What’s the Buzz on #Lean Certifications? [Be Sure to Read the Comments!]

Beatrice the Honey Bee

Question for the readers… what's the latest thinking out there about certifications for Lean?

I'm biased against certification, I'll lay that out there. I've never been enamored with the Six Sigma “belt” approach, nor do I think certification tends to be an indicator of much other than your ability to get certified.

Maybe I'm too cynical about that. Too many of us in the Lean world were brought up in a pre-Certification era, if you will. I learned on the job, from some great mentors. Do I really have to go back and get certified when I have a track record?

One of those mentors of mine from my GM days is looking to switch companies. Yes, a great Lean guy at GM — he was hired in from the Toyota supply based and he's done great work in GM. I was surprised (and somewhat appalled) that he emailed me asking about certification.

Any company who looks at his resume and talks to him and STILL wants certification… that's probably a company for him to stay away from. A company like that doesn't get Lean, I'd say.

The organization I work for, the Lean Enterprise Institute, has never gotten involved in certification and I think the position is that LEI will never do that.

There is a predominant lean certification model that has evolved – from the SME, AME, and Shingo Prize organizations.

I'll open it up to reader comments… what are your thoughts on certification (as a job seeker or as an employer)? Do you have experience with any particular certification model that you can recommend to others?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark,

    I'm generally (there are some exceptions) heavily biased against certifications, particularly too much effort put on large in-house programs. People then do the work for the wrong reason. They go to classes to check the box. In general, it costs a ton to administer and you don't really capture the spirit of what you are trying to accomplish.

    Jamie F

  2. The world is much bigger than America and in some cultures having a piece of paper that says you know something is like gold and valued more than you'll ever know.

    So I say let people get certified if they want to pay the money. They'll still need to demonstrate they know what they are talking about so what can it hurt.

    Plus if I had to choose between two people with similar backgrounds and one was certified and one was not – I'd choose the certified person every time since, like a college degree, it shows a certain level of commitment and willingness to improve.

  3. Interesting question. Having certifications in Six Sigma and TOC, and knowing how much I have to still learn and can learn, I don't put much weight on other peoples' certs. I think they are helpful and necessary in many cases, but far from sufficient. Demonstable experience goes a long to close the sufficiency gap.

    • I just finished my Lean Implementer/Facilitator course two weeks ago. The course was 200 hrs with a Certificate after Final testing and board review. For me the certificate is saying that I accomplished something and that I have some knowledge of lean. I say some knowledge because for every section of the course, I found that my eyes were open to how much there was still to learn. Don’t get me wrong I’m proud of the certificate, But it reminds me that there is so much more to do to get the company on track.

      • @ 24kilo: Congrats on the certification. You seem to healthy attitude about it. I’d never criticize an individual for learning… my main criticism of certifications is that those doing the hiring often view them inappropriately (such as not valuing somebody without a certification who has much more experience).

  4. I don't know if Steve Hoeft of the Altarum Institute follows the Leanblog (my apologies to you, Steve, for any inaccuracies for what I'm about to write.) But I participated in the University of Michigan's Lean Healthcare Training last June (excellent training), and Steve told a story to make a point about certifications.

    He was at Toyota and his sensei wanted to train him on problem solving. Steve said there was no need to train him because he was a CERTIFIED 8D problem-solver. So, Steve worked on solving the problem but wasn't having success, so each time he'd talk with his sensei, the sensei would beat him over the head with, "Ah, but Steve-san, you CERTIFIED!"

    Point made.

    • Just went through the U of Michigan program in Dec 2011. Steve was a phenomenal instructor, with a great wealth of knowledge. Highly recommended course for those who want to learn lean.

  5. RE: thoughts on certification (as a job seeker or as an employer). I’ll add lean recruiter.

    Sure, let’s create more acronyms and titles. My favorite is “Lean Expert”.

    My 2 cents:
    Pay to play? What are you paying for, endorsement?

    Certification won’t erase twenty years experience that can easily be translated as one year of experience twenty times. I could see lean certification if lean was therapy. It’s not. It’s not science either. It’s behavior. If we could certify behavior, the porn industry might just elect our next President.

    It’s my experience that “must have” lean certification is mostly driven by HR. It’s easier to codify something you don’t understand by assigning a legitimacy label to it. – “Oh, you’re not certified, sorry…

    I can’t think of one lean inspired senior leader who instructed me to go after only certified talent. They’re more concerned with…is this person “legit”.

    I applaud you if you possess lean certification. But I know many who don’t and they’re the ones who’ve unfolded lean learning and made it accessible and challenging for us non experts.

    Jim Baran
    Owner, Value Stream Leadership
    Twitter: LEANVSL

    • I agree with you entirely. I truly believe in continuing education for all. I was 35 when I graduated w/ my industrial engineering degree, and 50 w/ my masters. I understand how important it is to have the creditionals. I’ve been teaching lean and project management at the college level while using both daily at work for almost 20 years; However, when applying for a improvement position at a hospital, I was turned down due to not having a “lean practioner” cert. I’m sure HR has blinders on and totally wrapped up with only proving they have certified employees, but maybe not the most qualified. No way am I spending $1000.00 to get this cert, when I already have a green belt in lean.

