There is lots of “Lean Training” out there, and the quality ranges across the board.
“Lean training” is a megabucks business, and anyone who can assemble a pack of PowerPoint slides and a web site is offering “lean training” out there. It is certainly a case for buyer-beware. So how do you evaluate all of the alternatives, especially if you are just learning and might not be in a position to judge? (Irony: If you are in a position to critically judge these training programs, you probably don’t need them.)
What is being taught and how?
In my experience, most people will readily agree that the tools and artifacts usually associated with the Toyota Production System or Lean Manufacturing are not the system itself. Rather, it is critical for people (and especially leaders at all levels) to understand the thinking behind the tools and artifacts.
The way Toyota teaches the thinking in their new plants is through structured experience. Key leaders are assigned coordinators as mentors. Leaders are taken to established plants to immerse into the system itself. The mentoring continues as the new plant is brought on-line. The process is long, resource intense and expensive. As a result the people who were trained this way are highly sought after in industry. (Another story for the future sometime.) Steven Spear’s article, “Learning to Lead at Toyota” does a great job giving the reader a feel for how this is done. The learning process is entirely experiential.
On the other hand, “talking head lecture” and PowerPoint slides are probably the least effective way to teach this stuff. Even with a couple of simulations with toy trucks or Legos, a classroom-only exercise is only going to get the general concepts across.
If you accept that the real learning comes from guided experience, then it follows to ask if the time spent in the classroom reduces the time required for experiential learning by at least as much. If a week in the classroom (plus the travel time, etc. away from the job) does not return at least two weeks of reduction in the hands-on learning, then it isn’t worth it… no matter how “feel good” it is.
What is the emphasis on direct observation of actual problems? One of the core skills for leaders to learn is how to see problems. If you ask “How much time is spent to watch and understand the work?” the answer you get will tell you a great deal about how well the trainer actually understands the TPS. A high-pressure “kaizen event” especially one which emphasizes just-do-something over first understanding the actual situation – is going to teach exactly the wrong things. Action without understanding results in chaos.
How much of the training involves making actual improvements to actual work? The more the better, but only in the context above.
The classic 5 day kaizen event was originally an educational exercise, and it works very well for this if it is planned and led with learning in mind.
What is the reputation of the teachers? Disregard client testimonials. Ask to speak to some long-term customers. I say long-term because in the initial stages of lean implementation things are pretty easy. A typical medium-sized factory, for example, can get most of the mechanics into place over a few months with aggressive leadership. But if the teachers do not understand (or understand and do not teach) the leadership how to detect, escalate and solve the thousands of problems that will inevitably be flushed to the surface, the implementation cannot sustain for long.
Recognize Reality: The only way to really lean this stuff is to through experience. And not just any experience. Just being told how to implement kanban, fill out the standard work forms, take cycle times, etc. is not learning the things you must know to sustain your gains and build on the initial momentum.
The critical skill – the one that (so far) is only learned through mentored experience – is how to direct actions through guidance and teaching vs. just telling people what to do or how to do it.