Rapid e-Learning Challenge: Day 3

July 2, 2008

Since my introduction to lean management began over the past year, I have come to realize how dreadfully lacking in documented standards and procedures most training and e-learning groups are (and most all administrative functions!). I’m trying to change that for my immediate work environment by establishing not just some best practices around e-learning, but also baseline processes and a structure for kaizen (continuous improvement). I have a lot of learning (and unlearning) to do.

In his book “Workplace Managment,” Taiichi Ohno, co-founder of the Toyota Production System, wrote: “…it will be difficult to establish a standard if you are trying to achieve ‘the best way.’ This is a big mistake. Document exactly what you are doing now.”

It’s easy to state the ideal way, the way it is “supposed” to be done, and call that “our process.” Think ADDIE, fellow designers. But the reality is we don’t always follow it. We usually add all sorts of other non-value-added steps. Or we do the steps out of order, which causes another kind of waste. By following the TPS way, we instead start with listing the actual steps. Then we can more accurately observe waste and work toward improvement.

My storyboarding process was supposed to look something like this:

  1. Storyboard each screen on a slide in PPT
  2. Find graphics
  3. Develop screens

Instead, it looked more like this:

  1. Storyboard a few screens
  2. Look for cool graphics on-line
  3. Put cool graphics on screen to see how they look
  4. Change graphic to gray scale and see if it looks better
  5. Storyboard another screen
  6. Etc.

Can you see the extra steps there? These out-of-order, extra steps add to the time line and the cost. If I had been doing this for a client on a fixed fee basis, it would have reduced my profit margin. And if I were charging per-hour, I should be asking, “Is the customer willing to pay for this?” But that’s another post.



Genchi Genbutsu for Instructional Designers

June 12, 2008

Genchi genbutsu is a key concept in the Toyota Production System and means “go and see for yourself.”  The idea is that instead of simply reading a report about a problem or talking about it in a conference room, you should actually go to the place where the problem is occurring and observe the situation for yourself. Practicing genchi genbutsu is the best way to truly understand a problem. 

A No-Brainer for Instructional Designers?  Well, I’m not so sure. A lot of times, we first hear about performance problems in a meeting of some sort, or perhaps by reading a proposal or report that describes why a particular training solution is necessary. Once the project starts, we might review existing training or other documentation, and maybe conduct a few expert interviews. In other words, we pretty much rely on other people describing the problem. Then we design training to “fix” the problem, although we are really quite removed from it.  Sound familiar?

Well, in lean thinking, that’s not kosher. Problem-solvers are encouraged to go to the gemba, the Japanese word for “actual place.” What if instructional designers practiced genchi genbutsu as a routine part of doing our work. Instead of just taking the word of client stakeholders and company data, we need to go to the gemba and observe the situation ourselves. This will result in better and more authentic training.

Several years ago, I was involved with developing e-learning on kitchen safety for a retail restaurant client. The instructional design team relied on company documentation and SME interviews. But it would have been better to actually go and watch a typical kitchen where the reported problems were occurring. It would have been even better to go and do the same job in the same location.

This doesn’t mean we have to do a bunch of research to validate previous research. The point is that by directly observing, you learn in a holistic way than by learning about a problem second hand. Sometimes you don’t even have to open your mouth. Just open your eyes and look.

  • Designing a customer service skills course for call center employees? Go to the call center: watch them at work and listen in on their calls.
  • Wondering how to improve machine worker skills? Don’t rely on a manager’s report. Go to the shop floor and watch. 


Here’s the bottom line for workplace learning folks: Practicing genchi genbutsu will not only help you garner keener insights, it will also help you connect to your end users (the real customer) at their level, in their language. In turn, you will develop more relevant and effective training.

Lean Thinking and Instructional Design

May 3, 2008

Several months ago I took a 40 hour workshop on leading continuous improvement and problem-solving efforts. The workshop was heavily influenced by lean thinking in general and the Toyota Production Process (TPS) in particular. I learned about lean concepts and tools such as one-piece flow, visual control (5S), leveling, and muda (waste).  The concepts I learned about and the hands-on, scientific approach to every day problem-solving were eye-opening for me and have no doubt left a big indention in me ol’ cranium.  

As you may (or may not) know, “lean” has had profoundly positive impacts within many organizations, dramatically improving efficiency and profitability. Although applied mostly in manufacturing environments, lean has also had successful results in other organizations, such as restaurants, and, perhaps most dramatically, in health care settings. So, I started thinking, if this methodology and tool set has had such an impact on other processes, what are the implications for instructional design and development?

That is one of the things keeping my mental cogs moving lately, and one of the topics I will be reaching out about to fellow instructional designers and other workplace learning types in the blogosphere. So….if you have any thoughts, ideas, or experience with applying lean thinking to instructional design, I would love to hear from you. Tell me your stories!

Looking forward….



Hello, Stranger

April 22, 2008

 This blog is another voice in the online, dynamic conversation around workplace learning. There are broadly three things on my mind these days that have me excited (yes, I’m a geek like that):  Emerging technologies, informal learning, and “lean.”  While there is a great deal of talk about Web 2.0 and other technologies implications on learning, I haven’t seen too much talk about how we might apply lean principles to instructional design.

First things first.

Things are changing. Not just the technologies, but assumptions and mindsets. Web 2.0 is empowering a new way of learning. This new way is one that lets ME decide what I want to learn, when I want to learn it, and connect with whomever I want (or whomever wants to connect with me!) to share ideas. I don’t have to wait for some training director or departmental boss to dictate what, how, when. While there is certainly a place for that and for formal, push-from-the-top training, there is a great need to balance that with informal and “pull-from-where-I-am-now” learning.

Speaking of “pull,”  what is Lean and why should you care?

“Lean” is short for “Lean manufacturing” and is a process management philosophy that grew out of the “Toyota Production System. ”  Lean thinking is powerful stuff and has transformed the way a lot of companies in the manufacturing world operate. Some of the core principles focus on waste reduction and continous problem-solving by all team members, pull processing, flow and visual control. While the concepts and tools were developed for manufacturing processes, they have been applied to administrative and office processes with amazingly effective results.

As an instructional designer and learning consultant, it didn’t take long before I started seeing implications for workplace learning and instructional design. Like what? Well, that’s what I’ll be gabbing about in the days ahead, sharing what I know and hopefully learning some stuff from you as well.

’til then, Happy Learning….