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.

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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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