Why Manage Better?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Quality in Government Services…Need for A National Quality Mission

I am certain all of us have had mixed experiences with government services.  Mostly poor experiences.  I am not even talking of the roads built, the schools it runs, or the hospitals it manages. Services that have a government monopoly (or near monopoly), such as electricity distribution, municipal maintenance, land records, vehicle registration, passport, identify related services etc, are ridden with very poor levels of services and often high levels of corruption.

Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, has used his powerful pen (in this case keyboard) to highlight this issue of poor quality in government service. He has given voice to what we all know and feel on a regular basis. In most developing countries (including India) we see this poor service and corruption in a more brutal and magnified way. While I am least qualified to try and understand what causes corruption, I surely can have a view on poor processes in government services.

Lack of competition. This, in my view, is the single most important factor for poor processes and even poorer service attitude in government services. There is no competition at all. If you want to get your driving license renewed – you have no choice but to go to the ONE authority that will do it. India, many say, has skipped a generation or two in telecom and internet penetration. Why? When privatization was initiated in mid 1990s, we had no choice but to go to MTNL or BSNL (state telecom companies for metros and rest of India, respectively). The service was horrible and product worse. With private players joining in, even MTNL and BSNL have improved.

Who is the customer and how is service measured? When people serving the customer are not clear who the customer is then process is an immediate causality. Most staff in government services are so distant from the customer or are so over-protected by guidelines and regulations that they couldn’t care less if the customer is in some difficulty. In government services, one usually doesn’t see process metrics such as turnaround time adherence, accuracy, cost per transaction, pend rate etc. With no one looking at them how do we expect them to improve?

Why should I be of help? This relates to having a sense of purpose. Many private organizations try very hard to instill a sense of purpose in their employees.  In my view this works in most cases. Staff is engaged and wants to do something to help the customer. This is however an individual trait as well. I am sure many of us have come across very helpful government staff. This is inspite of the government and not because of it.

Who is in-charge? The sheer size of a government service and what is expected of it makes it really difficult to build useful processes. Imagine passport or other identity related services. The task is humongous and no parallels often exist in the private sector.  In india, these services have been better managed than most. Voter identify card program in the 1990s and the more recent Unique Identity program are managed exceedingly well. The best of the lot is probably the Permanent Account Number (PAN) process. In my view this process is far better than any other government process? Why? In all these cases it is very clear who the boss is and if by some chance we have a customer oriented person in the hot seat, you will see massive change.

The ball drops in exception processing. This is probably not an exclusive government service issue. In my experience of working with processes, I am now convinced that most processes work very well in the straight through mode. The ball drops in exception processing. The moment one step goes wrong the whole change drops the ball. No one looks at that case that fell by the wayside. In government services, the proportion of such cases is generally higher than in private.

What can be done? A lot. Governments have to realize that there is tons of money to be saved if processes are improved. Also, if citizens are happy with better services they will vote our leaders back in power.

I would love to see a National Process Excellence Mission or a National Quality Mission set up by the government with clear incentives for improved process and metrics.