Michigan Could Have Had a "Lean" Governor?


TOM WALSH: DeVos' answer for manufacturing in Michigan: Flexibility, teamwork

Here is an article about the Republican who lost the Michigan governor's race last year, Dick DeVos. Considering all of the problems in the state's economy, it might have been interesting to have a manufacturing company CEO as governor of my home state.

From the article, it sounds like there are many Lean methods and mindsets in his company, Windquest.

“This culture,” [DeVos] said, waving an arm across the floor of his Windquest Cos. factory in Holland last week, “this fast, flexible, teamwork culture, is the future of manufacturing.”

Even though the article doesn't mean the word “Lean,” the results and culture sound like Lean:

Delivery times for custom orders have shrunk from 2 1/2 weeks to three days.

Every worker on the two production shifts is trained to do multiple tasks. Shift lengths are adjusted to suit rapid changes in order volume. “We might be six hours one day, 10 hours the next,” said Eric Wolff, the firm's president and chief operating officer.

“The old manufacturing world, with 14 layers of pay, long lead times, inflexibility, us-versus-them attitudes — those days are gone,” said DeVos.

Shrinking lead times by eliminating waste is a common benefit of Lean. Companies often make a leap as seen there, from measure lead time in “weeks” to “days” (or from “months” to “weeks”). Getting away from an “us-versus-them” attitude sure sounds like Lean to me.

The key principles of the company:

Five banners hang overhead in the plant, exhorting workers to:

– Be enthusiastic.

– Make a difference.

– Be a problem solver.

– Find the win-win.

– Have integrity.

Again, sure sounds like Lean to me. Could he have brought that attitude and Lean principles to state government, ala Iowa? Maybe. But, at the least, let's hope that DeVos can inspire the Michigan business to grow by being more Lean. That's especially needed with the shrinking automotive base… ironically the home of Lean.

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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 suppose on that one issue, yes, he may have made a good governor. But the more I looked into Mr. DeVos and his dealings, the more I became convinced that his Lean leanings would have been far outweighed by the rest of the baggage he would have brought to the state house.

  2. I have to agree with Anonymous. The DeVos family, and Dick in particular, are considered hard-right conservatives on the right fringe of the Republican party. He and his family have actively supported the hard-right political agenda with huge contributions to Republicans, conservative think-tanks and conservative organizations. They have supported, among other things, increased militarism, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and breaking down the separation of church and state, as well as opposed to the environmental movement, the labor movement (respect for people?) and affirmative action.

    I think that part of what did in DeVos’ campaign was the loss of 1400 Amway jobs in Michigan while he was President of the company and the creation of thousands of jobs in China. Even if the two are unrelated, DeVos’ claims to “know better than Granholm how to get business back on track” were undermined by his own performance.

  3. How do shift workers manage shifts that can change between 6 and 10 hours?

    I don’t think I could ever ask or expect that out of someone, unless the shift was a standard 10 hours, and could decrement down to 6. That seems unlikely, since nearly every shift I’ve dealt with was based on 8 hrs per day. My focus is on the dual-career family. The company would basically be demanding that the person working there be the primary in the family. It seems like an awful lot to ask, and could put employees in a jam, requiring quite a bit of flexibility and back-up resources.

    How do you actually handle this type of situation from the company perspective?

  4. Ok, I obviously don’t follow Michigan politics very closely any more. If he moved a ton of jobs to China…. that’s a strike against him.

    I was wondering if someone would comment on the shift thing. That was the one part of the story that I didn’t like. That would throw off people’s personal lives.

    It seems that the Lean concept of heijunka could level out production — sure there might be some inventory, but it would thrash people’s schedules (and supplier schedules) around less. But, if it’s a Build-to-Order business, lead times would fluctuate…

    No easy answers. I guess maybe if I *had* to thrash people’s schedules around, I’d make sure there was gain-sharing and incentives in place for a win/win (company/employee).

  5. I don’t think that being ant-union means you don’t have respect for people.

    Wanting to avoid unions (the organizations) is different than not treating your employees right.

    Toyota is officially anti-union here(as would be most companies who don’t have them in the US)… you think that’s incompatible with “respect for people?”

    One could argue that unions don’t respect people… making sure seniority is valued over skill and performance and taking dues to support candidates such as DeVos’ rival, Gov. Granholm.


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