Leaner citizen service


  • Lack of ambition
  • Lack of services


  • Applying Lean methodologies to public services in rural areas


  • Regulations, culture/habits, ownership


Problems and challenges

The service delivery of local governments is challenged. On the one side citizens and business demand better, more widely available, and innovative services in response to all kinds of challenges. On the other hand, local governments also face the consequences of the worldwide economic and financial crisis. This is especially true for local governments in rural areas, as they ususally lack resources compared to neighboring cities.

The need to use available resources efficiently and effectively is large and the necessity to streamline service-delivery processes is clear. It were the tural local authorities themselves, looking for structural solutions to save money and to increase efficiency, that requested to test whether the Lean methodology would apply to them.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication (Leonardo da Vinci).”

Although the Lean methodology is well known, it’s application in local governments is limited and in especially local goverments in rural areas. The methodology usually is associated with industrial production and large organisations, largely as result of the fact that the methodology was initially developed by the Japanese car manufacturer, Toyota.

The philosophy of Toyota is that one gets brilliant results from average people managing brilliant processes. One gets average results from brilliant people managing broken processes. Lean is a way of working, improving, thinking and be. The two central values are: minimize waste and maximize the value for the customer. All employees of an organization constantly seek for small improvements with the aim to reduce wastage and increase the value for the customer. The ambitious goal everyone strives to is: the customer must get the right quality, in the right quantities, against the right price and at the right moment.

Question was whether this approach could work in these kind of organisations offering a wide range of services. The methodology was applied to 6 municipalities and focused on services ranging from permit-delivery to (financial) support of local business startups.


Goal of the project was to launch 6 Lean trajectories in 6 local governments in Flanders focusing on services given by these local governments to citizens and businesses. In each of the six local governments processes were identified, Lean methodology was implemented and improvement trajectories defined, tested and anchored. This not only led to an improved processes but also a lot of experience in how to realize Lean in rural local goverments.

The hard side of Lean involves the improvement of processes. Employees improve the speed, complexity, cost and quality of these processes. Errors are earlier detected and solve more thorough, so they don’t happen again in the future. The customer satisfaction increases. But also the employee is rewarded. The work becomes more agreeable because everyone knows what is expected, how the work is implemented the best, knows that all activities are relevant, the work is better divided, employees implement complex tasks in a simple organization, the cooperation with other teams improves.

The soft side of Lean involves the adaptation of the organizational culture. The Lean-culture is a culture focused on improvement whereby everyone strives towards perfection by a continuous improvement. The work never is done. The daily and permanent attention of all employees for finding solutions of problems and improving processes in the long term leads to an excellent organization.

The Lean processes were documented and led to a publication.

The approach is innovative as:

  • In a Lean project, employees, customers, cost and processes are central. Consequently a Lean project cannot be started until the customer expectations are mapped.
  • Employees map the current way of working and detect problems. From here on they look for causes and subsequently solutions. Managers are closely involved.
  • The improvement team wants to realize a concrete ambition as quick as possible. The intensity of the improvement trajectories is a critical success factor.
  • The improvement team consists out of a balanced mix of employees who do the daily work and leading officials.
  • Looking for a solution or improvement starts from a shared feeling of unsatisfaction with the current situation and from the conviction that it can be done differently and better.
  • The improvement team formulates a new way of working. This new way is tested. After an assessment period, the desired effect is assessed. If the evaluation is positive, the new way of working is anchored in the organization and becomes the new standard. It is checked if all work according to the new standard.
  • The action plan is defined and implemented by the co-workers that will do the actual work. An improvement trajectory only can be done if the action plan has been implemented and the desired effect of the improvement actions has been proven.
  • Lean is a process-oriented management method. An organisation is a collection of processes. After defining the organisational strategy, processes will be re-engineered in a way that they create as much added value as possible from the perspective of a customer.
  • Based on the value stream mapping methodology on organisational level, we define the ideal organisational structure and all teams get a place and composition. At the end the managers are selected and the function descriptions and competence profiles are prepared.
  • In a Lean organisation the customer defines how the processes look like. ICT can be deployed to perfect the process, but only after the activities that do not created added value have been deleted from the process. If you digitise bureaucracy, you get bureaucracy.


  • Potential barriers:
  • Perceived self-interest some organisations and people (any change means loss of power)
  • Fundamental change in the context of local governments: from a context of ‘need to innovate’ towards a ‘necessity to savings and cuts’.
  • Cultural aspects within organisations


  1. Checklist to prepare a Lean improvement trajectory
  2. Lean project PID
  3. Agenda for a two-day Lean training
  4. Roles, tasks and responsibilities of a Lean improvement trajectory
  5. Lean process selection matrix
  6. Checklist to select an improvement team
  7. Checklist to define Lean goals
  8. Checklist to identify the customer demand and customer expectations
  9. Customer journey mapping
  10. Calculation of a Tak Time
  11. Format for a Lean Action Plan