On October 2, 2013, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett, and Washington Business Alliance Board Chair David Giuliani introduced the first Check session at the King County Chinook Building, in Seattle. About a dozen local business leaders spent the day listening to presentations and engaging in discussions with County staff.

The Washington Business Alliance provided each business leader with a short checklist to use in preparing their assessments of the presentations. The list included whether there was evidence of:

The event was divided between a big-picture overview of the County's strategy, and breakout sessions that highlighted specific programs and initiatives.

The topics covered were:

  • Jail health
  • Healthy employment incentives
  • Energy conservation and renewable energy production
  • Workers’ compensation 
  • Stormwater permit compliance and stormwater management in the Lower Duwamish Waterway. 

As intended, the setting was fairly informal to allow for a robust dialogue between and among participants. During one morning brainstorming session several new ideas where generated by a business leader. By that afternoon, the County had already implemented two of the ideas. "That's exactly the type of interaction I was hoping for" remarked Deputy Executive Jarrett.

Overall, the business leaders were impressed by what they observed. "Enthusiasm was uniformly high, as was the teamwork among the presenters" said David Giuliani. Howard Behar summed up the sentiment of the group when he described the Executive Leadership and Staff as “a highly motivated group. As solid as any business leadership team I have seen.” For more information visit the featured programs and initiatives page.


King County's executive leadership team has made a concerted effort to incorporate best business practices, such as Lean, into county management culture.  Significant accomplishments have been made including a Lean process on the provision of health services within the King County jail system. Lean has also been used to identify efficiencies in other areas of county government. However, efforts to incorporate Lean and strategic planning into government culture have generally not been successful at the national level.

From its fifty state review, the Washington Business Alliance Strategic Planning Committee concluded that even where these practices were in use, the impact was minimal because government officials were unable to reach consensus on how and what changes to implement, and they perceived any changes to be of low political value. Consequently, more often than not, the resources allocated were insufficient to institutionalize and sustain the effort.

King County faces its own obstacles. While an organization of King County's size would typically have 20 to 30 full-time expert Lean practitioners, King County operates with much fewer. Given the constrained resources, county leadership focused first on the areas where there was both a strategic need and staff committed to the process. While progress is moving forward, the change is slower than many would like.

"They need to continue to focus on their goals, make sure their benchmarks are clear and measurable, and hold themselves accountable for their results" said Howard Behar.

Going Forward

To expand the LEAN effort,  the County Executive has requested additional resources in the upcoming budget. Despite the measurable progress to date, the request faces an uphill battle. There remains a strong bias towards adding staff to services and alleviating immediate needs. While serving the needs of King County residents will always be a priority, enabling programs to do so more effectively is just as important. As Carrie Cihak, the County’s Chief Advisor for Policy and Strategic Initiatives, explains:

Adding more staff to direct services often alleviates symptoms; it does not improve the way the work is done. Until you do the hard work of developing customer requirements, understanding how the current process works and why problems exist, and then improving the processes, you cannot know how many staff are really needed.

Several of the business leaders in attendance wrote letters in support of the request, including Russell Harper of the NexTec Group: "It's important they [King County] continue to extend LEAN to other departments. Keep the momentum going and don't put it on autopilot."

Next Steps

David Giuliani proposed bringing private sector individuals who have specific expertise together with their counterparts in the public sector. All of the participants look forward to future Checks. "I think summits like this are great forums for asking questions in a provocative, but non-confrontational way, and I'd love to see them continue" said Russell Harper. "I would like the County teams to post their next program successes - let's make it an annual event" added Lisa Wellman. 

Ideas for Future checks

  • Develop an online database archive of case studies and best practices from around the state.
  • Develop a more rigorous and standardized evaluation framework.
  • Establish reliable pathways for making recommendations and providing consistent feedback.
  • Recruit executives with specific subject matter expertise for a single topic focused GGC.
  • Form partnerships to enhance visibility and increase participation.
  • Develop an awards program for top government performers.

Special Thanks

  • Executive Dow Constantine
  • Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett
  • Caroline Whalen
  • Carrie Cihak
  • Chris Townsend
  • All presenters and participating County employees


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