6 December 2012

South Africa: Justice Dept Wins Award for 'Lean Thinking'

Pretoria — The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has been awarded the Lean Institute Africa Diamond Award 2012 in recognition of their efforts to improve service delivery.

Following a 2011 pilot project, which used lean management to improve service delivery in child maintenance administration at a district court, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD) took a further step towards improved service delivery in 2012 by introducing lean practices as part of their maintenance turnaround strategy in nine district courts around the country.

In recognition of this, on 22 October 2012, Dr Anton Grutter handed the Lean Institute Africa Diamond Award 2012 to the director-general, Nonkululeko Sindane.

Dr Grutter is Director: Learning Development of the Lean Institute Africa at the University of Cape Town's Graduate School of Business and he coordinated the pilot projects.

Lean Thinking is a management system that focuses on continuous improvement of service provision by eliminating waste and poor flow through work processes.

The Lean Institute Africa Diamond 2012 award, which recognises "Excellence in making South Africa a better place for all" through the use of lean principles and practices, was given to the department in recognition of the pioneering role that the director-general and senior management of the department are playing in order to improve service delivery.

Some of the lean practices used in the project included taking measurements on daily operational performance trends, displaying the data visually in graphs to check whether standard work is done, as well as weekly meetings by frontline staff to review performance and take corrective actions where necessary.

Marked improvements were made in waiting time; at one court, delays in paying out monthly child maintenance were reduced by 66% from the first to the third quarter of 2012.

Grutter described the process as a change from traditional management to a management approach that relied on systematic, evidence-based problem-solving.

"It is not merely a mind-set change, but also a switch to new set of management behaviours, which is never easy, but the first steps have been taken at the DoJ&CD. People complain about the public sector, but it needs to be understood that there is no quick fix to the service delivery dilemma, which the public seems to want.

"Lean management is a proven method to improve operational performance, provided the new work behaviours are maintained, which could take years to institutionalise. That the department is willing to undergo such a challenging transformation process is very admirable," he said.

Professor Norman Faull of the Lean Institute Africa said lean management was yet to be applied in a public sector department as large and geographically dispersed as the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.

"Public perception, sheer volume of cases and an embedded system of professionals, who are not necessarily trained in management, means that the undertaking is incredibly tough, but lean is a viable solution to these problems if support is given, and it is seen through," he said.

Faull described lean as a "trimming of the fat"; streamlining processes and eliminating waste, where the wasting of time, resources and funds could and should be cut out.

He said organisations like SARS, a previous winner of the award, have had great success with the integration of lean management in their pursuit of operational excellence. Another example of successful lean thinking implementation in South Africa was a Gauteng public hospital, which in 2011 reduced waiting time for patients to collect their medication from six hours to 90 minutes, and reduced staff overtime by two hours, by applying lean methodologies to their management systems.

To address the challenges of implementing a lean transformation programme for the DoJ&CD, a task team of the department's executive committee has been established to develop a programme to introduce lean management in the department.

"I have no doubt that in years to come their initiative will be acknowledged as visionary," he said.

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