John Bicheno, Course Director of the MSc in Lean Operations, University of Buckingham, comments on Joseph Paris’ article Charting the right course published in the February 2013 edition of Lean Management Journal.

In his article, Joseph considered different forms of lean training and education, but stopped at “Blended Learning” beyond 16 weeks and “Company Specific” training of up to 32 weeks.

The quality of short courses and company-specific training varies enormously, and it was with this in mind that Cardiff’s Lean Enterprise Research Centre developed an accreditation procedure known as the Lean Competency System.


First, when discussing lean training, it is fundamental to mention TWI. Training Within Industry was the training programme introduced in the USA during World War II, which later became a foundation of the Toyota Production System. The “three legged stool” of TWI – job instruction, job relations, job methods – focused on the front line manager or supervisor is the basis of stability and sustainability.

Ohno was a JI instructor, and JI remains almost unchanged at Toyota today, 70 years later. Classic TWI training is the 10-hour course (5 days of 2 hours, with considerable practice in between) held on site for each of the three modules. Although the original TWI material is in the public domain, it is wise to use a certified trainer. TWI UK has recently been established.


Second, we should consider the huge amount of educational material that is available through the web. Much of the material is free. This almost endless list of resources grows almost daily on YouTube, blogs, and in a multitude of websites. Of course, the material varies from poor to excellent, and critical judgment is required of both content and motive.

Here are four sites of high value:

  • MIT Free Courseware: Lean Six Sigma. This series on video comprises 14 lectures together withreadings and notes. It covers basic lean manufacturing and a few six sigma topics as delivered to MIT undergraduate students. A little outdated now, but nevertheless a great introduction;
  • iTunes U. Here there are thousands of courses on every conceivable topic from universities mainly in USA and UK. Not much on lean per se, but a huge amount on topics closely related to, or useful for, lean. World authorities present many of these courses. Examples are organisation behaviour and leadership, psychology, statistics, accounting, innovation, and industrial engineering;
  • Although this is a website promoting a consultancy, it contains several provocative short videos that challenge conventional thinking and conventional lean thinking. Vanguard, of course, runs its own short-course training for the service sector;
  • Lean Enterprise Institute (in the US) and the linked Lean Enterprise Academy (in the UK) and other institutes around the world often have useful and free video and discussion material and offer short courses and conferences.


APICS. The American Production and Inventory Control Society (The Association for Operations Management) has been the champion of MRP/ MRPII since the mid 1970s when it launched the “MRP Crusade”. For decades it has run the CPIM (Certified in Production and Inventory Management) qualification, and since 2006 the CSCP (Certified Supply Chain Professional) qualification. Both include some lean content. Both are offered in over 30 countries, with people from 78 countries having obtained qualifications.

Almost 100,000 people have obtained the CPIM worldwide. Each qualification involves quite challenging multi-choice tests – five in the case of CPIM. The time period is indeterminate, and course work is delivered by training organisations throughout the world or by self-study. Everyone takes the same tests, and there are no exemptions. In the USA many operations professors hold a CPIM. Not so in UK.

APICS has been strongly associated with MRP but has been moving steadily into the lean area in both CPIM and CSCP tests. The “execution and control of operations” module of the CPIM is strongly focused on the JIT pillar of TPS, and the master planning module covers material seldom found in both diploma and degree courses. The belief of Kate Mackle, John Darlington and I from Buckingham University is that several lean implementations have failed due to a lack of knowledge in these fundamental areas (as an aside, it is interesting, perhaps worrying, that the CPIM is far more popular in Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, France, Italy and even Germany than in the UK).

IOM. The Institute of Operations Management UK (formerly BPICS) was closely affiliated with APICS. The IOM developed its own Diploma course; a Level 5 qualification, which grew out of and away from the CPIM. More recently the CPIM has returned to the IOM. The IOM Diploma takes two years and is offered through various colleges. The Diploma is wider in scope than the CPIM, but also has limited lean content. In my opinion, breadth rather than depth.

In the USA, a breakaway group from APICS formed the AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) in the mid 1980s. AME wanted to pursue JIT (as lean was then known) rather than MRP, and the AME Conference has grown to become the largest lean oriented conference in the world. AME is a practitioner-led organisation that is cautious about consultants, academics, and vendors – although all of these groups are represented at the conference exhibition.

AME has begun to team up with IIE, ASQ (American Society for Quality), SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) and is reconciled with APICS. This has led to all co-operating on the individual Shingo prize. See below.

The IIE (Institute of Industrial Engineers) in the USA is the professional body for IE’s. Industrial Engineering is far wider in scope than the phrase tends to mean in the UK. IIE runs short courses (for example a “Green Belt” in basic lean).

But recall that Ohno described TPS as “profit based industrial engineering”.

