Is there a difference between a sensei and a consultant?

Two years ago, I advocated dropping the “Sensei” nonsense but it soldiers on. Blog readers keep asking questions about it. Consultants who do not speak Japanese keep answering that there is a fundamental difference between a sensei and a consultant, and seeing a deep meaning in the word “Sensei” that just isn’t there. There is indeed a difference, but it is basic: “Sensei” is a polite term for schoolteachers and other instructors, while a consultant is someone who gets paid for an engagement, as opposed to an employee. One word refers to a role; the other one, to a business relationship.

Learning from a consultant versus getting certified

In the Lean Six Sigma Worldwide discussion group on LinkedIn, Fong Lee Ho asked the following question:

Does learning Lean directly from the Sensei make a big difference versus taking those professional certifications?

To which I answered as follows:

I don’t know why the word “sensei,” which is Japanese for school teacher, is being endowed here with such an aura. To get started, you should use a consultant who can help you select the right projects to undertake first on your shop floor, organize the team to execute on these projects, and coach them to success.

Certification will do none of that. You should only pursue certification if you are looking for a job and need it as a resume enhancer.

More more details on the value of certification, see Certification Shmertification!

For a review of the Lean body of knowledge and five leading certification programs, see The Lean Body of Knowledge.