As public servants, state employees sometimes think of the “public” as the customer but in fact that is not usually the case because they don’t directly use our products or services. A better way to view the public is to see them as investors, i.e., taxpayers who demand a reasonable return on their investment in the form of tangible mission outcomes like good public schools, safe highways and a clean environment.
The way to maximize the long-term benefit for investors – the public, in our case – is by delivering value to the ultimate external end users of our products and services. This is true for any outwardly facing organization, be it a car company like Toyota, a non-profit like the Red Cross, or a state agency.
Because we don’t get to do our vital mission work when we fail to deliver value for our customers. Instead, we’re bogged down dealing with complaints and other distractions that keep us from our mission. Dissatisfied customers may invent solutions to perceived problems — solutions we may not like.
It’s not about always giving customers everything they want. It’s about striking a balance between delivering what customers value (i.e., our product or service), and what citizens and taxpayers demand, which is that we fulfill our vital mission work. We must always do both.
And even though it’s not possible to achieve perfection, we should never stop striving for it in everything we do. We need to continuously design and redesign our processes to produce end-user value with no wasted steps, no bottlenecks or defects. Our goal should be to build quality and radical simplicity into our products and services, as well as in the processes we use to create and deliver them.
Part of this cultural habit is knowing that anyone on the team has not only the authority but the responsibility to stop a process when a problem or defect occurs. Stop the process in its track, gather the team, and fix the problem at the root cause so it doesn’t keep getting passed along the production line ... ultimately ending in the hands of a dissatisfied customer. It’s not about assigning blame but understanding our role in the process and seeing problems as opportunities to rid waste from our systems.
This does not mean that we change or short circuit our processes on a whim. Instead, we must embrace a culture of continuous improvement, which is what the Arizona Management System is helping us to accomplish. We now plan our standard work, do the work with discipline, check the work using objective measures, and act (i.e., adjust) for improvement. This is how Arizona government thinks and does business today.