Posted by: Knightbird | July 12, 2010

Training For Our Lean Champions

I have a wonderful group of employees who have volunteered to be Lean Champions at Chugachmiut. This means that they undergo additional training, both through Job Instruction, assisting experienced Lean Champions in Kaizen and eventually move to conducting Kaizen on their own. This is in addition to their regular jobs.

Recently the Yahoo Northwest Lean group went through a long debate about Lean Certification. There were many reasoned and passionate arguments both for and against the merits of Lean Certification. What I tend to notice in these debates is how passionate advocates become in favor or against particular issues about lean. I have taken a different approach, which I will explain after I talk about the type of training we do.

My Lean Coordinator is a passionate Lean Advocate. He trained in JI with me at the Henderson TWI Summit this year (Kert wrote a blog for me recently). He had already been developing standard work for various lean tools. He developed a Lean 101 course to introduce new Lean Champions to the concept of lean. He also has a Lean Lexicon to discuss the terms of Lean.  He has standard work for Value Stream Mapping, CEDAC, Affinity Diagrams, Spaghetti Diagrams and a host of other tools of Lean. He has an amazing demonstration of standard work involving the drawing of a pig. Every week, he and the Lean Champions meet for an hour to learn the Tools. Kert prepared a training matrix for his students using a scale from 1 to describe the level of knowledge. A 1 is a brand new Champion with no knowledge. A 5 is a Champion qualified to teach and conduct Kaizen on their own. Kert knows that what we are trying to develop are Champions who not only know the tools of Lean, but are well versed in the culture of continuous improvement, employee empowerment, creative thinking, analysis and the PDCA Cycle. All Kaizen are unique and can use different tools to help develop the facts (current state) that are analyzed to facilitate movement towards a future state. The more familiar a Lean Champion becomes with the tools, the better able they are to help their teams of employee improvement groups achieve their goals.

By training our own Lean Champions, we achieve a team that is familiar with how we have standardized the work of Lean. Our employees have a consistent approach to Kaizen that they become familiar and comfortable with. The Lean Champions are able to work within our system, and if they are able to advance our thinking about Lean, the can improve our process of improvement by improving our standard Lean improvement work. And since we are a continuously improving workplace, we never worry about capturing all of the improvements at one event. Sometimes we have to uncover a certain amount of fact in order to see that additional improvement is available.

Now here is my take on the passionate arguments I read in blogs about Lean Tools. Each organization is unique, and their leadership has differing understandings about what a Lean workplace looks like. In my view of Lean, employees are empowered to make improvements, are given the authority to implement change, and must accept the responsibility for improving defects they encounter that detract from customer value. What I believe we need to do is to foster a supportive culture, and learn a common language and set of tools that we can use to achieve a result, increasing value for our customers. If we find a way to do Lean that helps us achieve results, we will use it. We are open to trying any tool that will help us increase value for our customers. As I tell my employees, it’s not about us. It’s about our customers and the value we strive to deliver to them.  Ultimately it is all about our employees being comfortable with the tools they choose to use to facilitate the improvements they want to see.


  1. Certification is always hotly debated. For the most part, HR people like to see it on resumes. It can get a foot in the door. On the other hand, I’ve experienced certification courses and I’ve found that there can be great variation in the expertise among people who have taken the same course. But, I do think there is real value in training matrices like Chugachmiut is using to determine the level of training for its lean champions. It is telling you the depth of their knowledge/skills.

    I recommend you read Steve Hoeft’s book “Stories from My Sensei.” One of the stories Steve tells is about certification and problem solving. To make the story short, Steve’s sensei was going to teach him problem-solving. Steve said, “No need to train me. I’m a CERTIFIED 8d problem-solver.” So, Steve went out to work on a problem with no success, came back to his sensei asking for help, to which the sensei replied, “Ah, Steve-san, you no need training. You CERTIFIED.”

    • Thank you for your comment, Mark. I especially appreciate the referral to Steve Hoeft’s book. I love reading about the experience of others. The anecdote is both amusing and thought provoking. Our Lean culture encourages collaboration and team problem solving since 2 minds are better than 1, 3 better than 2, and so on. Team problem solving is also a great training medium.

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