Rhode Island’s Governor Announces Lean Initiative, Declares “Operations Matter”


You might know my friend Karl Wadensten, the president of VIBCO, a small manufacturer in Rhode Island. I've interviewed him for episode #84 of my podcast series (which was also episode #10 of my video podcast series).

I've had a chance to visit his factory a few times (mostly in the 2009-2011 timeframe). Each time, I've been impressed with the visible employee enthusiasm for improvement and the way VIBCO has used Lean to meet business objectives of better customer service and performance. Then, and over time, I've been impressed with Karl's transformation into a Lean leader.

Beyond VIBCO, Karl has been a tireless proponent of Lean for the state of Rhode Island.

These efforts have led to Governor Gina M. Raimondo supporting Lean and signing an executive order that will mandate the use of Lean principles and methods in state government.

See the state's “Lean Initiative page.”

I wish they would label Lean as a “methodology” or a “management system,” not a “tool,” but they have some good things to say:

“All state employees, from the front line to upper management, need the tools and resources to think strategically and make state government more customer service-oriented, predictable, and efficient for our taxpayers.”

As at VIBCO, everybody can be involved in innovation and improvement.

Here is a PDF from the state, with an introduction to Lean.

RI to 'make state gov't more customer service-oriented, predictable, & efficient for taxpayers.' Click To Tweet

I'm glad they are focusing on Kaizen, or the idea of getting everybody involved in continuous improvement. Yes, value stream maps are helpful, but you don't get the full potential of a Lean system if you're not managing differently and engaging people every day to reduce waste and improve service to citizens.

Here is a short video of Governor Raimondo speaking about the executive order on site at VIBCO (and more info was shared about this on the VIBCO website).

Why is Lean important for the citizens who need state services?

Governor Raimondo wants government to work better. “I'm a big believer in Lean because I've seen it work,” she added.

The governor saw Lean being used to improve the crime victims' compensation program – mapping out the steps in the process, reducing the number of steps. They were able to get rid of a backlog of 900 cases, bringing that down to ZERO. This improvement improves the lives of people who were waiting for that compensation to get their lives “back on track.”

Listen to Mark Graban read this post (learn more):

She added:

“It hit me that day like a ton of bricks… that's why operations matters.”

“This is about empowering state employees to do their jobs, to bring the best ideas forward, and to make government work better… and we'll have increased morale.”

The governor also said:

“All Cabinet directors will participate in a Lean mentorship program with members of the private sector so we can continue to learn and build efficiencies.”

I think this is an important detail. Lean isn't just something you just learn from a book or a class. It's something that you learn by doing… and that learning is more effective when you have a coach or a mentor.

#Lean isn't just something you just learn from a book or a class Click To Tweet

As far as I know, my state of Texas is falling further behind other states that have initiatives like this… is anybody in Austin listening?

Good luck to everybody in Rhode Island! I'll be curious to hear about their progress.

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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. Lean government is indeed growing with many initiatives throughout the US at the state agency, city, county, and large K-12 school levels. We are engaged with clients in 20+ states, along with 8 statewide Lean government master agreements. A lot of information can be found on our website, including links to many Lean government initiatives with great presentations and training materials: http://www.leangovcenter.com/govweb.htm


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