Skip the “lean intro” training

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 05-19-15

I was just attending the TWI / Lean HR Summit run by Lean Frontiers, and heard someone talking about how to train in lean. They said they don’t care in what order you introduce tools, but you can’t skip the introduction. Perhaps its just me playing my normal role of contrarian, but I would disagree with both points.

How many of you have some “lean introduction” training, whether 1 hour or 1 day. It might cover the history of lean, frame up the big picture, and then very quickly cover every tool that they will learn at some point in the future, intending to be broad but accidentally passionately slipping into importance nuances of applying the tools. Then they leave, and …. Nothing. What was the purpose? The purpose was nothing more than to train them on lean. But that’s not actionable, and doesn’t lead to purposeful next steps except more training.

Instead, focus on applicable behaviors, skills, or tools. It doesn’t mean you skip the context, but you put things into context as you go. If a group gives me only 1 hour to train, I will make sure I leave them with something actionable. Maybe its how to perform an After Action Review, or a 5 Whys, or direct observation. It’s probably not TWI or value stream mapping. I will use the teachable skill, that they can practice to extend their learning, and I can still teach the broader context wrapped around that skill.

Secondly, I believe that the sequence does matter. It matters because what you are teaching, and in turn applying, has to be relevant to the individual. I’ve written in the past about organizations that insist upon starting lean with 5S, even it doesn’t solve an organizational or performance problem that they have. So what would make a difference? What would help? What are we passionate about? Start there. There are some capabilities where there really is a logic where A goes before B. But if people don’t appreciate A, then it would be a successful pathway to B.

For example, problem solving is far more effective when you already have a capability of standardization. But its also true that if you try to do problem solving, you learn to appreciate the value of standardization, a realization pattern I’ve observed many times. So which way is really “right”? Neither, and both. The point is, there is no one right answer for the sequence of tools, but there might be a right sequence for you, your team, and your situation.

In summary, the training strategy means just as much as the training execution. Getting people through class isn’t the objective. Getting them to adopt a set of behaviors is the objective. Will your training strategy accomplish this objective?


  • I relate to this intensely. “Organizational and/or performance problems” is exactly what has impeded lean implementation at my company.
    We spent a fortune with the Toyota Way Academy. At least a hundred people went through a series of intense 5-day workshops.
    Yet when I go to the gemba, for the most part, what I see is a mess. The issue is lack of accountability. This group went merrily on their way after the training and didn’t do anything. The gemba does not even reflect an adequate level of housekeeping, much less any of the other “S” qualities.
    This sounds pretty drastic, but if I were in charge for a while I’d fire several people to make a point to the rest. It’s way past due . . .

    Poder Klabo June 2, 2015 at 9:50 am
  • I completely agree. I have been through many PDCA cycles as I have conducted lean training and deployment, and the key finding is that it has to be actionable and relevant to the recipients. I’m glad to hear someone else saying to skip the intro to lean.

    Eric Gordon June 4, 2015 at 3:12 pm
  • I still think an introduction is needed but the majority of organizations are doing it the wrong way. It’s common for the organizations to push a bunch of information on new employees. Employees’ eyes glaze over and they leave the day long training with very little insight and disgruntled that they had to sit through a mandatory training. My approach is a simple twenty minute introduction. I start by explaining why ideal patient care (lean) is so important to me and our hospital through a patient story. I then share how our employees were a part of improvements that made this experience a reality. After that I show new employees how to initiate improvements at our hospital. We give them an idea card and invitation to their unit’s continuous improvement board meeting. We ask that since they have fresh eyes to write down an improvement idea on their idea card and brings if their units next meeting. In short we explain why it’s so important, how to get involved, and finally what their role and expectation is in lean. When the employee wants to learn more they are engaged with a problem solving coach that works in their unit to learn more by doing.

    Isaac Mitchell August 11, 2015 at 8:22 am