Educating Today’s Youth in Lean


Bringing lean into our education system is a two-pronged requirement. One aspect, which has not been written about much at all, is applying lean within the university and schools to improve the effectiveness and efficiency. This is much needed as the cost of education continues to outpace dramatically. The other aspect, the topic covered here, is teaching lean two students.

A little history on this. Lean has been involved in the academic world for quite some time, albeit on a limited basis. Much of the popularization of lean started with an automotive industry study conducted by MIT (although it was not invented here, as some might believe) through the International Motor Vehicle Program. This involved faculty and graduate students, and eventually, but slowly, it entered back into the graduate program education. Since then, many faculty of their own accord when out and researched lean and its effect on businesses. Although much of this didn't start as a classroom pursuit but a consultative one, the impact of this research was fed back into the classroom. Programs continued to expand and become more university programs rather than line items on a syllabus. As examples, Oakland University launched the Pawley Institute which integrated three schools, business, engineering and human resource development, to teach lean. MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing Program launched a new required full Lean and Six Sigma course. Still much, much more needs to be done. Recently, several professors (I won't pretend this has full university backing) banded together to share content and ideas, a noble and novel approach. Called the Lean Education Academic Network, or LEAN…cute!…, it has started to expand the bandwidth of the lean in education conversation. There is a long, long way to go.

Taking this one step further, it has been proposed to bring lean into the K-12 education. Daman Products President Larry Davis proposes this in a brief interview in Industry Week. My first reaction was that this was overkill. After all, there are a lot of things that aren't taught in K-12 that should be – the time value of money, how to save, how to communicate, and so on. Most people won't go into manufacturing or management of any kind. But Larry proposes focusing on things such as problem solving skills – this I believe is critical and very suitable in K-12. There could be an entire track called “Life Skills” that would teach problem solving, observation skills, personal productivity, how to work in a team, creativity and so on. What would you include in your life skills lean course for K-12 students?

Let me close this thought with a call to action. We can complain about everyone from our new hires to our executives, but at the end of the day, if we want to get to the universal root cause (go ahead, do the 5 Whys), then we must focus more of our attention on the education system. My personal passion is in the universities focuses on the undergraduate programs. I have spent so far in 2006 almost a full week of my time working with universities in one capacity or another, as often as possible working directly with students. I have also committed the vast majority of my financial donations to the topic. What can you, and will you, do?

Thank you, and I would like to wish everyone a good Memorial Day, and hope everyone remembers what this day is all about.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh
Jamie Flinchbaugh is an accomplished Entrepreneur, Senior Executive, and Board Member with more than 20 years of success spanning finance, manufacturing, automotive, and management consulting. Leveraging extensive operational experience, Jamie is an invaluable asset for a company seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching in order to transform operations, reduce costs, and drive profitability. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.


  1. All this talk of LEAN in the academic context makes me wonder. If I, as an engineering student from Europe, were to venture to the united states for a single semester’s worth of education. Where would my money be spent most effectively? The university-business is a jungle to navigate, especially if you are not even living in the same country.

    Any ideas, or views on this subject?

  2. I don’t think there is a great answer for you. There are no comprehensive lean programs that you could get in a semester. You would almost be better going from school to school taking the 1-3 courses they do offer. There is no one best program, either. Of course, if there was a universal agreed standard, that would only mean that we’ve stopped making progress.

    What’s the best program for your money? It probably depends most on what your focus is? Operations? Product engineering? There is a wide range of focal points.

    You might consider focusing more on an internship with a lean company, perhaps even Toyota, although you can do that in Europe too. Or, just like American students like to backback through Europe, you could backpack through the States visiting lean company after lean company. It would be quite a tour.

  3. Hi Peden,
    hi Jamie,

    myself I am thinking about touring the UK for a week seeing what can be achieved by Lean. I also like the idea of attending a lean course abroad online via webcam (this would be really lean, because the waste of travelling over to the specific university could be saved;-)).

    Anyway, Lean is a part of my daily work but getting more knowledge on how to implement Lean and the theoretical background would be great.

    The MIT or would -in my eyes – first choices to look at.

    Regards from Leipzig



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