      • I don’t blame you, Shawn. That’s crazy. What’s a “lean practitioner” certificate? I don’t have that. I don’t know anyone who does.

        Hospitals repeatedly make this mistake, of valuing some credential over real experience. It’s frustrating. I’m sorry to hear that happened to you.

      • Hello Shawn,

        I’m a IE student at age 31. Hoping to graduate by I am 33.

        So, I’m not the only IE to get get his degree at his 30s it seems :)

        Sometimes it feels like I am too late for this, and at a disadvantage due to my age. And certs appeal to me as a way to dampen my disadvantage.

        What made you decide to further pursue your education and get your doctorate? I could use some extra motivation. Of course if you want to share.(erkanb @ protonmail . com is my email)

        Thank you in any case and sorry for my English,

        Best regards from Turkey,

    • I am preparing for Lean Gold Certificate . To get certified one needs to have at least 5 years experience in doing lean. Read specified 5 lean books (total 1500 pages) then take the exam of 75% passing score. Those who pass the exam should provide an accomplishment record (very specific format and criteria). If OK them will be interviewed.. then certified if ok ..
      I wonder why to underestimate the certification if the requirements are really Robust!

  6. Hi Mark – I agree in principle … like improvement, learning should be continuous and real learning only comes by doing and applying it yourself over and over again.
    I'm against any certification for the sake of certification – I despise the elitist attitude of some who think with certification comes the exlusive licence to direct and implement changes for others and to others. That is certainly NOT respecting people.
    Our internationally standard certification program at the Kaizen Institute offers three levels – Practitioner, Coach and Manager and is designed to offer individuals and organisations a good structured set of key learning "building blocks" to equip them to "get their Lean / Kaizen training wheels" to facilitate and enable continuous improvement for EVERYONE in the organisation. BUT it is not only theory, it is practical application and we stress that it is only the start of a never-ending learning journey.
    Keep up the great blog!
    Danie Vermeulen
    Chief Executive – Kaizen Institute New Zealand

  7. Anon makes a really good point about other cultures. In some parts of the world, that piece of paper means the world. It's not for the hiring company, but for the individual. In parts of southeast Asia where I just returned from, even a certificate of participation is a valued item. This is why you see people put MBA or other "credentials" behind their name more often in other parts of the world more than in America. Thanks for a great reminder, Anon (by the way, you should take credit for this point).

    As a hiring manager, I don't put any weight into it. I don't think the statement of choosing between two people and using certification to break the tie is flawed. That's hiring based on surface information. And I've never met two people so much the same that I needed to search for a tie breaker.

    I love Mark-san's story. That's classic.

    Jamie F

  8. Anonymous and all…

    Porn industry comment referring to behavior change needed with some of our congressional leaders who seem to value weird instead of law. Perhaps that didn't come out as intended.

    Also, reference to HR + certification is because HR profession is conditioned to certification (SPHR, PHR).

    Jim Baran
    Owner, Value Stream Leadership
    Twitter: LEANVSL

  9. As someone who is very familiar with the AME/SME/Shingo Lean certification process, I see too many misconceptions expressed here.

    The team that developed the certification tried to deal with a lot of the concerns raised here on certifications. The certifications are based on not only passing an exam but also demonstrating that you can implement what you know — and not once, but several times. The review of the documentation of this process (the creation of a portfolio) is then peer-reviewed and scored. The highest level is a Gold level which, in addition, requires an interview by several high-level peers.

    Up to this moment, only one person has been able to reach the Gold level. Many have failed the interview process because that have not been able to demonstrate the required in-depth knowledge of Lean.

    Finally, these certifications have to be renewed every three years to assure that the person stays active and knowledgeable.

    These certifications are not based on taking any specific training or passing a course. They are based on demonstrating the knowledge of the pertinent lean concepts and then successfully implementing them.

  10. Anonymous, I deeply respect the “required in-depth knowledge of Lean”. However, there is a distinction between knowledge and leading.

    Yesterday, I asked a senior executive “what happened to (lean leader)?” He replied, “We let him go”. Said, “He could write an Atlas on lean, but couldn’t get it across to the troops. He took 45 minutes to explain simple.”

    Apparently coaching didn’t stick either. The executive’s break-point was when people began avoiding (lean leader).

    Jim Baran
    Owner, Value Stream Leadership
    Twitter: LEANVSL

  11. Hi Jim – you raise a very important point about the abilty (or lack of) to "lead" and "coach".
    It is for that same reason that we recognised the need to "certify" not only at the foundadtion practitioner skills level but also at a coach and manager level – thereby attempting to help identify, equip and provide a "gate" for internal people to be able to communicate and coach others and ultimately to manage a Lean implementation / transformation program.
    I'm first to admit that our program is not pefect – we continue to learn and refine.
    Certification per se should support – not hold back. For us it is no prerequisite or even a major product. We do find that some individuals and organisations feel that certification is a structured way to formalise knowledge transfer and to give confidence to internal people.
    But – in the end it is about never-ending original learn-by-doing … as a team.
    Great discussion thanks!
    Danie Vermeulen
    CEO Kaizen Institute New Zealand

  12. @Anon 4:53

    Nobody here is ripping the AME/SME/Shingo in particular. We're talking about certifications in general and I think many of the "misperceptions "are indeed actually true.

