a status up-

date on a file. This is pure preventable work

createdmainly by the failure of the process to

deliver the final output as quickly as the cli-

ent needs it. By speeding up the process, and

using freed-up capacity to swiftly complete

the job, you can reduce the number of incom-

ing calls and blow up the backlog spiral.

How can you reduce the effort spent on

Client progress chasing calls and backlog


• Improve the process,

address varia-

tions in demand, reduce overwhelm,

eliminate preventable work so that cli-

ents get what they need faster.


Blowing up a backlog is usually a function

of addressing three major factors:

1. Unaddressed increase in client demand

or decrease in workforce supply, which


2. Overwhelm, reducing productivity,

which is lowered further by

3. Preventable Work and non-value add-

ed activities which together, cause a

downward spiral of growing backlogs

and despair.

Eighteen months and several peak peri-

ods later, the team in the permit renewal

process delivered renewals in three to five

days, and the backlog has not returned. In

fact, they found the inspiration and capac-

ity to eliminate a backlog of over 1,000 files

in a second process, reducing the waiting

time for a permit for a first-time applicant

from one month to a couple of days. All

without investing in technology, head-

count, or working harder.

They understood that to be sustainable,

a one-time process improvement is not

enough to eliminate a backlog forever.

Without continuous improvement, back-

logs can easily return. Processes, like na-

ture, are subject to entropy – it takes energy

and good habits to maintain a high level of

performance or else performance (as actu-

aries say) regresses back to mediocrity, or

chaos. In a future article we’ll explain how

to create and sustain good Lean habits to

break the backlog spiral permanently.





heads Lean Agility’s

Lean Government practice. In his time as

a Vice President at the Royal Canadian

Mint, and later as an independent Lean

Government facilitator, trainer and

coach, he initiated and has led some of

Canada’s most notable public sector

Lean transformations.


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