This article focuses on the role of Lean management training, to help you in your pursuit to become a Lean organisation.
We will explore the place that formal training has, and caution against over reliance on classroom training in bringing about real change. The article draws on well established research in the effectiveness of learning, coupled with our experience of successfully transferring Lean capability into transforming organisations.
“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.”
So why can’t you teach Lean into an organisation?
Simply put: Lean is fundamentally about developing a different way of working where as Lean training is generally delivered in a classroom. As such it is rarely experiential or representative of working in a Lean environment. The opportunity for the learner to experience the application of the theory and see how it works in practise is seldom accomplished. The learning is very linear moving from one subject to the next giving no true sense of the complexity associated with implementing Lean into an organisation.
We believe there are two basic principles that, when followed, will ensure Lean training supports organisations becoming Lean and provides them with an enduring in-house capability required to support and sustain the change.
Principle No. 1 – Use it or loose it
Our experience leads us to conclude that training should only be committed to if the trainees are able to apply their new skills quickly on returning back into the workplace. Additionally they will need access to ongoing coaching that will be guide them through implementation, encouraging and helping their confidence grow in overcoming real work place hurdles.
This experience is consistent with research that shows people learn best and are more able to apply learning if they experience it as realistic, relevant and rewarding. For example we are only ever likely to learn and use the latest function on our mobile phone if it is: user friendly (realistic), helps us in our day to day lives (relevant) and we gain a sense of satisfaction when using it (rewarding).
In our experience the same is true when learning to apply any Lean Tools or techniques within an organisation to facilitate improvement. For instance, take Value Stream Mapping (VSM). Aspiring Lean Practitioners are more likely to see the benefits and understand how the basic principles of VSM apply to complex situations if they learn the basics at 9 am and have applied them by 11 am. At that point they will have fully assimilated the theory, applied it in a real life scenario and rewarded by the immediate feedback from facilitating a VSM activity with their organisation’s front line staff.
Further to this, memory recall tends to be best when we are in the same situation where the learning took place – or as close as possible. This is why police set-up expensive reconstructions of crime scenes when witnesses are few and far between. Being propelled back into the context of the crime will help some witnesses remember things they did not previously recall. This feature of our memory reduces the ability of classroom training to strongly embed learning. Where classroom training is used it is clearly helpful to bring elements of the work environment into the classroom with case studies and role play. But why waste the time and money trying to recreate the work place? Make your workplace your classroom and give learning the best conditions in which to occur!
Principle No. 2 – Training should be a business centric activity
Any investment in training should be based on a business centric decision to introduce Lean into the organisation and so ensure the training becomes self-funding and most importantly aligned to the business strategy. Without this alignment frustration can be experienced by those who have received training as they find they are unable to implement any improvement they can now readily see with their new Lean goggles.
These are the reasons we believe any training should be intimately linked to the organisations overall change programme. This way both organisation and individual get maximum benefits from the investment of time and money.
Our approach to training and transferring Lean skills is that it is best to learn it while doing it. Our experience has shown the best way to train is to explain a concept (giving real life examples) to the team directly before putting the theory into practice. The first time we use a concept team members observe. As the process is repeated we progressively hand over to the internal client team, coaching them with active feedback on how they are implementing Lean. This way, in learning by doing, we are able to emphasise and explain why it is important to take certain approaches at different times during an implementation. This way the aspiring Lean practitioners can practice their knowledge in a controlled environment, with support and guidance from us as experts.
It is these richer levels of engagement at which learning more readily leads to problem solving and application back in the workplace. Benjamin Bloom described these as a sequence of stages. He used a taxonomy (see diagram below) to describe the different stages and although a learner does not have to move through all of these stages for learning to occur; learning that will be readily incorporated into everyday life is the learning that has moved right through the hierarchy.
We have seen this in action as learners move through the stages of learning at an accelerated rate working on real problems in support of the Lean transformation programme.
So in summary…
Becoming Lean is much more about understanding how to get an organisation philosophically and behaviourally aligned than having knowledge of the technical tools. This again makes it a difficult subject to learn in a classroom.
No single seminar, piece of e-learning content, classroom based training or ‘coloured belt’ will deliver bottom- line Lean improvements. Lean can only happen when the learning takes place at the process level with your staff, trained and motivated on the job, in the pursuit of perfection and following your lead to understand and achieve your Lean vision.
There is much more that could be said, but we hope this brief overview gives you a good sense of what to expect going forward on your journey.