    AME/SME/Shingo might be better, but you have an uphill fight against all of the weaker certification houses.

    I think far too many managers are lazy and want to just look for a certification instead of really digging to see who is a good lean leader. That's more of a root cause than dysfunctions with the certifications themselves, I think.


  13. Two important points. One)A certification is in no way a replacement for experience. Two) Not all certifications are created equal.

    I can't tell you how many calls I get from folks that tell me they "just got" their so-and-so Six Sigma certification or so-and-so Lean certification and now think they are qualified to apply (with no application experience) to the Lean Six Sigma roles we are working to fill with our clients. There is a lot of snake-oil training programs out there offering "certifications"… and even more now given the current economic climate.

    All that being said, I do commend the efforts of professional groups such as ASQ (for Six Sigma) and AME/SME/Shingo (for Lean) for at least making an effort to provide a "benchmark certification" that combines testing and demonstrated on the job application as the basis for certification.

    In the end, there is no greater "certification" than true experience and true results as a measure of a qualified Lean or Six Sigma practitioner.

    Tim Noble
    Managing Principal
    The Avery Point Group – Global Lean and Six Sigma Executive Search

  14. At Gemba we're happy to give our certificates. As people have said, these are highly appreciated around the world by countries and cultures which value training and personal development.

    Certification on the other hand is something that we haven't done. "Lean" is far too broad of a subject to possibly certify anyone as anything but as someone who is practicing.

    Kaizen, on the other hand, is something we will certify. It's defined scope, demonstrable and trainable.

  15. This reminds me a lot of my Tae Kwon Do days. I knew lots of people who had black belts in Tae Kwon Do including 16 year old kids. Now they had done everything to earn the black belts but would I pick them to watch my back in a dark alley or would they do well in the UFC. Probably not. The reason being is that I know the process to get a Tae Kwon Do black belt and honestly it doesn't (in general) produce good fighters.

    I think the same holds true here. You may have a "lean certification." It's a great overall knowledge but it won't produce a tested lean leader.

    Yes it is true that it is a valued item with certain cultures and with HR. In this case it's just the nature of market demands. If a company wants a certification then that is what they value and in the end isn't all about what the customer values ;) It is our job to take them along the journey to see what really is important and what they truly value.


  16. I am involved in the SME-AME-Shingo Prize certification, so let's look at the intent. The practitioners who advocated the program and brought the 3 org's together to build it were looking for something to help with career pathing, professional development, and through peer review, "certify" people who met certain minimum criteria through demonstration of experience. Several cited the certification as a "visual control" — companies being able to see where people are at in their development, and where they could effectly assign those resources. When you're buying services of a consultant, how can you mitigate a portion of risk? Is certification the complete answer: no. But a certification that includes both an exam AND a portfolio of experience (progress as you move through the program) and uses the PDCA cycle to not only show experience, but also learning and reflection helps to make some distinctions. AND, more importantly, it's independent of any curriculum — it's based on a person's education, experience, continued learning and reflection, not whether they went through one particular training program. The philosophy is use the certification as a model for development — if you're starting the lean journey, you have a guide on the path to help you with your professional development. That's the value that many find in this program.

    Certification isn't for everyone. If you've been practicing lean for 20 years, you probably don't need it. If you're just starting out on the lean journey, it's a path for professional development…and unlike other certifications on the market, you have to keep practicing lean in order to renew it.

    What I would suggest is that lean practitioners practice what we preach — reserve judgement until we thoroughly understand the system. Go through the program yourself and see the value it may provide, or not provide, rather than judge blindly by assuming it is just "another one".

  17. @Renegade — I don't think a single person has singled out AME/SME/Shingo as being particularly bad or anything. There have been positive comments made about AME/SME/Shingo here. Don't be so defensive.

  18. Strongly agree with Renegade point, “If you're just starting out on the lean journey, it's a path for professional development”. I wish company's would look at certification as development rather than a bus ticket.

    It’s unfortunate in my work that we don’t have opportunity to work with the aspiring lean minds. Clients don’t come to us to hire “potential” future talent. That is wrong. It's a gap we are working to change.

    Some time ago, we posted a question on our LinkedIn Group Lean/Continuous Improvement/Toyota Production System Networking… Some good responses. Again, this is how we learn.

    Tom Jackson replied today and mentioned he is planning to launch a similar program (The Ohio State University's widely copied Lean Manager Certificate program, which is still running today) in healthcare at the University of Washington's School of Public Health next spring.

    Healthcare is one area I would find high value for certification. Healthcare is truly a human puzzle. I asked Tom for more insights on his planned program.

