How Can I Speed Up My Team’s Lean Learning?

“How can I speed up my team’s lean learning?” is a question found on the web, with no context given: we don’t know whether it is team of managers, engineers, or operators, or whether it works in manufacturing, finance, or health care… We can infer from the tone of the question that its author is a leader frustrated with the pace of a team’s progress. I will further make the assumption that the concern is not just about skills but also about principles. It’s not just about know-how but also know-why, as it is essential to address new challenges.

Then we also need to make a distinction between learning as a team and learning by team members. You hear leaders say “as a team, we have learned to change over a lathe in 7 minutes,” or “as a team, we have learned to introduce a new product on this line in 3 weeks.” If such a team replaces one of its members, it can bring the newcomer up to speed and retain the skills and the knowledge; if, on the other hand, it replaces half its members, it has to relearn. A team  is more than the collection of its members, but it builds on the expertise of its members, which means that their individual expertise also needs to be nurtured. This means that individual learning by team members also is a topic that must be addressed.

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Presenting “Lean, TQM, Six Sigma, TOC, Agile and BPR” to the ISPI in Reno, NV

This week, the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) invited me to present the comparison of approaches I posted on this blog  in January, at its annual conference, held this year at the Silver Legacy Resort  in Reno, NV.

While the name of the society does not suggest it, it is really focused on training effectiveness;  its tag line “Where Knowledge Becomes Know-How” is more explicit than its name. Started in 1962 as the National Society for Programmed Instruction, which was an explicit reference to behaviorist B.F. Skinner. This reference was remove when it became the National Society for Performance and Instruction. It finally went international in 1995 and changed the “”PI” to Performance Improvement. The point was to emphasize concern for the outcome rather than the process of training, and, in doing so, highlight differences with the rival  American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

ISPI has developed a body of knowledge called Human Performance Technology (HPT). which it defines as an integrated systems approach to improving the valued, measured results produced by people within a system. It has a 6-step implementation methodology, and ISPI has a program to train Certified Performance Technologists (CPT).

Most of the 500 attendees were training managers in corporations, and the others included academics, consultants, and entrepreneurs in training technology. The vast majority was from the US. On the international side, I ran into attendees from Canada, Nigeria, Korea and Taiwan, but none from Europe, Japan, or mainland China.

Compared to other conferences I have attended, I found this group to be unusually friendly and welcoming, as well as serious and dedicated. Given the speakers’ background in training, you might expect them to be good presenters, and they delivered: no laundry-list slides and no reading aloud of text. And they frequently engaged the audience through questions, polls and  short group discussions, to which it responded with gusto.

The first presentation I attended, on Monday afternoon, was on Scenario-based eLearning, by Ruth Clark, author of eLearning and the Science of Instruction. I learned that  US corporations spent $65B/year on training, and that, in 2012, about 30% of it was on eLearning. Ruth Clark does not envision the disappearance of live instruction, but thinks a balance will eventually be reached because there are many subjects that simply cannot be taught remotely. I also learned about different approaches for the following different kinds of training:

  • Compliance — such as what safety gear you must wear to walk out of the shop floor.
  • Procedural — like processing a deposit for a bank teller.
  • Analytical — like diagnosing a machine failure or designing a production line.

The audience member seated next to me also volunteered that she was using  Articulate and Camtasia to develop eLearning materials.

The audience was here to learn, and didn’t stop during lunch. On the day I presented, the lunch session was called “chat’n chew.” Sandwiches were served in the largest ballroom, where each table had a designated speaker who had prepared a talk. 20 minutes later, the facilitator rang a bell, and all the participants moved to another table to hear another talk. There were three 20-minute sessions, so that each speaker gave his talk three times, to 10-12 people each time. The topics ranged from the documentation of human performance in processes to the way Lowe’s used Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives and collaborative development of eLearning materials.

My own presentation concluded the Research-to-Practice Symposium, preceded by Steven Villachica and Marcus Dickson. Steven discussed the use of the Critical Incident Technique (CIT) to give actionable meaning to otherwise vague and fuzzy guidelines like “provide excellent customer service.” Marcus presented the GLOBE Project about national cultures and leadership styles, blaming the failure of the Daimler/Chrysler merger on cultural differences.

Later, around drinks, I pointed out to Markus that, against all expectations, the Renault/Nissan merger succeeded in spite of much wider cultural differences between France and Japan than between Germany and the US. I also took him to task for describing German trains as running on time, when my own recent experience of crisscrossing Germany by train was of chronic delays and slowdowns, wrong carriage locations posted on platforms, and reservations sold for non-existent seats.

ISPI materials sometimes use a challenging vocabulary. Prerecorded on-line courses, for example, are called “asynchronous HPT.” But they also play with words, calling the lunch session “chat’n chew” and “lunch’n learn.” One presentation was about “Getting your shift together.”

My own presentation combined the materials from the January blog post with my recent introduction to Lean. From my perspective, human performance is a means to the end of growing manufacturing companies. Lean relies on people to improve operations, provides them with safe and secure jobs, and supports their professional development as a strategy for the company to gain market share, enhance profits, and grow. In ISPI’s HPT, on the other hand, enhancing human performance is the goal. The domains overlap enough for me to learn from the sessions I attended, and for the ISPI members to listen to what I had to say.

Whenever Lean implementers discuss training, these days, they promptly bring up Training Within Industry (TWI), which I would imagine to be of great interest to ISPI, but, to my surprise, there was not a single contribution about it in the whole conference.

For a conference, a casino is good value for money. In Reno, you enjoy the view from the upper floors, but you have to walk the flowery carpet in the hallway, past the his-and-hers Fiats prize and the lonely gamblers before you can go down the rabbit-hole elevator to the conference floor and its professional environment.