Lean Government: Grand Rapids


State of the City address by Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell:

It's nice to see a city using lean methods and even more noteworthy that the mayor would talk about it in an address like this. I'm glad to see they are focusing on customer service and cycle time, not just cost.

“First, we will continue to find organizational efficiencies that reduce cost without impacting quality of service. A visionary City Commission, committed to the wise and careful stewardship of tax resources, provided funding for an Administrative Lean initiative. For the past six months we have been working in six departments with value-stream mapping and process improvement strategies. The theory we are operating under is that people closest to the work are most knowledgeable in ways to improve work flow.

Let me give you one simple illustration of how this Administrative Lean initiative works. This example comes from Parking Services Department. When a monthly parker cancels a parking contract for any reason a refund is due. That refund is typically $15-50. When the Administrative Lean team mapped the procedure for processing that refund they found that an average of 20 days elapses before a check is issued and that several people had to push a good deal of paperwork around the department to make it happen. The cost of processing far exceeded the amount due and the customer often became irritated at the delay.

So the employees recommended – and management gratefully accepted – an immediate cash refund at the front desk. Instead of tasking weeks to receive a refund, 85% of customers now receive their refund in 12 minutes. The customer walks away happy and the City saves hours of wasted time and enjoys departmental cost savings.”

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I had a student complete a lean implementation project as part of an Operations Management course addressing something similar. She worked for a municipality and part of her responsibilities included parking enforcement. She looked at the process for identifying vehicles with unpaid parking tickets and placing a wheel boots on them. Studying the process allowed her to identify several wasted administrative steps and improve the number of vehicles identified and booted each month without adding any resources.


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