Lean process — How lean learning benefits L&D

Businessman pointing towards a stage of a lean process

All organisations are governed by processes and procedures that appear crucial at first glance. Some are officially part of company procedure, and others simply become intrinsic over time from being the “done thing.” But just how valuable are they when given a deeper examination? In fact, most organisations could benefit from shedding extraneous tasks and undergoing a lean process transformation, making sure processes increase value rather than just expanding time and effort. L&D departments are no exception.

The lean philosophy

Let’s face it, a lot of business decisions, and those made by learning and development departments in particular, are informed by budget. It would be rare for a team to embark on the creation of training material without having set constraints on pricing, or time allocated to the project. Both the work of internal teams and that outsourced to suppliers need to be put under a process efficiency microscope to ensure that you get the best quality output from within these limits.

Lean management is an approach to running an organization that supports the concept of continuous streamlining and improvement. It’s about standardising work processes to make problems visible and developing your team members’ critical thinking ability so that they can solve those problems and improve work processes.

The goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste

Lean Enterprise Institute

Careful lean management can reduce time and effort wasted by any unnecessary steps in your process, steps which can be identified through ongoing reviews of the processes as you perform them.

Make bloated processes lean

Look out for the warning signs. Issues such as waiting for unnecessary approval, overproduction of work or fragmented aims are all clear cut signs that changes need to be made.

If any of the above ring true, here are some steps to quickly render your productivity lean:

  1. Focus on your users: What are your learners’ needs? What are the business goals? Clear objectives are essential as benchmarks for your processes. How does your current model serve these objectives?
  2. Reflect and refine: Take time to observe your existing processes and assess which steps do not add value. Be ruthless and cut out whole steps where possible. How agile are you in your present model? What would make you more responsive or effective?
  3. Improvement: Keep continuous improvement as a part of your processes. Making them lean does not mean cutting out their self-assessment stages! Keeping fresh appraisals going will ensure that the end product is created in the most efficient way.

This becomes a constant meta-process in itself, one that needs to be agile enough to adapt to any changes in output demands. Organisations need to be able to react and alter processes quickly, before any problems worsen or needs disappear.

Learn lean through lean process

So how would this look in practical terms for an L&D department? One option could be to decentralise it, whereby the L&D experts have been placed in each area of the wider business. Each expert is more efficiently aligned with their department’s specific needs and can present an effective business case as well as challenge the business more effectively. That’s a start. However, processes must be carefully maintained through communication to ensure that there’s no overlap. The worst situation would be that each expert is doing the same thing, resulting in a process being repeated 5, 10, or 20 times. The experts need to harmonise, seeking balance whilst strategically aligning with the needs of the business. That is the essence of lean process.

Learning and Development departments stand to gain much from optimising lean process, and this translates to drastic benefits for every part of a business. Bloated processes can always creep in, only to be held at bay by regular checks on their efficiency. By applying the steps laid out above you can begin to pare them down your L&D processes to be lean, mean productivity machines.

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Supriya Sawant - Quality Assurance

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