How to Engage with the Lean Community

Nov. 30, 2015
Experience is a great teacher, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from the journeys of your peers.

While lean continues to evolve, it has already been invented. Because of that fact, no need to reinvent. There is plenty you can learn about executing lean from outside your company. There is no question that experience and experimentation are the best teachers, and therefore the nucleus of your lean learning should be your own efforts. You don't have to learn everything the hard way, however, and engaging those who have taken more steps or even just different steps on their lean journey can be fruitful.

How you engage the lean community must be a good fit for you, as there is no one right way.

1. Engage at a conference. I am not an auditory learner, and it is very difficult for me to sit in a chair and learn from a talk. But for many this is plenty effective. The most interesting thing about conferences are the diversity of inputs. This isn't one person's ideas, but several. If you can grab and then synthesize ideas from several, you will have made your effort worthwhile.

Even if you don't learn well by listening to a talk, you can engage in dialogue. Make the most of the people attending, as there are many opportunities to learn from fellow participants, as well as speakers, while in the halls over coffee. But don't spend all of this time on small talk. You should have an agenda. Go with two or three probing questions that you want to learn more about from other companies, and make sure you get to those questions. Otherwise you will have met great people but learned nothing from them.

There are plenty of options for conferences, depending on your learning objectives. There are national conferences such as the IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo, topical ones such as the Lean Accounting Summit or the Lean HR Summit, and regional ones such as the Michigan Lean Consortium or the Mid-Atlantic Lean Conference.

Sharing like experiences can be not only comforting, but also help you hone your own internal experimentation and education.

2. Find benchmarking partners. I get this question all the time: Who can we benchmark? I hesitate to answer partly because people are looking for the perfect set of answers and a one-way street. They are looking to steal (or "borrow") some solutions and ease their path.

I don't blame people for this mindset, but that is a big ask. Some bigger companies that have a lot to share have set up entire departments to manage the benchmarking requests, but that is in part to shield the rest of the organization from the burden.

I would rather you find a benchmarking partner, someone who has similar challenges and learning needs as you do, and then learn together. Sharing like experiences can be not only comforting, but also help you hone your own internal experimentation and education.

3. Utilize LinkedIn Productively. While this is not just about LinkedIn, I want to emphasize productively. LinkedIn is not just an address book or social media feed that often resembles Facebook. It should be considered a network. But you don't get anything out of your network unless you (1) contribute and (2) make deliberate asks.

I don't accept most of the LinkedIn connection requests I get because there is no obvious reason we should be connected and the person doesn't articulate one. But for those who do engage, they might say that they want to be connected because they want to learn from their network, yet make no requests or ask any questions even when I make the offer.  

Don't expect your network to spontaneously feed you the information you really need. You have to know what you need and make the ask. I love helping people when they know what help they are looking for, if it is in my power and capability to help. You should contribute as well. Don't wait until you are out of a job and the first time everyone hears from you is when you are looking for a new one.

The lean community is global and growing. There is plenty to offer if you know how to engage.

About the Author

Jamie Flinchbaugh | Lean Advisor, Speaker and Author

Jamie Flinchbaugh is the founder of JFlinch, an advisory firm that focuses on helping build cultures, capabilities, leadership, and operating systems that consistently perform and scale. Leveraging his extensive experience of helping transform over 300 companies, Jamie is a valuable asset for any company seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, innovation and entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.

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