How to turn a bike into a motorcycle…while you are still riding on it.
Public officials use this metaphor to describe the challenge of making major changes in operations while still delivering services. It sounds nearly impossible.
Difficult, yes, but not impossible. Indeed, the fiscal crisis demands not just incremental, but transformational changes if governments are to deliver the same or better outcomes with less money.
My confident assurances to public leaders that they can radically improve through redesign, reinventing government or transformational change are often greeted with skepticism.
“What have you been smoking? I don’t even have time to think about redesign, let alone pull it off,” is one typical reaction. Or: “Sure, I have ideas about how to make things work better. Lots of them. But there is no way the politicians or the system will allow me to pursue change.” Some smile kindly and address me as one might an idiot child: “That’s a fine idea, Babak, but we just can’t afford it.”
Folks, this column is devoted to you.
To start with, here are my assumptions:
The first step is the hardest. That is why redesign is so difficult. You must start by divesting 10 percent or 15 percent of what you are doing now (pedaling the bike). In this way, you mobilize the resources you will need to redesign and transition to a system.
Won’t your citizen-customers and their elected officials object to this divestment? Absolutely. Which is why you need to make a deal with them. You have to be specific about this, not mushy. You must promise that by a specific date you will deliver measurably better outcomes and you will do so at X percent lower cost. In return, you are granted a grace period while you design and build a new system.
This takes courage, but these are not times for the faint of heart.
Organizations navigate the inconvenient transition of redesign all the time. If you promise and deliver something better, you will be given license to redesign things. How many times do we all put up with traffic delays while roads are improved? It’s not pleasant, but we understand it’s the only way to get better roads.
The heavy lifting in any change process is not designing a new system, but in the implementation. Nonetheless, the design is critical as it must be worthy of all the hard work it will take to bring it to fruition. It must deliver service outcomes and cost savings that fully justify the investment and the risk.
While the redesign process may only take a few weeks of a multiyear project, getting it right is essential. Many implementation problems can be avoided by a sound design.
Here are some tips on the redesign process itself:
For those who are up to the challenge, redesign can provide an alternative to the grim twins of higher taxes or fewer services. Your reward? You’ll know you’ve done the right thing. And riding a motorcycle is a lot more fun than pedaling a bike.
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