Lean Using startup ideas to redesign citizen services

Published on
November 19, 2015
Roberto Priolo
Roberto Priolo
Roberto Priolo is editor at the Lean Global Network and Planet Lean
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When we think of innovation, we rarely think of government, and yet the public sector is in dire need of modernization and improvement. Pierre Pezziardi is on a mission to bring innovation to the French government.

Interviewee: Pierre Pezziardi, Resident Entrepreneur, Secrétariat Général à la Modernisation de l'Action Publique

When we last spoke, you were working in the private sector. Now you are helping the French government use Lean startup principles to modernize citizen services. How did this happen?

In early 2013, I wrote a blog post about the government's attempt to create an incubator for private sector organizations. It explained how the public sector also has a huge problem with innovation and with the services it provides to French citizens. Someone in the government read the piece and asked me to come and mentor startup teams within the Secrétariat Général à la Modernisation de l'Action Publique (General Secretariat for the Modernization of Public Action) to solve real world problems and improve services. Experiments conducted so far include: big data (such as the National Address Database); a social assistance website that tells citizens what benefits they are entitled to; MPS, Marché Public Simplifié (public procurement); and even a service to book a cab with one click. Innovating can be a painful process, especially in an organization full of rules and bureaucracy. Yet the government was open to experimentation because it knows that people are not satisfied and that services need to improve. The ultimate goal is to create an actual mechanism for innovation and become a learning organization.

The perception is that the private and public sectors are very different when it comes to innovation. Is that true?

I honestly don't see any differences. Just as a manufacturer makes products for millions of customers, the government provides services to millions of citizens.

Private companies and government have exactly the same problems when it comes to innovation because they have the same organizational patterns: they both tend to maintain the process and the system rather than focus on the service they provide. Organizations can be very inward-looking.

In your presentation at this year's Lean IT Summit, you said that in your work you don't look for innovations, you look for the innovators. What do you mean by that? And what do you think are the characteristics of an ideal innovator?

I think the most critical characteristic is indignation, that feeling of being treated unfairly because of the way a service is delivered. That is the one thing the people I work with to modernize government services have in common. Some of them are techies or agile people, but others are public servants, who finally feel they can do something. My job is to help them with their projects and with the resources they need. Anyone can plan, design and roll out a digital product, as long as they have the right drive and motivation. It doesn't matter if they've ever touched a computer - they can do it in a few months.

When people think of government, innovation is the last thing they think of. What is the hardest part about innovating in government?

Realizing you have to change a process to change a product. I see a huge cultural shift taking place. When it comes to digital innovation, change happens incrementally and is informed by the customer. It is no longer necessary to release a product or service only when it is ready and perfect. People don't expect it, but want to be involved.

Our websites are all in beta version, which is often at the top of the homepage. This is a first, and we now tell people very openly that we are experimenting with the sites and improving them as we go. And you know what? The sky hasn't fallen on us yet!

What I would like to do during my reign is to develop a community of innovators. It is the only way I can create something that will stand the test of time.

Pierre spoke at the Lean IT Summit last month - click here to see his presentation You can also visit Pierre's blog by clicking here.

The interviewee

Pierre Pezziardi

Entrepreneur, author and keynote speaker, Pierre Pezziardi promotes the idea of "convivial computing": systems aimed at empowering people, opening pyramidal organizations by supporting self-organized communities. In 1998, he co-founded OCTO Technology, a leading IT consulting firm in France, and spearheaded the USI Conference, which has been gathering a community of leaders in large enterprise information systems since 2008. In 2005, he founded Open CBS, the leading Open Source Platform for the microfinance industry. Open CBS is a global community of practitioners of Lean and Agile methods applied to improving the affordability of financial services to the poor. In 2011, he joined KissKissBankBank as a partner and gave birth to hellomerci.com. He now leads a "national startups" incubator within the French government.

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