Lean Startup for Government

One of the best-selling books in the startup world is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The idea behind the Lean Startup Process outlined in the text is that companies should build a minimal viable product (MVP), which is the “version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” Companies should then get immediate feedback from actual users on this product and iterate, or make changes, based on the feedback. This process should be repeated over and over until the product is desirable to customers. The benefit of this approach is that hypotheses can be tested quickly and with real-time feedback, and companies can avoid the costly mistake of spending precious time and resources building a product that ultimately won’t be accepted by the public.

This principle is important because, unfortunately, it is the exact opposite of how government works. In government there is a fear and cautiousness associated with new and innovative projects. This leads to endless studies and large investments in time and capital before a project is ever released to the public. There are multiple problems with this approach. First, especially with the pace of technology and advancements, by the time these large-scale projects or updates are released, they are already outdated. Second, the projects are based on guesses or hypotheses about what will work without any data or real-world testing to back them up. And if they are unsuccessful or less successful than planned, there is a real reticence to change course because of the time and resources spent. This leads to a lot of suboptimal projects and a less efficient and innovative government culture.

Instead, the City should, when possible, seek to mirror the lean startup model by releasing small pilot programs. These pilot programs can be released quickly, tested with measurable results, and improved before being released to a larger segment of the public. This pilot-based iterative process will save resources, both time and money, on the front end and improve results and quality on the back end. It will also allow new technology and innovative approaches to be utilized and tested. This approach goes hand in hand with building a government dashboard to display key performance metrics to the public. The key is to identify measurable results and metrics that the program is seeking to accomplish before the program is implemented. These early hypotheses can then be tested through cheaper, scaled-down programs to determine if they actually accomplish the expected results. These pilots can then be rolled out to the public at large, iterated and re-tested, or scrapped, based on the performance and data. And, together with utlizing open data and building a government dashboard, this would have the additional benefit of increasing transparency to the public.

This innovative approach needs to be built into the fabric of City governance. The goal should be to have every department engaged in this pilot-based testing approach. However, like all new innovative approaches, there is a learning curve and a degree of expertise necessary to implement this system. For this reason, a new department should be created, modeled after the Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston and Philadelphia, to help facilitate this citywide innovation. In keeping with the lean government principles laid out in this section, the department should start small, with one position. In fact, it should be revenue neutral by reclassifying one position from the current Innovation and Technology department. This new position would report directly to the chief of staff and act as a liaison and internal champion for innovation and lean government experimentation within City Hall.

*excerpt from Make Tampa ____, to join the conversation of purchase the book please visit http://maketampa.com