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Lean government for South Africa

27 December 2012, 07:55

The prospect of lean government had become a reality with Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment as party deputy to President Jacob Zuma. The appointment positioned the tycoon to join government as a leader and mobilize a lean movement in government that will march the nation to prosperity.

The ANC government had set itself the strategic task of ensuring that South Africa will attain full employment by 2030. The 2030 vision of full employment will erase poverty and reduce inequality.

Government seeks to transform the structure of the economy through industrialisation, broad-based black economic empowerment and strengthening and expanding the role of the state. Full employment will be attained through new enterprise development, agriculture and import replacement. Decisive and resolute action will be taken in the next five years to overcome the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Mr. Ramaphosa’s appointment will allow the ANC to capitalise on his experience, credentials and reputation for foresight, lean thinking and integrity. He is a seasoned union activist, negotiator, director of public companies and SA's second wealthiest black entrepreneur. His acumen and resolute quest in the private sector to maximize shareholder wealth through the strategic leverage of resources will invariably resonate and find expression in government. 

The top strategic imperative under his leadership will be to mobilize a lean movement in government to popularise and internalise lean thinking and continuous improvement in all state departments and institutions. A lean movement in government will assure across-the-board zero tolerance of bloat, waste, overruns and under-expenditures in all its forms and will streamline structures, processes, methods, staff and payrolls to maximize the strategic leverage of resources. The lean movement would be the ideal vehicle for implementing the national development plan.

He is experientially geared to start his quest by scrutinizing government expenditure under a microscope to ensure that every budget item is essential and wields maximum strategic leverage. He will inspire moral excellence in government, encourage entrepreneurial beneficiation of natural resources and push for a knowledge and skills-driven economy. He has indicated that he has no ambition to succeed President Zuma as president, thus making sure that he will be able to focus exclusively and relentlessly on successfully eliminating bloat, waste, poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Lean organizations contribute to public wellness and convenience, as they put the needs of people first and they maximize value to citizens. Lean organizations make the world a better place to live in. They respect their employees, demand discipline, hard work and full understanding of the task at hand. They encourage teamwork and creativity from workers to ensure design excellence and continuous innovation. Global exemplars of lean are Toyota, Samsung and Apple, the garage start-up that became the most valuable company in the world under the lean execution of Steve Jobs. Wakeful governments of the most competitive nations in the world have all embraced lean.

Lean is an integrated system of principles, practices, tools, and techniques that improve the speed, cost and quality of any process by eliminating waste, synchronizing workflows and managing service flows. The reduction of waste is the cornerstone to the lean approach. In lean, waste is all non-value-adding activity.

Lean is used to develop seamless processes, improve flow, reduce waste, and develop an understanding of customer value. Waste in the public sector is measured in cycle time, labour, materials and energy consumption. Examples of lean in the public service are the reduction and elimination of budget overruns and under-expenditures, program backlogs, non-essential transport, superfluous equipment and service procurement, document errors, process steps, reviews and approvals, waiting time, court cases, searching for information and completing work not needed. Consider the financial, legal and public interest implications of the e-toll and school handbook disasters and whether they would have happened, had lean thinking prevailed from the idea stage.

Lean thinking is a resolute dedication to the principles of prudence, diligence, frugality, temperance, cleanliness, courage and justice. These virtues inspire behaviours that represent moral excellence and progress.

From the outset there will be low hanging fruit to be harvested from lean thinking in government. They will be found in rationalizing the plethora of state departments and agencies and in refocusing transfers, subsidies and departmental and agency programs, structures and budgets to maximize leverage.

The public sector is the country’s largest employer and in the 2012 budget the public sector wage bill of R336.96 billion is the largest component of expenditure. Skills audits must place vacant positions under scrutiny and vacancies and bloat must be reduced through redeployment and natural attrition. Savings can be directed to urgent programmes of the national development plan.

There are 38 state departments (votes) in the 2012 budget, with 20 votes (52%) attracting less than 7% of the total appropriation by vote. A cluster of four departments draws 50% of the total vote appropriation. The clustering of key value streams and the flow of resources into key value streams will receive attention. The value streams and services of some of departments can be combined on the basis of similarity of service offerings and affinity to client needs. This will assure client focus and the success of the national planning initiatives, whilst preventing duplication and service delivery inefficiencies.

Less than 4% of the total appropriation by vote is directed towards the department of basic education, the service that is entrusted with educating the children of the nation for responsible citizenship. This is folly in a beautiful country blessed with rich natural resources endowments, where the catalyst for beneficiation would be well-educated people with beneficiation expertise and skills. Making basic education work effectively will reduce the expenditure on policing and correctional services, which currently draws more than 14% of the vote appropriation. It will also make higher education and training more effective.

To move government into broad-based lean thinking and practice would require that across-departmental lean teams are formed and trained in lean and change management principles and techniques. There are local centres of excellence, like Lean Institute Africa, that assist with lean training and implementation.

Spin-offs will be manifold. Lean pursuits in teams and the excitement of lean achievements will resonate with members individually, thus creating new change agents who will stimulate lean thinking, optimism and enterprise in family businesses, education institutions, public enterprises, companies and industries. The immediate and long-term value to society will be immense.

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