Using Lean Thinking to Reinvent City of Grand Rapids

The City of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has embarked on a lean journey that has freed up limited resources and improved customer service.

Lean success stories at manufacturers and other businesses in the region, including a local hospital, caught the ears of both Mayor George Heartwell and City Manager Kurt Kimball. After further research, and conversations with various advisors, they became convinced that applying lean principles could help the city maintain customer service levels with fewer resources.

One of the challenges of the city’s lean initiative has been convincing people internally and at the City Commission level that it’s not about figuring out new ways to cut more city personnel. By applying lean principles and tools to their departments, many city employees have learned firsthand how consolidating operations, eliminating wasted time and effort, and streamlining processes can help them provide the quality of service that city residents want, in less time and with less effort and frustration.

Some examples of improvements that have been made:

  • The Community Development Department reduced homeowner wait time from 20 weeks to 12.5 weeks and internal processing time from 28 hours to 21 hours.
  • The Fire Department reduced processing time per inspection case from 10.3 hours to 4.5 hours on average, doubling the number of inspections that they can complete in a year.
  • The Library’s Circulation Department managed an 8% increase in circulation volume with the same number of page hours and just one, instead of two, supervisors. 

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