Peak Performance

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Peak Performance

How Denver’s Peak Academy is Saving Money, Boosting Morale and Just Maybe Changing the World. (And How You Can, Too!)

When Denver Mayor Michael Hancock took office in 2011, he inherited an $80 million budget shortfall and a government workforce that had been through multiple rounds of cuts and furloughs. Morale was low. He needed a way to drive greater efficiencies, cost savings and improved performance—and he had to do it in-house, on a shoe-string budget.

Enter Peak Academy, the coaching and innovation program Mayor Hancock created to teach frontline city employees how to tackle small problems and deliver big results. In four years, Peak Academy trained 5,000 government staff in the fundamentals of lean manufacturing and other process management techniques. More than 2,000 employee-driven innovations later, the program had saved Denver an estimated $15 million. Word got out and dozens of other governments sent their staffs to Denver or hired Peak Academy to bring the training to them.

In this fun, easy-to-read guide, Peak Academy director Brian Elms and Governing staff writer J.B. Wogan deliver the basics for the rest of us, with:

  • a surprisingly frank discussion about how hard it was to get the program off the ground
  • a thoughtful exploration of both the challenges faced and the reasons why Peak ultimately succeeded
  • a clear overview of Peak Academy training methods and tools (including yes, all those yellow stickies)
  • concrete examples of employee-driven innovations—many of which sound, in hind-sight, like $40,000 no-brainers, until you realize there are hundreds of similar and much-needed fixes in every workplace

Peak Performance is a book that will help public sector leaders replicate the Peak model. It’s a book for government managers to read and talk about with their teams. But most importantly, it’s a book for anyone working in government at any level—about the power of good ideas to improve the way government works.

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This book is a must for anyone who believes government can make a difference in our lives. Brian Elms provides a brilliant and authentic voice while working in government for the city of Denver’s performance office. Peak Performance details how a courageous and visionary mayor and a highly dedicated workforce can give their citizens a more efficient and effective government at a lower cost.

Edward G. Rendell, Former Pennsylvania Governor and author of A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great

Bonus Materials

Author's Note
As I write in the book, our rules in Peak are not perfect. You’ll probably find exceptions in your own work. But one of our biggest guiding principles is to find innovations that don’t require a technology-centered solution. One big reason for that -- apart from the cost -- is that it takes too damn long. The implementation timeline can be much longer than simply eliminating unnecessary steps within the existing technology...Continue Reading

Worksheets & Resources
Process Improvement Primer
Process Mapping Reference Guide
Metrics Reference Guide
Gemba Walk Reference Guide

"Peak Performance changed the game for us at the City of Miami. It made concepts like innovation and strategy far more accessible, allowing us to tap into our workforces' creativity, collaborative capacity, and overall desire to do better. The book grounded our program by defining a line of sight from problem definition to measurable, implemented solutions. Every time we teach something from the Peak Performance playbook, we see the light bulbs go off and enjoy our colleagues being reinvigorated in their work."

Mike Sarasti, Chief Innovation Officer, City of Miami

"An irreverent, fun, and plain-spoken guide to making government work better, one innovation at a time. Leaders eager to launch innovation machines like Denver’s Peak Academy will read and learn from this testament to the power of the people who actually do the work. It is essential reading for anyone who works in government, at any level, and for students in MPA programs around the country. Government is innovative—Denver’s Peak Academy and this book provide measurable proof."

Stephen Goldsmith, Professor of Practice at Harvard Kennedy School, Director of the Innovations in American Government Program, and co-author, most recently, of The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance