Last night at a hastily organized DC tech event, the Obama Administration’s chief technology officer told an audience of entrepreneurs that the “Lean Startup” approach can help build a better government.
Todd Park, who assumed the Administration’s top tech position in March, was a surprise guest at the almost-impromptu event, which featured a fireside chat with The Lean Startup author Eric Ries. (As usual, there was no actual fire at the event.) Park attended the DC Lean Startup Circle event, which attracted about 200 people, at the request of Ries, who was in town for the announcement of the White House’s first Presidential Innovation Fellows.
Park, who was dressed in a blue shirt and a pink tie and spoke at great speed, told the crowd that he was “unbelievably excited” by the potential for the lean startup model to improve government. “Lean Startup can help us fundamentally change government for the better,” he said. “That just gets me fired up.”
The White House was applying Lean Startup concepts in the Innovation Fellows program, which pairs top entrepreneurs from the private sector with top innovators in government to collaborate on key tasks that aim to deliver significant results in six months. The teams work to build products that address needs such as making government data more useful and accessible to the public, improving awareness around public health records, and personalizing the government’s online services.
Park was effusive about the merits of the Lean Startup way. “The government in and of itself isn’t a startup, but change instincts inside the government absolutely are,” he said. “And Lean Startup works.” He described it as a “perfect fit” with how the government has to change.
Before being recruited by Obama to take up the CTO role, Park was CTO of Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to that, he co-founded two health information technology companies in Silicon Valley.
After the talk, Ries told me that, despite his initial skepticism, the Lean Startup model has proven successful in a government context. “What’s great about Todd and Aneesh Chopra before him is that they are not only trying to adopt lean startup in the government generally, but also they walked the walk themselves. So this program was prototyped and tested at HHS, at USCIS, at the FDA, and the results they got are nothing short of extraordinary.”
The only questions now, Ries said, are around scalability and endurability in the face of administration changes.
Whoever said governments and startups don’t mix should perhaps reassess.