    Jim Baran
    Owner, VSL
    Twitter: LEANVSL

  19. Sorry, the question we posted on LinkedIn Group:

    From what university/institution have you obtained your lean certificate or other significant lean education?

    Our intent was to establish a listing of top University and certification programs offered.

    If readers have such a list, would be appreciate an email or call.

    Jim Baran
    Owner, VSL
    Twitter: LEANVSL

  20. I do not see great value in certification. It might feel like providing more certainty, but I fear that it provides fake security, distracting from what's real important.

    When hiring somebody, applying the 'Genchi Genbutsu' principle is difficult, but important: you have to go to the source to understand. You cannot understand through what's on paper. A certificate will tend people to base their judgment on logic ('a certificate must mean something') instead of observation, experience and intuition.

    So not creating certificates makes it more difficult and that's exaclty what we need it to be.

    Marc Rouppe van der Voort
    Manager Innovation
    St. Elisabeth Hospital
    The Netherlands

  21. I am a professional that worked for 9 years in company that was/is leading lean programs. We even had the luck to receive direct training from ex toyota sensei. Si I consider myself knowledgable in lean with direct hands on experience. Anyways, I have observed that even if you note in your resume this type of lean experience and achievements, HR recruiters always prefer the "certfied" 6 sigma, lean sigma, APICS, whatever paper certification someone can actually show.

  22. I appreciated the Tae Kwon Do reference above from Ankit Patel because, as in the martial arts, the key question is not what certificate (or belt) you have, but who is your teacher? Who is your teacher's teacher?

    That said, if I were looking for a job, I'd probably want certification. SME/Shingo would be my choice – there are transparent standards and it involves practice and a portfolio of accomplishment, not just attendance in a class.

    I've seen offerings that looked alot like "buying a belt" from a disreputable karate dojo – sign up, pay $5000, come to class and get "lean certified". This obviously doesn't mean much.


  23. Mark; As we've discussed before, I view the certification similar to your view. After 20 years of hands on experience, I've seen a lot of money invested in certification with little ROI. Yet, I understand how HR values paper. I'm currently completing my masters in management but work as the lean development manager. At the end of the day, my dad used to say, "the proof is in pudding." It is hard to create the experience of dealing with people, change, cultures, tools, cross-functional departments, and such with just a certification. I'm with you, Jamie and the others who see the value in hands on experience. Great discussion.

  24. Good lean recruiters or potential employers will also ask that "who was your teacher/sensei question" and I think that's very important.

    I think that HR likes to rely on formal credentials because they don't know enough about lean to screen candidates. Which raises the question, should managers really be farming that function to HR for lean people or any hire? I know you'll say "managers don't have time" but what more important job is there than identifying, hiring, and developing talent?

    That's the job of leaders, not HR, I'd say.

  25. Mark:

    I couldn't agree more that identifying, hiring and developing talent is the job of leaders. It is a poor leader/manager that delegates leadership development to the HR function (or to certificate programs, for that matter – to the point of the thread!)

    Some of our teachers have been pretty explicit on this point – Michael and Freddie Balle: "Produce people before producing parts"; Steve Spear's take on the the 4 Toyota capabilities (#4): "The leader takes responsibility for the development of their people". And Pascal Dennis's "manager as teacher".


  26. Mark,

    Bulls eye!

    I fully endorse your belief that certification plays a negligible value. You'd like to believe that it leads to standardization, but I'd argue it does nothing of the kind.

    I've spent the last 25 years of my career gaining then honing my knowledge of Lean. Having been taught to "speak with data," I'm a believer that if you're any good, you are able to demonstrate RESULTS with data.

    In my simplistic way of looking at things, certifications are used more as an exclusionary tool, a minimum threshold that one must cross before being considered. Unless, like your mentor from GM, one goes backwards to get a certification, Sensei-level practitioners (ones who have been growing in their knowledge and practice of Lean for decades) are going to get excluded in the HR process in favor of more junior practitioners who are better resume writers. Does that make sense?

    I've recently been in the job market and have been astonished by the number of hiring managers and human resource professionals who are DEMANDING certification. Increasingly, it is a check box that the applicant needs to check before they can even proceed to the actual application.

    This process gets the job done, but the question begs to be asked, what's the job?

    As many know, the role of HR in the hiring process is to get the number of applicants down to the significant few. When a single ad on Monster.com can result in thousands of resumes being submitted, some form of winnowing is required. To save labor, most HR professionals use sophisticated software that scans resumes looking for "key words." The more key words an applicant uses, the higher they are ranked.

    Applicants have figured that out and have begun salting their resumes with lots of key words so as to drive their resume to the top. For example: "Applicant has knowledge of Poka Yoke, 5S, TPM, TQC [add 25 more Lean terms here] …." "Knowledge of" and "demonstrated experience" are totally different things, yet the inclusions of the key words could drive this candidate ahead of someone who had a resume full of data and demonstrated results, but who hadn't included the key words.

