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Steal These Ideas! 3 Lessons from the NE Shingo Conference

Last week, at the Northeast Shingo Conference, I presented the case study of a certification project done by one of our Lean Learning Black Belts.

I wish our candidate could have been there with me to see the audience’s reaction when they saw the dramatic results he is generating with Lean.

His project is not only doing an amazing job of improving new-hire onboarding, it also will save his organization nearly $1 million per year at full rollout.

If you want to see how he’s getting those results, you can download the case study from our website. You’ll find it in the right sidebar: “Lean Learning Black Belt Project Saves Automaker Nearly $1 Million Per Year.”

As you read it, think about your own learning value streams. There are lessons for every organization.

Three Lean Takeaways from the NE Shingo Conference

The conference was a terrific experience. Great to get together with Lean colleagues, meet people I tweet with online (I’m @HeadMaverick on Twitter if you want to follow me), and most importantly, learn about new trends in Lean.

To help you on your own Lean journey, here are three of my takeaways from the conference and what they mean for Lean Learning.


Healthcare had a much bigger presence and influence at this year’s conference, making up about one third of the 1,000 attendees. Dr. John Toussaint, CEO at ThedaCare Center, opened the second day with a passionate call to action, and there was a dedicated Lean Healthcare track on both days. I attended most of those sessions and the message was loud and clear:

Waste steals time from patients, families, caregivers and researchers. Waste causes mistakes and errors that keep us from fulfilling our oath to “Do no harm.” Waste increases costs and keeps people who need care the most from receiving it. Waste can no longer be tolerated and must be eliminated.

Healthcare organizations shared impressive results from their Lean efforts both in patient outcomes, reduced costs and time saved. Many of these organizations persevered for many years and overcame numerous obstacles on their Lean journeys. I was moved by their dedication and passion and am confident that Lean provides an effective prescription for many of the ills that challenge healthcare today.

Your Lean Learning Takeaway: Lean Learning is the perfect complement to Lean Healthcare. The changes demanded by applying Lean to Healthcare require tremendous amounts of learning as employees adopt new habits and practices with the goals of performing them as mistake-free as possible. Accelerate learning with Lean and you accelerate Lean process change throughout the organization.


Several keynote speakers urged an end to the practice of benchmarking against peers and industry standards. There were two main reasons.

First, benchmarking becomes a reason NOT to improve as in “We’re in the top quartile for customer service, so what’s the problem? A lot of organizations are worse than us. There’s nothing to worry about.”

Lean demands that waste be eliminated wherever it’s found. The goal is ‘managing to perfection’ or ‘mistake-free performance.’ So where you are in the pack, be it high or low, is irrelevant.

Second, benchmarking becomes an act of copying improvements at Apple, Mass General Hospital or Southwest Airlines. Lean is not about implementing a single improvement; it’s about creating an improvement engine that goes faster and faster. And that engine is made up of every employee working together to reach perfection.

Thomas Hartman, a senior director at auto safety equipment manufacturer AutoLiv, put it beautifully in his closing remarks: “Continuous improvement is not what we do. It’s who we are.”

Your Lean Learning Takeaway: 1) Stop dumbing down learning goals. Aiming for learners to get 80% right on a quiz is NOT acceptable. Focus on creating mistake-free learning. 2) And don’t implement new learning solutions like mobile and games just because other organizations are using them. Use Lean Learning tools like Learnscape Mapping and Learning Value Checklists to ensure solutions are right for your organization and situation.


I first heard this phrase many years ago and it was good to hear it again.

Too often we rush into implementing one mediocre solution after another. Solutions that may, or may not, lead us to our ultimate goal. Regardless of the outcome, we are reassured by the fact that we are at least DOING SOMETHING!

Lean, on the other hand, moves us relentlessly closer and closer to our goal of perfection. Principles and tools like the Value Stream, Gemba Walk and Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle require that we act thoughtfully, respectfully and, yes, sometimes more slowly than we are used to. Lean avoids the scatter-shot approach in favor of a more calculated, focused approach that delivers excellent results reliably and consistently. Devising correct solutions means answering hard questions about value and waste. And finding these answers often requires contemplation, conversation and experimentation, all of which are in too-short supply today.

In the end, Lean gets us to our ultimate goal faster. Even better, in the end, our organizations and people are made better by the process. Lean is a double win.

Your Lean Learning Takeaway: Stop throwing new training ideas at learners, hoping they’ll result in better performance. Use principles and tools like Value Stream Mapping, Good Problem Statements and Waste Reduction Checklists to understand your ultimate goal and move relentlessly closer. Take the time to contemplate, converse and experiment before widely deploying a half-baked learning solution.

Let’s Ride!

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick


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