King County Featured Twice at 2015 Washington State Lean Conference

On October 20 and 21, the Washington State Lean Transformation Conference twice showcased King County’s Lean journey, once in a presentation from leaders and staff from Records and Licensing Division (RALS) and also during a panel featuring Deputy County Executive Fred Jarrett.

The RALS team later joked that they could hear the clapping for their colleagues back in Seattle. Norm Alberg and Megan Pedersen, director and deputy director of RALS, respectively, led off the presentation, describing the RALS Lean journey at a high level, focusing especially on how senior leadership within the division have learned and led the change. They discussed the Shingo house and how the overall direction of change in RALS needed to start with leaders.

L to R: Norm Alberg, Elizabeth Soltero, Mark Baker, and Deb Linebarger

L to R: Norm Alberg, Elizabeth Soltero, Mark Baker, and Deb Linebarger

They then ceded the floor to three RALS employees: Elizabeth Soltero, Mark Baker, and Deb Linebarger. Soltero and Baker are customer service specialists and Linebarger is an administrative specialist whom everyone calls the Animal Services “Lean Ombudsman.”

Baker captured the success of RALS Lean culture change when he said, “It needs to be driven from the bottom up and modeled from the top down.”

One piece that all touched on was the important of employee engagement. Perhaps the best testament to that employee engagement is the fact that RALS employees and leaders shared this stage and discussed their Lean journey and learning jointly.

The whole presentation was very engaging and earned hearty applause from the audience. (We can’t say for sure whether or not you really could hear it back in Seattle.)


Deputy Executive Jarrett’s keynote panel discussion “Sharing Our Journey and Lean Lessons,” also included John Bernard of Mass Ingenuity, Colleen McAleer of the Washington Business Alliance, Alec Steel of the UK National Audit Office, and David Padrino of the State of Colorado. The panel was moderated by Wendy Korthuis-Smith, director of Results Washington.

fred panel

Seated, L to R: John Bernard, Fred Jarrett, Colleen McAleer, David Padrino, and Alec Steel. Standing: moderator Wendy Korthuis-Smith.

Jarrett made several salient points regarding the challenges of implementing Lean in government, noting specifically, “In the private sector, people know what keeps you in business.  You have to be able to deliver.  If we don’t, we’re out of business.  In the public sector, it’s a lot harder to have that conversation.”

He also discussed the ubiquitous Lean challenge of making problems visible. Historically, people have avoided highlighting problems for fear of getting blamed. Jarrett acknowledged that, but focused on how making problems visible holds leaders accountable for supporting work teams: “We’re risk averse.  I want to see red [an indicator of a problem].   Red holds me accountable for the help you need to be successful.  This is a hard transition.  Hold me accountable for removing the barriers.”

Above all, Jarrett emphasized, “Try things; fail forward,” and actually highlighted ideas in King County that haven’t work out as strong examples of teams and leaders willing to risk failure in order to improve. Though particular ideas may not have panned out, the individuals and teams who tried have become better problem solvers as a result.

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