    The inclusion of bundles of key words words doesn't make the applicant a better fit, just a smarter resume writer. It now means that the hiring manager is getting a resume that may not have deserved to make the cut.

    I'd favor a practice of basing hiring decisions on professional recommendations and a portfolio of demonstrated results.

  27. Mark; overseas, here in Brazil, We think that HR must first understand the real purpose of the Lean Manufacturing Philosofy _ by the heart, not by the brain, and then, together with all departments & leaderships, to build, very clearly, by Nemawashi and Hoshin Kanri, a quite solid strategy to recruit, develop and support all employees. Becouse they really are the most important element in the system.

    And so far, what garantee a genuine "lean missionary" are the small acts, people values, daily examples, that together, becomes the real certification by the way!

    That's it for while;

    Pablo Valle
    Twitter pablo_valle

  28. I helped facilitate the work of the industry practitioners who crafted the AME/SME/Shingo certification so am biased toward it. Certainly there are others out there that are rigorous and comprehensive.

    Yet as another commenter said, you can "buy" a certification by sitting in a room for 5 days and playing games.

    University degrees can be similar. It's possible to get a degree while cutting classes, memorizing for tests and immediately forgetting (me, with calculus) or making socializing the focus of one's time.

    We're circling around the point that HR, with some exceptions, has been bypassed in the cultivation of lean insight. Then they are supposed to screen hundreds of applications for positions. What would you do?

    Then it's up to the hiring manager to probe into how the candidate qualified for certification, what the candidate has actually accomplished, and how the candidate communicates ("I" or "we," for example).

    A tuned-in HR recruiter should know which certifications mean something and which are just pieces of paper. The same with education–did the student go on internships or have other experience that required teamwork and organization. Where did the person work–a recognized lean company or one known to do lean in name only.

    If a recruiter is hiring another HR person, he or she knows how to tell the real thing from the pretender.

    We need to reach out to SHRM and ASTD and similar groups to bring them into the fold.

  29. Karen,

    Well stated. As a current member of the AME/SME/Shingo Certification Oversight and Appeals committee, I too am biased by it. I have personally benefited from the certification as I made the leap from automotive manufacturing to healthcare. The certification provided one piece of evidence that I knew something about lean. The remaining evidence came across in my resume, through the positions that I held, the results I acheived and my overall background. I then had to communicate all of my qualifications during a rigorous interview process. The certification didn't get me the job – it got the attention of the recruiter and hiring manager. I still had to demonstrate my knowledge and value. I view the certification process as one that helps a job candidate really focus their knowledge and experience into a concise, standardized format that helps prepare them for their eventual interviews. The certification credential can be the thing that separates you from others with similar experience, just as a referral from a trusted acquaintance can get you the interview. Is it necessary? No. Is it helpful? Yes. Just like the "lean" toolbox, the certification is just one more tool in your personal development toolbox. Your performance in the interview and your references are still what will get you the offer.

  30. Now that my buddy Tim has weighed in, I will too. I'm a bit biased against certifications for some of the reasons mentioned above:
    1.) Which certification is best? How do we know?
    2.) Are certifications really just a short cut for HR (or others) too lazy to use other means to discriminate among applicants?
    3.) Which certification teaches what?
    4.) Because someone is "certified" does that mean they're any darn good at what they do? If not, how do we find out? And if we need other ways to find out, why not use those in the first place and skip the certification?

    My buddy Tim is actually a good example of what I'm talking about…he was a very, very good teacher/facilitator/consultant before he ever got certified. If the certification gave him more knowledge, that's a good thing. But he's as good as they get even without the certification. It's not the certification that distinguishes him from others…it's his copious talent.

    And look at six sigma…has the "black belt" approach really been much of a help?

    Just my 2 cents.

  31. the lean and six sigma sub-culture is pretty silly – those that occupy that space are usually consultancies and "certification" governance bodies.

    at toyota, i learned as much from my sensei as i did from hourly workers on the shop floor – neither of them were "certified" in any way, but we all came from the same lineage that stretched you and helped you to think and see differently.

    even though certifications are silly, they still have minimal value: they get your foot in the employment door, but once in, they don't really matter.

    use certification, but don't let them use you; if that makes any sense at all.

  32. I have been learning and applying lean for around 7-9 years now and although I an mot currently certified I am seriously looking into it. Is it because will give me more knowledge, I don't know if it will, but I do not think so, is because if I at some point I am going to look for a different job even inside the organization one of the questions that they ask is are you certified? For an outside job I will probably put my resume in front of the hiring manager, at that point I can prove that I am capable of doing the job. By the way I am leaning towards the AME/SME/Shingo Prize certifiction, all because perception is reality.

  33. Our recruitment staff is certified in lean thinking by leanblog.org. Why? Other than the telephone, there is no other place where they can learn how lean folks think. Not to give the impression that Mark runs a clandestine certification academy, he doesn’t. Leanblog.org is much more.

    The telephone works great if you know the appropriate questions to ask career lean folks. If not, you get fuzzy theory.

