Greater Greater Washington

Can government experiment?

Here's a common pattern: An agency spends a few years working on a project that could improve residents' lives. Procurement delays and construction issues take extra time. The project opens, there's controversy and people call for changes or say the project was a waste. Public employees get the message. Next time, they spend even more time designing the project.


Image by Eric Ries.

Are we on a cycle in which everything government does happens slower and slower?

Let's look at a field where things aren't slowing but speeding up: software. The people making websites and apps are innovating at a frenetic pace. In recent years, a new management philosophy called "lean startups" has taken hold. One of the basic principles, according to guru Eric Ries, is to build something quickly, measure how well it works and improve it. The faster through the "build-measure-learn" cycle, the better.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

Mr Alpert, you have hit a bullseye on what is wrong with many Government programs. But trust me, everybody, but EVERYBODY, in Government is aware of it.

Risk aversion is what government is all about. Partly the popularity of contracting is one of the ways government circumvents the onerous planning process, e.g., when a project fails the contractor gets blame and contract is not renewed, and government officers only have to shrug it off.

The government funds gobs of research. DARPA provides the epitome of how to carry out high risk projects. (They say that if a manager has a 50% success rate there, he/she is reassigned because such a high success rate indicates that he/she not taking enough risk).

Perhaps the DARPA is the template to start from?

by goldfish on Apr 14, 2013 9:51 am • linkreport

David is on to something. This is why Fenty was such the better leader. He hired the right people and let them dip the toe and then make things happen.

Mayor Gray is the epitome of risk averse (well, maybe outside of the shadow campaign) and says a lot of nice things but I just don't see the caliber of talent (looked at Arts and Humanities lately) or the drive to make change happen.

He's surfing the successes of Fenty and while DC is so much greater than it was 6 years ago, just imagine how great it could be.

by SChanning on Apr 14, 2013 10:13 pm • linkreport

The problem is that you need a politician to have the balls to explain this to the public. However, every time a project goes wrong, politicians always hide and side with the blame crowd.

by Jasper on Apr 15, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

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