During a recent lunch with one of my Lean Knowledge Transfer Certification candidates, we discussed a key Lean concept that had really caught her attention. It’s called “one-piece flow” and it means to satisfy individual customer demand immediately or, put more more simply, “produce to order.”

The word “piece” comes from manufacturing and refers to a product. Products are commonly made in quantities of ten, one hundred, one thousand or more pieces. The thinking goes (incorrectly, btw) that it’s more efficient to produce in a batch.

Similarly, training is commonly delivered in a batch, which could be a classroom, a lecture hall or webinar. The thinking goes (again incorrectly) that it’s most efficient to teach only to a full or nearly full venue. In truth, satisfying knowledge demand immediately is best.

Why Would You Wait?

One day, your car breaks down and you call a garage to get it fixed. They ask ‘What kind of car?’ and you tell them. They say “I fix those in batches of 10. You’re number 6, so I need 4 more to start working, which should be in 3 to 5 weeks. Can I put you on the list?’ WHAT?!! That’s crazy. You’d hang up and call another garage immediately.

Now, consider this situation. One day, you call Training and say “I need to learn how to set expectations and give feedback to my employees.” and they reply “Great. We’re teaching that course when we get a full class of 20, which should be in about 2 to 3 months. Do you want to sign up?”. Same situation as above, but, rather than crazy, it’s the norm today.

Batching Causes Delay

Restricting training to batches means important knowledge doesn’t get delivered until the venue is filled up, for example 20 in a class or 120 in a webinar. The result is people who need to know have to wait weeks or months.

In the meantime, they struggle to do their jobs and make mistakes that cost money, infuriate colleagues and customers, and harm patients.

Sadly, these effects and results rarely get factored into training decisions, which seem to favor trainer convenience and minimizing overhead costs per trainee.

Satisfy Knowledge Demand Immediately

One-piece flow in training means to teach individuals just what they need to know exactly when they need it. No more, no less. And immediately; no waiting.

It’s what I call ‘one-learner flow’ and the result is that people don’t struggle and make costly mistakes due to lack of knowledge. Sure you might wind up teaching the same topic numerous times, but so what?

The key to establishing flow is identifying and then simplifying or eliminating steps that slow down the process and encourage batching. Batching is a symptom of inefficiency and complexity.

How would designing training for ‘one-learner flow’ change what you do and how you do it? What formats and tools would be most appropriate? What would have to go? Most important, how would your learners react to your newfound responsiveness?

Let’s Ride!

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick