Linking Lean Thinking to Education – Conference Notes: Lean Certification


    My apologies for the delay in following through with posts from the EdNet / LEAN conference. Here's a bit on one of the presentations from the conference that I'm sure will spur on some discussion.

    Randall Cook from Utah State University presented on the availability of Lean Certification from SME in conjunction with AME and The Shingo Prize. Here's a rundown of certification basics from the presentation. You can find all the details on the SME site.

    The idea for certification is to provide lean practitioners with credible evidence of their lean knowledge from a third party and to establish a standard by which to gauge understanding and experience in lean. There are three certification categories, Bronze, Silver and Gold, each of which is valid for 3 years.

    Bronze certification is mean to establish a level of knowledge and demonstrated application of key lean principles and tools. Silver recognizes achievements as a project leader and Gold is intended to recognize enterprise wide lean transformations.

    Certification is awarded by a peer group and is based on knowledge as demonstrated through successfully passing a written exam, as well as review of portfolios submitted by applicants and formal training requirements. Exams are based on required reading and are multiple choice. (The SME site has a sample test consisting of 10 questions taken from the Bronze exam – I scored 9/10 but I'm sure many of you will get a perfect score). Reading lists are included on the SME site as well. The portfolios are composed of examples of actual lean projects and reflection. The form provided is similar to an A3.

    The cost to take the exam is about $250 for SME members and $600 for non-members. The SME site does not have actual prices listed for Lean Certification so these are estimates from other exams listed which were all in the same range.

    The question is, does being ‘Lean Certified' provide any value to individuals or organizations? It was interesting that the presentation on Lean Certification followed Womack's address to the group in which he questioned the underlying value of certificates as indicators of knowledge. Womack used a personal example to illustrate his point that individuals ‘know what they use' and explained that his evaluation process for potential employees does not even include review of a resume. He solely bases his hiring decisions based on examples of work and experiences.

    Personally, I can see how being certified in lean could help boost my resume and potentially enhance my mobility, but I'm not sure if this is worth $250 of my own cash every 3 years. What does everyone else think about lean certification? Is there any value to individuals? Is there any value to organizations?

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    1. My fear would be that lazy employers will look for that certification without really understanding what experience they need for lean roles.

      Worst case — it’s like an MBA… it proves something that you got one, but it’s by no means an indicator of how successful you’ll be in business.

    2. I have actually seen companies post “Lean Master Certification” Required. My concern with all of these ‘certifications’ is that any idiot can read a book & do the calculations or talk the tools. But put the principles in action with results is another thing. Take for example of a candidate for a position I have open. He was touted as being an outstanding candidate who was Six Sigma Certified and had a Lean certificate. When I interviewed him the SS certificate was from ASQ (which required an exam, no project), his Lean certificate was self made with consent of his employer (although he had used some aspects of TPS, to him everything was Kanban). Point is here was a guy who didn’t lie on his resume but didn’t have a clue either.

      Enter me: GE BB certified, no Lean certificate but have led the transformation for two different companies, consulted for awhile & leading the effort at another company combined with over 10 years direct application of LEAN experience but, according to some HR or Management person I am not qualified because I do not have a certificate. Go figure!

      My point: TPS/LEAN is not a certificate, it is about learning & applying the concepts with success & with failures (but learning from the failures). Not sure how a certificate like SME or with what GE is doing translates to this.

    3. How many good candidates are screened out by HR people who don’t really know what they’re looking for in a candidate and don’t know anything about lean?

      I know a hiring manager doesn’t want to get swamped with resumes, but if you have the authority to hire a person, I think you should take the responsibility to be more deeply involved in the selection process rather than just waiting for HR to hand you their pre-screened candidates (never seeing who got screened out).

      The Womack approach of “not looking at resumes” works if you have a personal commitment to taking the time to find the best candidate.

    4. Based on my experience I don’t think I would put much weight on certifications if I were hiring a person. I would place more value on a good discussion while walking a value stream than on a certification.

      On the other hand I would highly recommend to anyone that they pursue whatever type of certification you can get because it has been my experience (recent) that most companies don’t share my views on the value of certifications.

      Inside an organization I think they can actually be harmful especially in the context of lean (I’m undecided on six sigma certs inside an organization). Lean should be as open and accesible to everybody as possible. The fewer impediments we put between people and ANY type of participation the better. If the leadership is ‘going and seeing’ then they shouldn’t need you to jump through a bunch of bureaucratic hoops to get a cert to let them know what your developmental needs and what your abilities are. They will know this because they have experienced it. I am in the process of trying to keep lean certifications out of our division. Somebody in the corporate group thought we should have internal lean certifications to keep up with the Six Sigma Jonses. I have to question the value proposition of internal certification. I think its a bunch of muda. I afraid it might cause the same elitist aura to form around the lean masters that formed around the BBs. I’ll get mine when my boss tells me I have no choice and I’ll leave it off my business card. Also, I am afraid that some people will do what a lot of people did with the SS certification. They performed the minimum to get certified then never applied the methodology again. I am going to look into the SMEs today however because most companies value certification.

    5. Great comments!

      I recently have been scanning the waters for Lean openings, it seems that most companies are looking for Lean certification as a requirement for hire. I myself am not certified in Lean disciplines and this has probably discouraged some companies from interviewing me, although I have been facilitating Lean methodologies for 3 years. I believe most certification programs water down what Lean really is. The model I have learned under is the “Learn / Do” model, where I learn and then go practice what was learned. Certification programs seem to offer only theory and if there is a practical portion it most likely is performed by yourself at your own company only needing to submit a presentation to be certified. So in conclusion, I feel most companies will be disappointed with hires who have only certification and not the practical experience actually needed to implement Lean.

    6. I’d be tempted to NOT apply for any jobs where they call for lean certification.

      Think of it this way — the certification may just be a clever ruse: companies that don’t understand lean or aren’t committed to it will ask for the certification, then you, as a Lean thinker, can avoid that company like the plague.

      There’s nothing worse than being hired into a company that says they are behind lean, but then you find out they are not. Use the certification request as your guide maybe.

    7. I got an email from SME today:

      ” In 2006, more than 300 Lean practitioners began their Lean Certification journey and learned an important industry credential is available that makes their Lean knowledge and competency VISIBLE. In addition, industry and educators are adding ways to integrate this certification into their Lean activities.”

    8. Mark,
      I wonder what the baseline of years of experience are for these ‘300’ lean practioners is? Level of knowledge when they begin the program is as well?

      Sounds to me like SME is drumming up business.

    9. JWDT — a good thing for SME to report would be the total number of years of lean experience coming into the process…

      300 practitioners x 1 year (all just out of school) equals not saying much.

      300 practitioners x 10 years experience says more.

      Good point.


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