    For some time, our staff has been instructed to visit leanblog.org daily. We do a daily stand-up and they are asked about topics and Podcast's (love those).

    Nowadays, we don’t have to remind them to visit, they do it because its interesting.

    Our staff is also instructed to visit the Lean Learning Center Knowledge Center. I’ve learned much here. The topics are much broader and opens-up critical thinking. The two complement each other well.

    LLC offers our folks deeper reflection opportunity. LLC has introduced reflection to our daily routine. I used to think reflection was thinking before you speak, I know now it’s much more.

    Soon, we will add Move To Healthcare to the required list. Now it's just exploratory. Healthcare is our next frontier.

    Unfortunately, I’ve placed a few folks who wanted to move to healthcare – back in manufacturing. Sorry, opportunity calls.

    So, our staff reflected on certification. First I threatened them with CPC certification.

    CPC certification is sponsored by the National Association of Personnel Services. NAPS have been around since 1961 (before PC’s were on desks). My staff laughed because they know how I feel about recruitment certification. It’s not pretty. I won’t elaborate other to say I’ve worked alongside many NAPS certified recruiters. That's not pretty either.

    My favorite is CPRW (Certified Professional Resume Writers). I won’t go there either.

    Back to the reflection activity on certification. After reading the comments posted to this thread, our staff came up with what I believe is the better question, “Why would lean folks want to work for a company that requires something they don’t believe has credibility?”

    And that folks is our job. To ask those types of questions. If they find the answer to that, then they’ve done their jobs well. And that is why I believe leanblog.org (and all who participate) do service far beyond what can be learned by taking a test. I'll bet you didn’t know that.

    One last thing. All who have participated in this discussion – thank you. Our reflection activity on this surfaced another great idea that compliments something new we’ll be doing very soon.

    Jim Baran
    Owner, Value Stream Leadership
    Twitter: LEANVSL

  34. Wow, lots of great comments!

    I remember talking with Karen and a member of Shingo over a year ago. I did not pursue the Lean certification at that time because I, too have had experience with ex-Toyota sensei's. After working with them, one realizes that most certifications are pure money-making schemes for those conducting the certification.

    But, that's not the issue that has me commenting today. I'd like to focus on the HR perspective. Our HR manager previously worked for Parker Hannefin and several other companies that pursue Lean to some degree. He is learning all the time as well. One of the newest discussion points we have had is involving the Lean leader in the interview process (pre- , during, and post-) to help lay out criteria for new candidates and review potentials.

    In addition, I have been asked by the VP of another business, who is an old acquaintance, to give him some "pointers" on what to look for when hiring someone to lead the Lean initiatives in his organization, as well as hiring managers with a Lean mindset. His is a great example of getting outside the four walls of his organization to give himself a better opportunity to hire the right people.

    If you know someone who is thoroughly knowledgeable in Lean but works for a different organization, contact them for advice on hiring when you need to. If you are that person, share your knowledge with those looking for help. One no longer needs to be on the payroll of an organization to help that organization.

  35. Jim, I appreciate your process of using the leanblog as a learning tool for your staff. As lean practitioners we recognize good information from not-so-good information and this blog contains some of the best information available – including this discussion.

    Your question – why lean folks would want to work for a company that requires something they don’t believe has credibility? – is a worthy one to consider. I would also ask why would a company require certification? Prefer certification- yes, require it – not so sure. If a company does require certification, then isn’t it nice that the marketplace provides a product to satisfy the customer’s demands? I don’t think the question here should be Experience or Certification, rather it should be Experience and Certification.

    Looking at certification from a company’s (customer) point of view, if the defect for the hiring company is a bad decision on a candidate, then couldn’t certification be recognized as an error-proofing device?

    Rather than have a defective candidate keep progressing through many stages of the interview process only to be found defective in some way, wouldn’t it be useful to have a tool that establishes at least some level of assurance that the candidate has experience and it has been certified? Look at the waste in the hiring process if the defective candidate continues to progress. If the HR department / hiring manager understands the mechanics of the certification process, then there is some level of mistake-proofing that may be offered and requiring certification could be viewed as 100% source inspection, if the candidates’ experience has been verified through a reputable certification process.

  36. This is my take on this subject. I am currently looking for a job and many of these job posting have: "must have certification", or "green belt certified only may apply". I took my green belt certification not too long ago and received my six sigma green belt. I still haven't even got a call from anyone yet. Part of the reason I got it was because I was bored and had nothing to do and the second reason I got it I thought it might give me an edge. I also wasn't expecting anything guaranteed either. For whatever reason I haven't gotten a call from a company to interview is not the point. Even though I am young and don't know much about the lean market, but this I do know. My lean education from college and experience I gained in the past 3 years would trump alot of 'lean/six sigma certifications'. I don't need a piece of paper telling me or anyone else that I understand and know this stuff down SOLID. I got my resume and references, shouldn't that be enough!?

