“Certifications” – Buying Credibility?

There has been an uptick in chatter about “lean certifications” in various forums lately. For anyone considering getting some kind of certification, I’d like to pose some things to think about, especially before you pay a lot of money to someone to “certify you.”

There is no standard definition of what “lean” is. Anyone claiming to certify you in “lean” is simply certifying to their own standard.

Toyota does not “certify” people. They mentor, they train, but do not “certify.”

Anyone making a big deal over calling themselves a “sensei” probably isn’t. There are a few exceptions, mostly people who spent 15+ years working directly for Taiichi Ohno, or perhaps some next generation people. The term “sensei” in those cases is one of respect, not a title or defined level of understanding.

There is no test you pass to become a “sensei.”

It is, in my opinion, totally impossible to demonstrate the necessary knowledge and skills with any kind of written exam. It is much more about how well someone interacts with people to teach and guide them through solving problems than it is knowing how to calculate takt time of a feeder line.

How good a certification looks on a resume depends on who is reading it.
I suppose there are hiring managers out there who buy this. I have certainly seen more than a few “Help?” posts by people hired for expertise who don’t know how to break down a value stream and figure out where to put a pacemaker.

When I am reviewing resumes of someone claiming lean expertise, I look at the whole story. A “certification” means you have gotten some formal education, but doesn’t tell me you can actually put any of it to use. I will use that certification as a starting point for questions. My questions try to draw out:

How did you learn this stuff? Are you still learning? Or do you think you already know it all?
I will try to get you to tell me some stories about how you have taught people, and what you learned in the process.
I will ask questions trying to draw out your understanding of jidoka, andon and problem solving as critical components to the management system. What I am looking for here is where you are on a continuum of understanding from “implement the tools” to “creating a deep culture.”

A certification, by itself, does not add to or detract from your credibility – unless you come in believing that “being certified” automatically means “being qualified.” If that is the case, you probably didn’t make it in the door, and if you did, my bullshimeter is likely to peg about 90 seconds into the interview. I’ll keep at it, because sometimes people don’t know what they know and I give the benefit of the doubt for a long time, but if a “certification” is all there is, then there really isn’t much.

On the other hand, if you are looking for your own professional development, and look at a program for what it is: An academic education, and possibly an opportunity to establish professional network, then go for it. Just don’t go in believing that “being certified” means a whole lot else.

6 Replies to ““Certifications” – Buying Credibility?”

  1. You’re completely right: Toyota doesn’t certify anybody, but the training is frequent and the focus at Toyota isn’t on results — but on the learning process and the progress. This fact is really odd to those outside Toyota, but this fact is also what allows Toyota to innovate and take risks because the emphasis is on the learning process and, because of Respect for the Human, people’s jobs are secure.

  2. You probably know from other forums that I agree with you on this topic. There is a lot of pretense in this business. In my case, the more I learn and practice lean, the more I realize how much more I have to learn.
    The way I see it, every college/university should offer courses in lean manufacturing as part of the curriculum.
    My son graduated last year with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering. you’d think he had some options for lean courses. Wrong! All he learned about lean manufacturing was from my books. Yet, his project involved improvements on a GM assembly line. There is a disconnect between our educational system and the workplace. I know there are a couple of colleges that offer lean courses but that is not enough.
    Then, we would not need certifications but practicing what we learned in school, same like any other discipline of study. During the work terms, the theory will be applied in practice and, at least, they are up to a good start.
    What are your thoughts on that?

  3. Very good points here.

    This article makes me wonder, then what are Six Sigma “Black Belts”? I’m guessing that because there is so much math and statistics involved in Six Sigma, you could therefore certify that a person “understands” all the graphs and numbers.

    Also, with this article, you have helped me feel a little better about my job. I came to work at my newest job 2 years ago. I was hired to take care of the repair of customer returns. After 1 year on the job I was asked to be the Lean Manager. The first Lean Manager the compnay has ever had. My response was, what does the word “Lean” mean???

  4. One way to look at this — if a company is asking for a laundry list of certifications for Lean people, maybe they don’t really understand Lean and you should stay away?

    I saw a posting for a hospital that wanted a Lean Black Belt who had DFSS (Design for Six Sigma) experience.

    What a hospital could possibly want with DFSS, I have no idea.

  5. Regarding the comment about DFSS and hospitals, I have to say that healthcare needs DFSS and badly. DFSS is used when the existing process doesn’t and cannot meet customer requirements or when a proces/product/service doesn’t exist. I’ve worked in a couple of process improvement projects in hospitals. They need help to *** dramatically *** improve their quality, especially now that Medicare and insurance companies are balking at paying for the so called “never” events – like amputating the wrong limb, spreading staph infections through inadequate processes, or having patients die while waiting to go back into surgery to stop bleeding that shouldn’t be happening in the first place. Smart healthcare CEOs will get religion and be able to attract the best physicians, nurses and allied healthcare workers, while their insurance rates and other costs will drop. DMAIC just may not be good enough to fix processes that were never designed with the patient in mind in the first place.

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