The Shingo prize is becoming well known in the UK and Europe as the prime evaluation tool for companies. Less well known is the Shingo qualification for individuals. Like the company version, it is awarded on bronze, silver and gold levels. There are tests and, for gold level, a huge amount of evidence must be accumulated and documented on participation in kaizen-type activity. The result is that there are only a handful of gold-level individual holders in the world. This is not a taught or mentored programme, but an achievement recognition scheme.


Lean is at last growing in academia.

The annual Lean Educators Conference in the United States has been growing steadily to more than 200 attendees in 2012 from several countries – although only one (myself) from the UK. It was good to see business schools represented, and even better a series of presentations from university accounting departments who seem to be introducing lean accounting “under the table”.


Again different from the UK, many American universities have departments of industrial engineering, a number of which run lean modules as part of their undergraduate or graduate education programmes. Some have significant lean units.

Notable among these are the University of Michigan (where Jeffrey Liker and Mike Rother are located), the University of Tennessee, and the University of Kentucky (that has close association with Toyota USA).

A few other departments of industrial engineering have recently begun to run one-year Masters degrees in lean. Take a careful look at the content rather than the title, as some are strongly focused on operations research (OR), simulation, statistics, six sigma, TOC, and manufacturing technology.


Lean Masters courses have grown in the 2000s in the UK and Ireland. These can probably be classified into programmes with much more six sigma than lean, those where the reverse is the case, and those where topics such as leadership, strategy and technology predominate.

Strathclyde and Limerick are in the first category. Buckingham and Cardiff are in the second category. In the third category is The Manufacturing Institute/ Lancaster, Cambridge, Cranfield, Cork, Swansea Met and De Montfort. These programmes cater for different student groups – in terms of age, experience and, crucially, the extent of practical onsite work. Any corporate sponsor should check out the range.

The Manufacturing Institute, Manchester administers the company-focused Shingo prize in the UK. The Institute holds short courses in the lean area, often focused on team leaders and supervisors, and one-day master classes. They also have an “Accelerated Route to Lean”, a Professional Diploma (over two years part-time), and an MSc (over two years and months, part-time). These latter two include some lean content.

The Diploma is classroom based. The Lancaster university-based MSc has six modules, each with workshops, “action learning sets” and web material. None of the modules are specifically on lean but Shingo prize material is incorporated. Look at the content to judge specific requirements.

Lean content is also found in some engineering postgraduate courses, for example Cambridge University’s Institute for Manufacturing programme that involves on-site exercises.

In Ireland, part-time programmes are run by Limerick University and Cork University with the former having a focus on quality and six sigma and the latter focused on supply chain.

In the UK, Swansea Met runs an MSc in Lean and Agile, focused quite strongly on logistics and manufacturing engineering. Strathclyde offers Lean Six Sigma, with one module on lean six sigma and others in the six sigma, systems, and people areas. Both of these are offered full- and parttime and are university based. Another Masters programme in Lean Operations runs at De Montfort University – one year full-time or three years part-time.

Dan Jones, Peter Hines and Nick Rich set up Lean Enterprise Research Centre (LERC) at Cardiff Business School in 1995. As the name suggests the original focus was research, and large projects such as LEAP and 3-Day Car and several smaller programmes took place. The MSc in Lean Operations began in 1999, as the first Masters degree in lean in the world. There are now some 170 MSc lean graduates. In 2012 the activities of LERC were incorporated in those of Cardiff Business School.

In January 2013, an MSc in Lean Enterprise began at the University of Buckingham. The two-year, part-time, executive programme favours on-site, “at the gemba” learning: during the first year seven of nine modules take place at factory sites. The average age of the group is late 30s, the class size is limited due to the hands-on nature of the programme, and practitioners feature strongly. The programme focus is on enterprise (meaning innovation, systems, demand and flow, accounting, supply chain, and people).


In considering lean education and training it is useful to look at the development of business education. Harvard Business School started in 1908 and Chicago Booth even earlier. Business education grew slowly at first, but exponentially from the 1960s.

The bandwagon began. Dollar signs appeared in the eyes of many a dean. Universities found it was easy to add an MBA curriculum or executive education – simply assemble a programme with academics from other disciplines, many of them without practical management experience, taking material from the explosion of books and papers. Include theories and tools that teachers are comfortable with. Exclude real managers from teaching because they lack appropriate academic qualifications.

Today, whilst there is a small core of topnotch business schools and executive education there is a huge long tail of mediocrity. But aspiring managers want the qualification. Some are even delighted with mediocre programmes because they know no better, but learn all the good words.

Critics of the “professional manager” have appeared: Mintzberg calls for a return to craft and away with synthetic case studies. Hopper and Hopper blame business schools for encouraging a culture of individual greed and short-termism.

A hopeful sign is that some leading business schools turned to on-site practice. So today it is not good enough to ask about the letters, but the good old lean standby of the Kipling 7 honest serving men – what, why, when and where, how, and who.