  37. Great stream of consciousness here.
    First: thanks.
    Second: I also want to help Healthcare organizations, i.e. Hospitals, (after 18 years with Toyota subsidiary)and now I wonder if I gotta go get a certificate in order to get past HR?
    Third: I wonder if the certificate can perhaps really help by perhaps categorizing knowledge in a way that helps me (us) to convey the message to our Healthcare friends??

    What say you? Is there a benefit to certification for us experienced ''gurus''??
    Mike Davis.

  38. @Mike@MMA.ca:

    I could see benefit from saying you went through something like the Univ of Michigan full week lean healthcare course or even my new 2-day course from LEI. LEI doesn't call it "certification" Michigan calls it that, but not sure if they make you do a test. I have, however, heard good things about their week of training.

    Personally, I have "lean certification" from Honeywell (similar to a Black Belt program, with 4 weeks of training and a validated project).

    Does that make you more likely to read my blog? To hire me?

  39. See your point Tim if source of bad hiring decisions were made solely on quality of arriving information (inflated resumes, canned responses to interview questions, miscalculated interpretation of chemistry, and other soft, subjective data limitations.

    However, the root cause of bad hiring decisions is more often knowledge evaluation capability?

    Does the HR person truly understand the appropriate answers to questions posed on the certification exam? Does the lean champion truly know how to diagnostically interview and assess talent with characteristics other than those he/she is most familiar with – him/herself?

    The point is that smart hiring actually starts with retention and works backward through growth opportunity. All are connected via knowledge value streams that have very little to do with first impressions or “he’s a great guy/gal”.

    Let certification be evaluated on its merits, not on its myth.

    Jim Baran
    Owner, Value Stream Leadership

  40. I can learn everything about welding, read all the books on it, pay a lot of money and attend 1000 classes – and be certified.

    But until I've struck an arc I know nothing.

  41. HOLY TOLEDO!! What a great post Mark based on the number of comments!!

    You should really consider turning these comments into a new post of their own since, no offense, this (the comments) is some of the best stuff I've read on ANY blog the last few months!

    My two cents.

    My six sigma certification got me my last job. Without it I would not have been interviewed simple as that.

    Now, with this said, I also had to go through 8 hours of interviews where I had to prove I could do things like calculate standard deviation by hand on a white board (which I did) as well as draw a fake value stream map of a process they described to me (which I did) while also describing the results I had achieved at my previous company (which I did). My experience ultimately got me the job but my certification got my foot in the door.

    So, as my Dad (a PhD and University prof for 30+ years) always told me… "Ronnie, you have to get that stupid piece of paper."

    And, to me, this stupid piece of paper applies to things like that college degree most of us have… as well as things like certifications.

    If a company is clueless and cannot separate the real lean and/or six sigma practitioners from the fakers… well, that's on them… NOT on the companies offering certifications.

    Just my two cents.

  42. A healthy skepticism is appropriate with regard to certifications, but they can and do serve a valuable purpose. My background is more Six Sigma and less Lean, having been trained as a black belt about 10 years ago. I was not certified, and worked in a variety of functions over the last 10 years. After losing my job last year, I found that in trying to find work as a black belt, I was frequently asked about certification. I decided to re-invigorate my process excellence knowledge and credentials by obtaining the ASQ CSSBB certification. (The exam is in 3 weeks – wish me luck!)

    The job that I just landed (last week!) is in healthcare, as a lean six sigma specialist. You'd have to ask my hiring managers, but I suspect my pursuit of certification played a role in getting the job. Even if it didn't, I'm much better prepared for this job than if I hadn't pursued the certification.

    Yes, there's lots more than being able to pass the test that will determine if I'm successful on the job. But I can't imagine being very successful if I didn't have the knowledge to get the certification.


  43. Jim, I understand that the certification represents one line on a resume that contains much more detail. I also understand that as a job candidate, if I'm counting on my certification to land me the interview, I've misplaced my priorities. I would argue that the key part of the AME/SME/Shingo certification is not the certification exam, rather it is the portfolio of work that the candidate must document. At the higher levels of certification, the candidate's coaching/mentoring documentation and finally at the Gold level the interview process are some of the most rigorous standards that I've seen. If HR people understood this aspect of the certification process, it would represent much more value to the overall process.

    As Mark, I believe, mentioned earlier in this thread, the AME/SME/Shingo certification needs to find its way through all of the other "certificate" programs out there, because I believe its merits are worthy of consideration – not as a piece of paper, but rather as a process of documenting how a candidate has applied their knowledge – more to Cartier's comment above.

  44. Ron, I have always liked your straight forward writing and talking, I am a big follower of your webpage and LSS academy.
    As you say, that little paper does matter regardless of what we or anybody thinks. In the end we all need a job to live, so If it comes down to it, many of us will get certification "just to land a job". I live in Mexico and certifications are expensive down here. If you work for a company that does not send employees to get certified due to budget or poor managemt vision it is hard to save enough money to get certification. I have been trying to save money to attend a workshop in US. For me to go, I have to save 1 month worth of my salary. So I am asking myself where to go? Who am I going to give my hard earned money? Will I give it to the one company that will give me a certificate (which by the way costs more) or to somebody that does not provide a paper?, what if I found out that the training that I just paid is not good enough?

