Categories : Lean Certification


When I created the curriculum for Lean Certification Online, I included both hard skills and soft skills into the lean training programs. I want to explain what I mean by “hard and soft skills” and why it is so important to use both.

When a discovers the benefits of lean principles, they go to great lengths to find out how to implement them into their own organization. They are often surprised because they think that lean principles come in a contained package or as some type of integrated system that can be inserted into their business systems, just like a plug and play item on a computer. They are amazed when they find out that lean principles are a series of different tools and techniques grouped together under the broad heading of lean principles.  These tools and techniques are what I call the ‘Hard Tools’ of lean.

These hard tools are continuous process improvement methods used to identify and eliminate waste to increase value for the customer.  These tools and techniques are implemented in the (or place of work), where an improvement team is focusing on a specific problem. A successful lean business will train their employees to use these tools so they can participate in a rapid improvement event (RIE) or Kaizen. It is easy to teach employees about lean tools and techniques and how to apply them to help recognize waste that is hidden inside business processes. These hard tools such as Strategy Deployment, Kanban, 5S, 5 Why’s, , etc. have been successfully used by companies all around the globe.

As I travel around the country, I often get the chance to talk with people that have completed some type of lean training, and they often tell me all about the different tools and how they are planning to implement them. However, what I find most interesting during these discussions is that only a small percentage of the people that have completed Lean Certification Training will mention the use of soft skills to support their lean implementation process. What do I mean by soft skills?

Lean Certification Training

Lean Facilitator

Continuous Process Improvement includes the ‘hard skills of lean to identify the root cause of a problem that is creating waste and then finding a solution to eliminate it. However, there is another aspect of lean that many people do not even talk about but I personally believe they are equally as important. They are personal improvement tools and techniques that allow us to participate in a process of self-analysis to increase self-awareness. This helps individuals, groups and organizations to develop and improve their own capabilities by identifying any personality or cultural issues that are stopping them from reaching their full potential. Why do I believe these ‘Soft skills or tools” are so important and should be included in a lean certification training program?

When we learn about lean principles, the focus of the training is on process activity and how people can find solutions to eliminate a problem.  However, people will participate and take action based on their personality type. During their working life, people develop a set of core beliefs and these will influence a person’s behavior. When this person learns about lean principles, they will go back to their respective organizations and use their new skills to implement a lean program. At this point, they will need to ask questions.

  • What is the culture in the organization?
  • Does the management team actively support the lean implementation process
  • Does the company know how to empower its employees?
  • On the other hand, does their organization not care about the attitudes of its employees and the role they play in the lean improvement process?

These are critical questions that will need answering because they will define the culture of the organization. The individuals that are facilitating the lean implementation need to understand how the other employees are going to react to the change process

It is important to find out if the person is capable of facilitating groups of employees. They need to have the type of personality that can motivate and guide people in a way that does not end in conflict. It is easy to teach anyone about the tools and techniques of lean but not everyone has the traits of a good facilitator. However, they can learn how to become one by learning about their own flaws and choosing to change their behaviors.

There are a few soft skills that a person must have before they can even consider becoming a facilitator and working with groups of employees. Here are some examples:

  • They must be open minded
  • They must be able to actively listen when people are sharing their ideas
  • They must be aware of their own personality flaws
  • They must know how to respond to people comments without losing their temper
  • The must know when to speak and when to be silent
  • They must treat people with respect at all times
  • They must be aware of their personal biases and not let them influence their facilitation process
  • They must be able to control their emotions at all times

The way to learn how to do these things is to participate in the soft skills. There are several well know and accepted systems that can help a person to discover their own personality traits. They can begin to understand how they communicate with others and if they need to make any improvements in how they do it. This is where people get to collaborate and learn together. There is no better way to learn about yourself than through working with others who can tell you what you need to improve and how to change it. We all have personality issues that we are fully aware of and we also have those that we totally unaware of. It is the issues that you do not see that will trip you up.

Lean in its simplest form is a process of building relationships to benefit the stakeholders, which includes the customers. You can be a great practitioner when it comes to lean tools and techniques, but if you don’t have the right temperament to support them, you are not going to be very successful. There are three things that are required to be a good facilitator, 1) people must like your personality and training style, 2) they must see you as the expert and believe that you know what you are talking about, and 3) they need to understand how the information you are sharing can benefit them personally. If you fail on any one of these, you will have difficulties implementing lean principles into any organization.

Chris Turner is the founder and Director of Training and Development for Radical Transformation LLC. He has 28 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, which gives 24/7 access to online lean training materials. To learn more click here

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