Lean and Economic Development


JS Online: Editorial: A new way of thinking:

Wisconsin is mentioned frequently here on the Lean Blog, with many small and mid-sized companies, in particular, getting great benefits from Lean (such as this case). Now, the Milwaukee newspaper is promoting Lean as part of the state's economic strategy. I'm just happy

“The state Legislature should boost funding for the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which provides technical know-how for small and midsize companies. Lawmakers should fund the ‘Get Lean' initiative, which will award grants to help companies adopt lean manufacturing principles. They should continue supporting engineering programs.”

I'm not big on the government micromanaging the economy, but I'd have to think that government support for Lean really would be a good investment, dollar for dollar. I'd maybe set up the grants so that there are certain guidelines, including not using lean productivity improvements to drive layoffs. It would probably be tough to set up real objective measures to see if they're doing lean “the right way” or if that lean investment would just be a waste.

Update: Kevin Meyer also blogged about this today

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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. NO! This is a very bad idea. As said in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean – If you define something as a “Finish Line”, people usually will do whatever they can to cross it. Companies are drawn to metrics, like these government goals – and improvements made in the name of LEAN (on paper) might actually be LAME (in reality). This directly contradicts the PROFIT = PRICE – COST idea of Lean accounting, by not letting the market sort out inefficiencies (because waste in production = higher cost, and higher cost = lower demand, etc.)

  2. Bad idea to have government sponsorship because it will be done in a results-oriented way?

    What I was suggesting was a more process-focused “are you doing Lean properly?” bar, but that’s hard to measure. And who would give the stamp of LEAN vs LAME approval?

  3. Who SHOULD give the stamp of LEAN vs. LAME approval? The market – unwilling to pay for a company’s inefficiencies. Lean improvements should not be subsidized – they are their own reward…

  4. Sounds like a great theory, “lean improvements…are their own reward.” The problem is, many small to medium companies cannot afford to bring in a resource to show them the way. In my position, I work with other Lean leaders in my surrounding community. Many of these leaders are using the tools of lean, thinking they are “leaning” because it is all they know. Lean is far more than the tools. The TOTAL is far greater than the sum of the PARTS.

  5. In theory this sounds good – let’s help business succeed. However, it’s in government’s hands. Is that really the best, lean, waste-free way? MEPs in reality range from a handful of very competent people to outright crooks. Many focus on the limits of 5S and a few kaizen events, because that’s all they know. As a company with operations everywhere, we will take into any free or subsidized support we can get. However, if someone let me vote on it, I would not put tax dollars (from the same companies) to work trying to “help” companies.

  6. I’m working in Haute Savoie (France) and the logic of my researches are nearly the same as Wisconsin’s : helping the small and medium shops of my territory to become Lean in the right way.
    This initiative is great and I’d like to know more about it.

    Thank you for your huge work Mark (and all the team).

  7. Wisconsin MEPS is *probably* one of the best MEPS programs in the US. We have plants in Wisconsin, South Dakota, Missouri, Illinois, Mexico, India and China. I’ve worked with MEPS from 3 of the states. Some are exactly as you describe – 5S and Kaizen = Lean. However, some truly are trying to teach Lean concepts.

    As a Lean leader who has spent time training under past Toyota leaders, I am always willing to go to another company and share what I have learned (and often do)…no, there are no consulting fees. I haven’t the knowledge to go there. But its a way to share the message and true understanding of the system…no different than Mark’s blog.

    You can find information on the MEPS programs by searching for Manufacturing Extension Partnerships.


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