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Originally published Friday, October 14, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Lean: getting a better grip on King County's cost-spending curve

King County is investing in Lean, a program aimed at controlling costs and wringing out more efficiencies so services remain the same.

quotes As a government agency, one elected by the people, why did it tak three years of lean... Read more
quotes Time to cut pork from the budget. Time to become lean. Read more
quotes As a government agency, one elected by the people, why did it tak three years of lean ... Read more
WHAT do Toyota, Boeing and King County government have in common with one another? All are compelled to provide customers great customer service at a lower cost in leaner times.

The new buzzword in public and corporate America these days is Lean, a program borrowed from Toyota, which developed ways to continually cut waste and boost efficiency.

If that sounds like pointy-headed guys with green eyeshades coming through to trim fat, this program is significantly different and more potent.

Lean is not traditional top-down budget cutting. It is often a five-day "event" where a single department — for example, one processing car-tab renewals — puts every job on a board and figures out how to streamline and improve the process. Employees are active participants.

Boeing has loaned a Lean consultant part-time to King County to share the wisdom, which is good community involvement.

The time between the county receiving an envelope with a check for car-tab renewal to the moment of putting the tabs in the mail declined from 19 days to 5.

The county takes in 3 percent in additional revenue annually while general-fund costs increase by roughly 6 percent. That has created a need to find an annual 3 percent efficiency boost every year. Lean is all about getting a grip on the cost-spending curve so services remain the same, but new ideas discovered through innovative sessions wring out more efficiencies.

The sheriff's overtime budget is up next and could be fruitful. About 6 percent of sheriff office spending, $4.5 million, goes to discretionary overtime.

The county wants to spend $600,000 for Lean facilitators and implementers.

That's a lot of money in a county lacking funds. But if working with employees to find redundancies and savings can save real money, it may well be worth the investment.




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