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Is Lean Certification Really Necessary?

Dispelling 3 myths about Lean Certification!

I received a call the other day from someone enquiring about Lean Certification. He told me that he wanted to sign up for my Lean Certification training course. I asked why he was doing this. What was his motivation for obtaining lean certification? He was surprised that I asked him this question. “Isn’t it obvious why I would want to do this”, he said! I was not really sure to be honest. I assumed he was trying to improve his knowledge of lean principles or something like this. I was dead wrong! He was doing it because his boss told him that it was the only way he was going to be accepted as a member on the company’s improvement team. Our conversation made me think about the misinformation that has been generated that has led to this perception. The consequence is that business owners think that lean knowledge is only acceptable when it comes in the form of lean certification. Here are three common myths  about lean certification that I want to share to dispel this belief.

Myth #1: People who attain lean certification make better practitioners!

Is Lean Certification Necessary?

Is Lean Certification Necessary?

This is probably the worst myth of all. It is a statement that is perpetuated by people who follow an academic mindset toward increasing knowledge and learning. The problem is that it is incorrect. It is the same as saying that someone with a degree achieves a higher level of job performance than someone without one. Where is the evidence to prove it? It is a statement based on biased opinions and not supported by data. Over the years, I have seen people who did not have a high school diploma achieve amazing results using lean principles when they were given the right learning environment. No lean certification here!

Lean is a process of learning by doing. A more technical way of presenting this is to say that application of lean principles is a method of converting declarative knowledge (cognitive learning) from a book, video, workshop, etc., into procedural knowledge (tasks or activities) to improve the performance of the workplace. The time required for a person to become proficient at a specific task is known as their” learning curve.” In fact, it is the amount of time a person needs to convert the information in their head into the correct physical activities to create the best results. The learning curve applies to everyone whether they have obtained lean certification or not.

The only way to learn about lean principles is through practice, which is implementing them into the workplace. Practice makes perfect and delivers results. If this can be done with the assistance of a lean sensei or mentor this is a better proposition because the learning curve will be shorter. A person with a lean certification can prove one thing, and it is that they received standardized information about lean principles. It certainly does not prove that they are more capable of improving workplace performance. Lean application, experience and measurable results are the only ways to prove if anyone can truly call themselves a lean practitioner. A lean certification is an acknowledgement of formal training.

Myth #2: Lean Certification training from an accredited organization is better!

Find any company with an opening for a lean practitioner and then take a look at their job description. What you will probably find is that they require the person to have attained lean certification from an accredited college or university. What does this really mean? Why are they required to have attended an accredited establishment? What does accreditation really mean? Is this a valid requirement for this type of lean certification?

This is the definition of accreditation according to the folks at the business dictionary online:

Certification of competence in a specified subject or areas of expertise, and of the integrity of an agency, firm, group, or person, awarded by a duly recognized and respected accrediting organization.

In other words, the accreditation process ensures that their lean certification practices are acceptable, typically meaning that they are competent to test and certify third parties, behave ethically and employ suitable quality assurance. Extract was quoted from

So, what are the differences between accredited and non-accredited organizations? The accredited organization can issue Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) with their lean certification training. A non-accredited training organization cannot issue CEU’s. Does this mean that receiving lean certification training from a non-accredited organization is worse? Not at all, because most are professional training and consulting businesses that generate revenues from teaching their clients Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) practices such as Lean Principles and Six Sigma. They have clients that are in the Fortune 500 class. Do you think these companies would use any organization that does not have the capabilities for delivering the best lean certification training to their employees? Of course not! The only reason for attaining lean certification with an accredited institution is to receive CEU’s and have their prestigious logo on your certificate. However, you will pay much more for the privilege of having these.

Myth #3: Lean Certification will guarantee a successfully lean implementation, every time!

Here is a scenario. I am the CEO of a company, and I just paid for 20 people to attain lean certification with a known accredited institution. I have brought all twenty people into the training room. My purpose is to try to solve a problem that has plagued the company since its inception. As the CEO I am working on three core beliefs:

  1. All 20 people have lean certification, therefore, they are well trained and understand all they need to know about lean principles.
  2. All 20 people have lean certification, therefore, they can use lean principles to identify and eliminate the root cause of the problem.
  3. All 20 people have lean certification, therefore, they have the ability to work together as a team to solve the problem.

Are these three core beliefs correct? Is the CEO doing the right thing? What do you think?

These three assumptions are “Wrong, Wrong and Wrong again.” Why would I say this?

This level of thinking has led people to believe that education is the answer to everything. The problem is that education does what it states, it educates people and improves their level of knowledge to attain lean certification. It does not necessarily demonstrate how to apply this newly acquired knowledge into a practical real-time situation. Even if this does happen, it would probably be presented in a form of a case study from a fictitious company or something similar. At best, there are limited examples of the practical application of lean knowledge during lean certification training.

The twenty people in the room are at the beginning of their application learning curve. It is a new experience, and they have no mental model to help them to assimilate their classroom experience. They are probably feeling lost and have no idea what to do next. They are worried about getting it wrong and making a huge mistake. So, what is the best way to use the limited experience of these twenty team members to achieve the desired result?

Use the services of a lean sensei or mentor to take the team through a few events to help them find their feet. This will shorten their learning curve and reduce the possibility of them making any major mistakes. This will help build confidence and bolster their own abilities to apply lean principles in a working environment. Using a mentor will also help the team members to learn how to structure the improvement events. It will help them to gain a better understanding, about how they need to work together to achieve their goal.

In Summary:

I am not opposed to lean certification, in fact, I support it. I have been responsible for facilitating lean certification training in many businesses over the years. What I am opposed to is the belief that it is the only way to create lean thinking in an organization. In my view, this is so alien to the original concepts that were established by the pioneers of lean thinking such as Henry Ford, Sakichi Toyoda, and Taiichi Ohno. The concept of kaizen is small incremental changes over time. What is included in the kaizen process is the learning experience for every individual involved. Each small improvement builds on the previous one till it eventually creates a different type of culture. An ideal one is a learning culture that uses problem solving to reach the next level. The importance of learning is explained perfectly in this quote from the Chinese philosopher Confucius. “Without learning, the foolish become wise.” Therefore, choose your lean certification based on the quality of the program, not the name of the institution!

Chris Turner is the CEO and Director of Training and Development for Radical Transformation LLC. He has 27 years of experience in the Continuous Process Improvement field. During this time, he has integrated Lean Principles, Lean Six Sigma and Change Management into his skill’s portfolio. He has worked with major organizations in the UK, USA and Canada such as the US Air Force, Canadian Ministry of Health, Siemens, Medtronic, APW, English China Clay to name a few. He participated in the design and development of Lean Certification Online, where learners have 24/7 access to online lean training materials. To learn more about lean certification training click here

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