Lean Certification

July 19, 2007
This validation process ensures that participants not only receive training but are also actively involved in the application of these in real-time situations.

Known worldwide as the pioneer of lean manufacturing, Toyota has been making headlines recently, surpassing American carmakers as the world's largest producer of quality vehicles. Although lean manufacturing has generated a certain amount of buzz, Toyota's recent triumph has inspired a great many companies to reevaluate the processes that have transformed Toyota into the world-class model and how these processes can be assimilated by U.S. brands.

Companies that implement lean successfully begin by communicating their fervent commitment to change. This metamorphic change is usually prefaced by establishing a baseline evaluation --specifically assessing where they are and determining where they want to go and what profits and growth they wish to achieve. However, most fall into a trap of looking for a silver bullet that will rapidly and painlessly transform their existing manufacturing morass into an oasis of success.

For many, attempting to attain rapid lean and cultural transformation without a keen sense of urgency, passion to persevere against all odds and the tenacity to overcome omnipresent obstacles is often rewarded with unsustainable, anemic results and a disheartened workforce. Companies who choose to begin and sustain the "lean journey" not only must be fully committed but also must invest in their organizational development. Associates must be trained in lean concepts and principles and the senior leadership team must be candidly introspective as to the cultural readiness of each organizational level to accept a significantly new way of doing business.

A majority of companies come to the realization that they possess neither the internal expertise nor the time to design, train, implement and sustain a lean program on their own and they look to external sources for support. Lean experts are introducing cost-effective and profitable options as well as specific mentoring to help companies develop and certify their own lean leaders through viable and customized "hands-on training," leading to Lean Certification programs.

What Is Lean Certification?

Lean certification is a validation process that ensures each participant not only receives the key training in lean principles and concepts but also is actively involved in the application of these in real-time situations. These experiences are all obtained under the guidance of an experienced mentor who, in a variety of industries, has demonstrated success in transforming organizations into lean environments. An added feature of our training is that all candidates actually spend time with their mentors at client sites where they participate in continuous improvement activities and are involved in the meetings with site management.

Rather than sitting through abstract, theoretical lessons, students apply their learning directly to their own companies. As part of the curriculum, students are required to define their companies' value streams and identify strategic projects for their own sites, and they are held accountable for project sustainment and key performance metrics. Few would argue that strategic planning, successful implementation, and the on-time delivery of projects aren't important, but these are certainly not as important as meeting strict budget restrictions, especially when all planned initiatives are expected to result in significant return on investment. For this reason all improvement projects identified during the course of training must realize an annualized savings of 3-5 times the cost of training. If this fundamental criterion is not met, the candidate cannot be certified until such results can be achieved.

Because of the high expectations and performance requirements of the certification course, a formal application process, which includes interviews, personality inventory evaluation, and assessing levels of lean experience, has proven to be a very effective differentiator for success. This pre-assessment diagnostic allows candidates who are not far off the prerequisite entry requirements to be given additional customized training or additional shadowing opportunities with a mentor.

Following the completion of each training session, each participant is tested before being allowed to proceed to the next level of training, and all participants must complete a final test and as well as an extensive "lean transformation exercise" based on actual scenarios before they are certified.

Lean certification not only trains participants to fully understand key lean concepts, principles, and their application but also sensitizes them to the need to develop their skill sets specifically in their ability to influence senior management and others who are in a position of power in and outside the factory. Through an understanding of key concepts of psychological and sociological change strategies, participants are more prepared to understand, address, and overcome barriers, resistance to change, and sustainment challenges that will threaten their company's lean journey. Examples of each of these barriers might include:

  • Removing roadblocks. The lean certification process requires that every participant be sponsored by a senior management site sponsor, who commits to breaking through barriers and resistance within the organization. Lean leaders have to be the catalyst for significant changes, and that means that they need the authority to initiate those changes as well as the clear and visible support of the company's leadership. The site sponsor ensures that resources are allocated to fuel those changes, provides the necessary assistance for the candidate to break through any and all barriers, and defines key performance measures and targets to evaluate improvement.
  • Dealing with skepticism and existing culture. Often, employees within an organization doubt the potential of the lean transformation to yield results or the credibility of management to "do what they say they will do" because of past history. This illustrates how the culture or morale of an organization can be established through the past performance of its management team. Creating a change in how people think can be achieved only through their observation of their management team's ability or willingness to manage differently. A knowledgeable and certified lean specialist is able to work with senior and middle management through influence and performance results to focus and provide prioritization through the establishment of a companywide steering committee, which ultimately becomes responsible for the success of the lean transformation. Not until new management behavior is observed consistently over time and new results are perceived as beneficial to those who are being asked to change can anyone expect existing skepticism to dissipate within the workforce.
  • Sustainment and leveraging operational excellence. There is no better motivation for success than success! Achieving success requires the sustainment of the lean transformation, and through this transformation the gradual realization of the benefits of operational excellence. By optimizing a company's production or service-related processes, a certified lean specialist can leverage such success throughout the value chain from suppliers to distributors. Further, such optimization can be leveraged into greater growth as a function of improved designs and shorter lead times, as well as greater profitability due to elimination of waste, reduction of inventory, and improved quality.

In a world of savage competition, the key to global competitiveness is clear. Embracing continuous improvement processes and emulating the learning cultures that keep industry leaders like Toyota world-class is vital. The core of such business success is the lean transformation process that takes into consideration both the physical and cultural requirements for embracing employee involvement, exceeding customer expectations, and the never-ending quest for continuous improvement.

Online media and financial publications now acknowledge, advise and warn that transforming an organization into both a lean and learning organization should not be just a desired option but a business imperative. A first step to developing that capability is to invest in a company's most valuable asset -- key employees -- and provide them with the kind of credible and transformational leadership training that lean certification and experienced mentoring can impart.

Mike Serena is Managing Director TBM Consulting Group's LeanSigma Institute. TBM helps companies on five continents use LeanSigma methodologies to achieve dramatic levels of efficiency and productivity, new competitive advantages and sustained profit and revenue growth. TBM Consultants work side-by-side with client teams to drive lean culture change and fast, dramatic improvement -- rooted in the fundamentals of the Toyota Production System. For more information please visit www.tbmcg.com

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