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Make "Lean" part of Rhode Island culture - OpEd

by Linda Kleineberg | Sep 24, 2012
Opinion column from Karl Wadensten, published in the Providence Journal Newspaper on Sunday, September 23, 2012.

Note: Opinion columns are not published on the free e-version of the newspaper. For more Providence Journal Newspaper content, visit

Here is a scan of the article as it appeared in the Providence Journal OpEd section on Sunday, September 23, 2012

Governor Lincoln D. Chafee announced yesterday that he is accelerating the plan for all state departments and agencies to review and analyze all business regulations. The goal of the review is to ensure that the cost of regulations do not outweigh their benefit to the public.  He’s tapped Leslie Taito, former CEO of Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Service (RIMES), to lead the charge as Director of Regulatory and Quality Management at the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation.


This announcement marks the first time that Rhode Island has officially recognized that there is a better way for us to do business and we can use business best-practices like Lean, Six Sigma and other continuous improvement strategies to actually enact real change. These improvement strategies work and it is high time we started using them to make Rhode Island a great place to do business. We need customer-based outcomes that help businesses grow while preserving our environment and keeping us safe.

This change must be cultural. As a state, we can no longer accept an apathetic, “that’s just the way it’s always been done” attitude toward business regulation.  As a business community, we must support and encourage the actual workers involved in the review process to have a deeper understanding of how each regulation impacts our ability to create and sustain growth.  We must be thoughtful, helpful, and respectful of their efforts.  We are their customer and our voice is critical in this process so we can mutually learn and grow in this collaborative effort.  “Let’s try it!” should be our mantra to encourage the exchange of ideas and to give rise to creative solutions.

With this announcement, Rhode Island joins just a handful of states who have embraced Lean as a strategy for improvement. Those that have made the commitment (Iowa, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hampshire) have already realized great gains and set themselves apart as a desirable place to do business. Rhode Island is on the cusp of greatness and needs an “all hands on deck” effort to energize and sustain these efforts. It will take all of us working together – this is not just on the shoulders of state employees. I encourage all Rhode Island businesses to volunteer some of their time to work with the regulatory agencies and to provide factual, unbiased feedback on the regulatory process and how it impacts their business.

We can and should do more to make Lean part of Rhode Island’s culture and how Rhode Island does business. In order to do that, each and every member of our General Assembly and every Mayor or Town Manager needs to get out and see what Lean is really all about.  They need to see the enthusiasm, teamwork and energy of a Lean Culture in action and to understand that Lean is based on a fundamental approach to problem solving. They need to see the actual bottom- and top-line financial impacts of continuous improvement. They need to see that THIS is how we create long-term growth and create the jobs that Rhode Islanders want and need.

At VIBCO Vibrators, we regularly open our door for plant tours and I challenge every single Rhode Island official and lawmaker to contact our office to arrange a visit.  And we’re not alone. There are a number of great Rhode Island Lean companies - Ferguson Perforating, Monarch Industries, Banneker Industries, The Brickle Group, Admiral Packaging, and others – where our public officials can go and learn.

We are at a watershed moment where we have a unique opportunity to profoundly and permanently change how Rhode Island does business. Just as at the dawn of the North American Industrial Revolution at Slater Mill, we must adjust our processes and our thinking to adapt to a new business paradigm.  We must use this time to build a culture of improvement; where we focus on changing broken processes rather than blaming and pointing fingers at people –our mantra must be “we have good people and bad processes”, where we profoundly respect the opinions and ideas of those closest to the actual work; where we stay focused on creating value while eliminating waste; and where we have the tenacity and guts to tackle old problems with new hope and vigor.

Let’s work together to take Rhode Island from worst to first and make it the nation’s Best Place to Do Business.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Lars 21 Oct
    I follow Alex and Ani on Facebook and I own the Path Of Life Expandable Wire Bangle Set which I wear EVERYDAY! I love the banlge sets and have purchased some for close friends, who equally love them as well! I don’t Tweet, but I do Facebook and have posted your blog to the News Feed.