The Lean Trainer: Applying Lean Principles to Training

Rob Jones applies Lean principles to the training world, explaining how common frustrations and wastes can be minimised or eliminated, leaving you with more time and headspace to deliver top-notch training.

How often have you been frustrated when entering a physical training environment to set up for your course only to find the room in a complete mess? Or when you log in to deliver a virtual session on a Monday morning to find you’re in one session and the delegates in another, because the session wasn’t set up properly by the digital team? 

Could some of these mistakes perhaps be attributed to wasteful activities and inefficient processes, which wear you down so much that you're prone to making even more mistakes?

Here are a few other examples of wasteful activities trainers sometimes have to deal with:

  • When we have to chase around for the delegate list and other missing or incorrect resources
  • When we have to go find out why a delegate hasn’t been sent log-in details
  • When we have to faff about with tech
  • When we have different file formats causing upload issues
  • When extra delegates who are booked onto the course but not on the list, turn up

All of these are just some of those things leading to trainer frustration, because we have to expend our energy running around in our breaktimes to sort them out. Surely this waste could be avoided, leaving us less stressed, and with more energy to actually do our job – delivering top-quality training?

Well, it can. It just takes a bit of organisation, collaboration and discipline. Oh, and someone to actually say, "That’s okay, go ahead." Although in my experience? Just do it – if it saves time, "that" person will be happy anyway.

What do we mean with Lean?

Lean is an approach developed by Toyota, and is about introducing changes in an organisation to maximise the flow of value produced for the customer. As a result of this process, wasteful activities are identified and either minimised (improved) or eliminated. This can lead to an increase in efficiency of production or delivery through the removal of waste. It’s a philosophy, hence the need for collaboration and discipline, but it’s effective and it works.

You see, in any business, there are two types of activity – one that’s value adding (VA), and the other that’s non-value adding (NVA).

Value adding activities transform the service in the eyes of the customer, eg training delivery.

Non-value adding activities add no direct value, although may still be essential in order to deliver the training, eg administration activities. Some of these NVA may be considered wasteful. 

So what we want to do as trainers, is identify these two types of activity in the course of our work, minimise the NVA activities as much as possible, and eliminated the unnecessary ones altogether. This in itself will help to maximise the flow of value to the customer – the learner. That’s what we mean by making things leaner.

To help us do this, we’re going to explore some fundamental Lean tools that will get you started.   There are many tools in the Lean toolkit, but we’re going to focus on two: the 7 Wastes and 5S.

The 7 Wastes model

The first action to getting Lean is to identify where those wastes are. The 7 Wastes model helps us to do this:

Transport: unnecessary movement of products not required to deliver the service

Inventory: all resources and processes not being used to deliver the service

Motion: people or resources moving more than is required to deliver the service

Waiting: waiting around for the next step in the service delivery

Over-production: resources produced ahead of demand

Over-processing: resulting from poor design creating unnecessary activity

Defects: the effort involved in fixing poor processes

We can use the acronym TIM WOOD to help us remember this model. 

Of course, like most original models, extra bits have been added over time to reflect modern business, and an eighth and even ninth waste has been added – these refer in some way to People and Skills waste, and definitions vary dependent on the industry.  I’ve stuck with the original model here, but the others are easily researchable online.

The 5S tool

The 5S tool helps you to start getting everything sorted out and tidied up:

Sort – get rid of everything that does not belong (archive, recycle or delete)

Straighten – organise those things that do belong (set up new directories and folders, improve storage)

Sweep & shine – clean everything (may not apply to digital processes, as the first two Ss may take care of it)

Standardise – set this as a standard (use a checklist, diagram, infomatic, image etc. so that staff know what should be there and where)

Sustain – maintain the standard (keep everything clean, keep it checked and stocked)

There’s no right or wrong way to start. Whether you start with the 7 Wastes or 5S, what’s important is you actually make a start. Go with the more obvious things first, those that will bring fast results and can be seen to do so.

It may be just about getting stuck in and physically or virtually cleaning and tidying resources, directories, files and folders. Or you may want to sit down with the team (the new Lean Team!), and identify the value and non-value adding activities, then brainstorm ways to minimise, improve or eliminate them, before taking action.

Typical examples of things you might start applying 5S to include: course resource directories and folders – how many previous versions of files are there? Do you really need them? What’s in the store room? Shelves taken up with previous hard-copy versions of training manuals? Other resources that you "might" need one day? If they haven’t been used in the last 12 months, chances are they never will, and if one day you do decide to use them, they’ll probably be out of date anyway! Learn to let things go, have a clean sweep – you’ll feel better for it.

Lean is a learning journey, it doesn’t require you to have qualifications or a skillset before you start.    Once things have been sorted and tidied, you can then further your Lean knowledge and start to apply more complex Lean tools that will assist in the standardisation and sustainability of work processes.

Once you start to gather momentum, you’ll quickly get into the right mindset, and start seeing activities and processes differently, especially when you have cleared the decks and have a better view of things. 

Keep the momentum going and pretty soon it will become habit. A Lean workplace is a stress-free workplace, so keep it clean and keep it Lean!

To help get you started, the TAP L&D in an Agile World 1-day webinar gives an introduction to Agile-Lean frameworks and thinking. 



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