Early one morning in August 2019, eight employees from Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality gathered in a small conference room for a focused meeting. They were surrounded by white boards containing swim lanes detailing each employee’s workflow, metrics reflecting their progress, and finish lines where they could affix post-it notes celebrating progress.1 The staff members, many of whom were sipping their morning coffee, updated the othersabout their priorities for the day and identified tasks where they might need help. Then, after sharing a few jokes, they put their hands together in a circle and raised them together as they started their day.2
Just a few years earlier, structured daily planning meetings like these rarely occurred in Nebraska state government, but thanks to a process improvement initiative launched by Governor Pete Ricketts upon taking office in 2015, they have become standard for thousands of employees across the enterprise.3 “I’m a former Chief Operating Officer, so I dig deep down about all of this stuff,” said Ricketts, previously the Chief Operating Officer at TD Ameritrade. “We should always be thinking about how we can serve the customer better and do it in innovative ways that help us control our costs.”4
While Ricketts’ passion for process improvement was a valuable catalyst for the initiative, it did not guarantee the program’s success. Rather, he and his team had to grapple with—and continue to confront—difficult questions. How should they staff the effort? Where should it be positioned in the enterprise? How should they build cross-agency support? What did they need to do to mitigate potential political challenges and mobilize stakeholders around a common vision? How should they measure progress? How should they keep a focus on process improvement as a long-term priority for the state in the midst of urgent demands, such as natural disasters? What could they do toposition the initiative for long-term success?