Was reading Jim Womack’s latest newsletter yesterday from LEI (linked newsletter content is blank right now, there was a snafu sending out email newsletter also, will probably be fixed later).  In it he discusses the challenge of developing lean leaders, both in the “real world” and through the education system.

Where do the lean managers (the Sandersons in John’s book) come from who can teach the rest of us traditional managers (the Porters) to manage in a new way? In sum, how do we all learn (or relearn) to manage so we can manage to learn? Books are a great start, but how do we learn through practice (the only real way to internalize new methods), particularly when our boss is stuck in outmoded ways of managing?

teacherIt really got me thinking about how I learn, and when I have done my best learning.  When have I gotten the most VALUE in my learning process?  In some respects, I think of my best learning as the “trial by fire” method of learning.  I learn best when pressure demands that I learn something new.  I consider myself to be a lifelong student–I love learning and I’m always doing it.  But no longer in a classroom.  Enter…

Just-In-Time Education

Today, I don’t learn something unless I need it.  As soon as I need new information (customer demand), I find a way to get it (through suppliers, like the Internet, books, friends, etc.).  This provides me with the highest value possible out of what I’m learning.  What does this eliminate?

  • Overproduction/obsolescence: I no longer learn things that “expire” or I never use.  I would guess that probably 99% of what I learned in college I no longer use (or have never used, for that matter).  This isn’t necessarily a problem with the education system as much as it is a statement on: I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up!  Now I learn things relevant to the task or situation at hand.
  • Rework: ever learned something, only to have to learn it again when you actually needed it?
  • Inventories: having a ton of information just sitting around in your head taking up space.
  • Extraneous “motion”: spending a whole lot of time learning things that are providing value to me as the “end product”.  I was a great test-taker.  I’m not saying this to brag, the reality is I could apply formulas to situations on a piece of paper and get a correct result.  But I didn’t understand squat about how this formula had any bearing on reality.

Womack discusses the shift in lean education from “batching education”, which I’m sure causes the afore-mentioned problems for other people also, to developing lean leaders:

Peter has converted a classroom-based program teaching abstract operations knowledge in big batches into a gemba-based learning process in an organizational context.

How do other people do their best learning?