Skip to main content

Who’s in Charge of Your Learning Value Stream?

cake chefs

(The answer could save your organization huge dollars.)

September 19, 2013

To illustrate a point about Lean Learning, I need to tell you the sad story of a failed cake.

Sylvia was hosting a big celebration for her parents’ 50th anniversary. She ordered a delicious cake from the Sweetie-Sweets Bakery, to be delivered at exactly 2 pm on Saturday.

Here’s what happened:

  • Sal, who was in charge of ordering supplies for the bakery, bought a shipment of flour. Sal’s primary job objective was to make sure the bakery stayed profitable, so, in line with his objective, he bought flour from a low-cost vendor.
  • But the low-cost flour had lower protein content, so Sue, the baker, had to bake the cake three times, revising the recipe, to make it conform to the quality standards that were her primary objective.
  • And, because Sue took the extra time to bake a quality cake, Sam, the delivery guy, had to drive like a madman to get the cake to Sylvia on time. He fulfilled his primary objective of on-time delivery, but in the process the cake got jostled.

So, Sylvia got her cake, and she got it on time, but it was shmooshed and didn’t quite taste like the earlier cakes she’d ordered before. She vowed to use a different bakery next time.

What went wrong? Each employee achieved their particular objective, yet the greater objective of customer satisfaction failed.

And can you guess what all this has to do with accelerating learning? Read on to find out.

The Learning Value Stream

One of the most important concepts in Lean is the value stream: the sequence of all the steps needed to deliver value to a customer.

A Learning Value Stream is the sequence of all the steps needed to deliver improved performance through learning.

When you apply Lean methods, your Learning Value Stream becomes more than just a collection of activities and events. It becomes a highly coordinated, well-sequenced set of steps without training waste and with maximum learning value, and, therefore, achieves far greater results in the learners’ improved job performance.

A Big Word for a Common Problem

When Learning Value Streams are ineffective, it’s usually because the individuals and groups involved in the stream do what’s best for them and their small part of the value stream, not what’s best for the stream overall (namely, the learners’ improved performance).

Remember the cake story? Even though each person fulfilled their own objective, collectively, they failed to deliver the required value to the customer. It wasn’t their fault. They were very committed to doing good work. They simply didn’t (or couldn’t) see past their part in the stream and how it affected the overall outcome.

In Lean we call this “sub-optimization.”

Here are some examples of it in Learning Value Streams. Maybe you’ve experienced some of these yourself:

  • HR chooses a training vendor that satisfied their budget, not necessarily the best one for the learners’ needs.
  • An instructional designer doesn’t clearly understand the organizational objective and includes a ton of unnecessary content just to be sure all the bases are covered.
  • A classroom instructor schedules sessions to accommodate their availability, not the learners’ work schedules.
  • The company recently purchased an expensive LMS, so everything is now e-learning regardless if it’s the right solution for the topic or the learners.


The Lean Learning Bottom Line

What can you do to avoid sub-optimization?

The Lean approach is to appoint one person as the Learning Value Stream’s “owner” and give them the authority to manage and optimize the entire stream.

Working toward the larger organizational goal, the Learning Value Stream owner can facilitate activities like Gemba Walks and Value Stream Mapping to eliminate training waste and add maximum learning value. These particular skills are covered in our Lean Learning Green and Black Belt certifications.

How Much Can You Accomplish by Taking Control of a Learning Value Stream? 

Next week, at the NE Annual Shingo Prize Conference, I’ll be presenting a case study showing what happened when one of our certification candidates took over ownership of a Learning Value Stream.

His effort resulted in near one million dollars in savings AND much better performance from the employees that the value stream serves. If you’d like to read the case study, you can find it on our Resources page (free registration required).


Let’s Ride!

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick



Free Lean Learning Lessons Delivered to Your Inbox