Joseph F Paris Jr, Chairman of XONITEK Group of Companies, offers a round-up of the different types of training and education available to prospective and experienced lean practitioners.

As continuous improvement practitioners, it is natural (even a passion) to always seek ways to improve ourselves and the value we drive to our colleagues and the companies for which we work.  During our quest for this personal and professional development, sometimes we know precisely in which areas we wish to improve our skillset and where we need to concentrate our efforts, and sometimes we seek to satisfy a curiosity of some subject matter.

Once we decide on what we wish to learn, we need to decide what level of knowledge and competency we wish to possess at the conclusion of our being taught and, most importantly, we need to ensure that the method we select for the conveying of that knowledge and competency to us will yield the expected results.

Therefore, during this evaluation process, we must always remember the following corollary: the level of effort required is directly proportional to the depth of the knowledge and competency acquiredwith “comparative value” being defined as the investment requirements associated with gaining the knowledge versus the benefit gained to oneself and one’s company.  In the chart below, I grade “comparative value” as “low”, “moderate”, and “high”, where:

  • Low is “logistical” content.  The participant should expect to learn the terminology used, the value derived from proper use of the content, and perhaps some basic applications.
  • Moderate is “tactical” content.  At this level, the participant should expect to learn how to plan the use of the content, when to deploy, and how to manage.
  • High is “strategic” content.  At this highest level, the participant should expect to learn how to define objectives in the discipline and be able to communicate how these objectives will be realised.

We also must consider “soft-costs” when we tally the total cost of investment. These include: the time of the employee learning, the time of the employee(s) teaching, the development of internal curriculum, travel and lodging, etc.

In addition to comparative value, one must also keep in mind the credibility of the origin of the content being learned. Here, the student must always keep in mind “Caveat Emptor”, or more commonly known as “let the buyer beware”especially when it comes to certifications.

For instance, I was speaking with a recent university graduate who wished for me to review her Curriculum Vitae (also known as CV or resume). I saw noted that she had earned her “Six Sigma Green Belt Certification” at the University, so I asked to know the details of her Green Belt project. To my surprise, she had not worked on a Green Belt project – or any project. She just had to sit through a week-long class and pass a test. My advice to her was to change her “certification” to either “Yellow-Belt” or, alternatively, state that she received Green Belt training.

Lesson: there is no universally recognised governing body for certifications in the disciplines of lean six sigma nor is there a recognised standard for curricula and, unfortunately, there are many people out there who just want to pad their resume and who feel any certification is better than no certification.

That being said, there are organisations that devote themselves solely to training and education of lean six sigma and related subjects such as the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) – and there are many companies who have their own internal, and robust, programmes, such as General Electric, Motorola, and International Paper.

The simple way to assess the quality of a certification is simply to listen to how the person announces their certification – are they consciously or subconsciously embarrassed? For instance, I would become immediately suspicious if someone were to simply say to me, “I am a Black Belt” – as opposed to “I am a GE Black-Belt”. In any case, I am going to ask them about their projects in great detail to determine the true level of knowledge – since the application of knowledge is where the value is realised.

The rest of this article is devoted to the various methods of learning, the investment requirements, their pros and cons, and the comparative value that should be expected.

Webinars

Learning by attending a webinar is the least costly and most convenient method of learning, but what you will learn is greatly limited. As such, a webinar is a great way of gaining exposure to a topic (or as a refresher-course for updates to knowledge), but you should not expect to become proficient in any topic. Would you trust your surgery or the filing of your taxes to someone who learned only by attending a webinar? An additional risk to webinars is that (since they are so inexpensive to produce) those who might charge to attend might not be credible conveyors of knowledge – and if they are free, I can almost guarantee you that (in almost every case) they are merely sales pitches disguised as learning experiences.


  • Expected investment requirements: Free to $250 (£150) plus minimal “soft-costs”;
  • Expected duration:  30 minutes to a half-week;
  • Comparative value: Low.

Seminars (and conferences)

Attending seminars and conferences is a good way to get a deeper dive into a subject in a more collegiate setting. One of the most significant benefits of attending one of these events, and one that should not be dismissed, is the ability to interface with peers one-on-one. This interaction and the exchange of practical experiences (if pursued) will enable the participant to better understand the material as it is applied in context, help to build invaluable interpersonal and communication skills, and expand one’s professional network to facilitate problem-solving in the future. One should expect that free seminars will be sales pitches (think along the lines of a pitch for timeshares).

  • Expected investment requirements: $1,000 to $5,000 (£600 to £3,000) including considerable “soft-costs”;
  • Expected duration: 1-5 days;
  • Comparative value: Low to Low-Moderate.

 On-the-Job (OJT)

Assuming the OJT programme is well developed and structured (which is not to be taken as a given), the successful student should have an understanding of the tools and skillset necessary to satisfactorily perform the tasks related to the carrying out of the responsibilities associated with their position. However, this training will be limited to the performance of tasks and processes. As such, it would be misguided to expect the successful student to apply what they have learned strategically.

  • Expected investment requirements:  $2,500 to $15,000 (£1,500 to £9,000) – mostly internal “soft-costs”;
  • Expected duration:  Half-week to one month;
  • Comparative value: Low-Moderate to Moderate.

Classroom training

Learning by attending a formal class (even if delivered via webcast) will result in the student receiving a much broader and deeper understanding of a subject. Since there is much more “heavy lifting” involved in producing a classroom-delivered curriculum, there is almost always an investment requirement on the part of the student involved and the instances of non-credible conveyors of knowledge greatly diminishes. Even so, you will want to ensure the organisation (whether a University, an Institute, a Learning Company, or other entity) has a track-record for success and clearly details the level of effort and the expected take-away for the student.

  • Expected investment requirements: $5,000 to $20,000 (£3,000 to £12,000) – including internal “soft-costs”;
  • Expected duration: 1 to 12 weeks;
  • Comparative value: Low Moderate to High Moderate.

Integrated learning

Sometimes referred to as “blended learning”, an integrated learning programme melds several content delivery methods including: webinars, self-study, classroom training, and one-on-one mentoring and coaching. Low-level activity is taken off-line (where the attendance value of the instructor is de minimis), but with a corresponding increased emphasis on individualised mentoring for high-level activity.

  • Expected investment requirements: $5,000 to $20,000 (£3,000 to £12,000) including internal “soft costs”;
  • Expected duration: 4 to 16 weeks;
  • Comparative value: Moderate to High Moderate.

Company-specific education programmes

Best-in-class companies do not follow the best practice documents created by consulting companies and analysts – they create them themselves. They realise that published best practices are always in the past tense and, if achieved, would mean they are still years behind the industry leaders. Best-in-class companies create their own education programmes by teaching the known tools and methodologies as they are applied, in the context of the company, within the company. These programmes merge the delivery platforms and approach associated with integrated learning with the company-specific content associated with OJT. If properly and fully developed, this approach and resultant programme will yield the highest comparative value for a company by enabling the business to identify what actually needs improving and go about improving it while also to identify, quantify and capture its own best practices and make this content part of the curriculum.

  • Expected investment requirements: $7,500 to $25,000 (£4,500 to £15,000) including “soft costs”;
  • Expected duration: 8 to 26 weeks;
  • Comparative value: High Moderate to High.

It is important to note that continuing education is critical to any professional who wants to remain on top of their game – but, as continuous improvement professionals, we already know that.