  45. Referring to one comment about "if the paper counts, better avoid that place" and others about HR:

    Lean, Six Sigma and other principles and schools are about improvement. What can be a bigger challenge than to work for a company where there is willingness to improve (that's why they are looking for you), but they are not aware of how to do it?

    On the other hand, if hiring managers do not know a lot about Lean, can be because this is a support function and not many companies put effort in development of these people. Also, they cannot be experts in every functions although they are required to hire the right person for all of them. (side note: that's why I am against the current settings where HR is the first line for new employees)

  46. Gary Reiner, head of LSS at GE has said a number of times recently that he's not big on LSS certification anymore, arguing that GE doesn't certify other professions. That said, if you are in a quality role and don't get certified, you are viewed as a failure.

    For me the big concern about certifications echoes what others have said – seems like one can just write a check and get certified, without having to do an actual project, deliver any actual business impact. And I include some reputable names in that category, like Villanova, UT Austin, etc.

    There's a world of difference between passing a test (even the ASQ one, which is the hardest I've ever encountered) and doing it.

    In fact, the material covered in classes may not help a great deal in actual practice – what will help, however, is an experienced practitioner mentoring you through the process.

    My current MBB has no real background in LSS, and wasnt required to have it in order to take the job. Consequently, I have to teach him a lot about LSS, and even push back when he starts jumping to solutions and questioning my judgement about how fast things can be accomplished. I went to GE hoping to learn "how it's done" – now I realize that they hired me because they need someone who knows how it's done.

  47. I am not surprised by the number of comments to this post. Certification is a controversial topic.

    Certification is a measurement system, and just like all measurement systems, we should be concerned with relevance, accuracy, and variation.

    To be relevant, certification must measure something meaningful. Should that be knowledge? Experience? Results? Every person is an individual with unique abilities and limitations. For a lean practitioner or Six Sigma professional there are many important attributes that contribute to success. I believe (others may certainly disagree with my list) that the three most important attributes are knowledge, ability to get things done, and leadership. Naturally, those who are really good at one of these characteristics tend to value it most highly and downgrade the others. Thus there have been many comments on this blog that suggest certification should favor one over the others. A certification program that measures these three characteristics accurately and with minimal variation would truly be useful. So far, I am not aware of such a program and thus I consider certification programs to be of limited utility.

  48. Who is the customer? And what is the Voice of the Customer?

    In reading these comments, I observe that many folks (myself included) answer the question from the standpoint of the practitioner as the customer. These tend to favor certification, since it at best gives one a competitive advantage and at worst is neutral.

    Other folks answer the question from the standpoint of the organization as the customer, and are more likely to be against certification. As many have observed, technical knowledge of the tools does not guarantee success.

    I haven't collected data and constructed a contingency table but this is my sense of the comments. If this is true, what does it mean? Is there a disconnect between practitioners and hiring managers? Are practitioners getting certified in hopes of gaining a competitive advantage, only to find out that they don't? Are certified job seekers only getting hired by less savvy organizations? Or is it just that the competitive advantage only helps on a case-by-case basis?

    Last observation is that certification may make more sense (for both the practitioner and the organization) in the lean six sigma or pure six sigma environments rather than pure Lean environments due to the more highly technical nature of many of the tools.

  49. Love the story about being beat on the head by the sensei…

    As for certifications, some managers/companies may require a pedigree, a check box, or whatever you want to call it and if I was in one, I'd chase that side just to keep my name in the hat when promotion possibilities come around. I'm a BPI guy, not someone who wants to be a martyr for eliminating a piece of paper so if it interests my boss, I'll be darned fascinated by the subject if it means the difference between pounding the pavement or being checked as a non-team player.

    As for their value, I'd stick with proven capability over a pedigree anyday. The world is full of certified idiots just as it is with educated ones.

  50. I do not have a certificate. I knew the techniques even before I was formally trained. The company organized a program and got many members certified. Some have stopped practicing any thing after certification. I keep practicing what I learnt but not bothered about seeking a formal certificate.

    When I put my child in nursery school, the school held an interview. I was surprised and asked them why they want to interview a child. They had 500 applications against 40 seats and that is why. They needed filtering criteria. If you ask for a lean expert and 100 people apply, you may simplify the task of screening CVs by filtering the CVs for certification. That would be lean too.

    Certification is certainly a indicator that you got exposed to the principles in a systematic way. Self learners may not always have gone through a comprehensive study of all aspects.

    I have known lot of people with a diploma in engineering who do better than those with a degree in Engineering. Still when I hire people, for some jobs, I ask for a degree in engineering.

  51. If you're any good certification won't be a problem. If you're not so good and afraid the lack of certification will prove it, then argue against certification.

    Certification of course doesn't guarantee you'll be good at the job, but neither does a great CV, great interviewing skills and tame referees/references which is probably the alternative. However the more selection criteria you can base a hiring decision on the better.

  52. First and foremost, I think it is important that a company follows lean practices on a daily basis with a drive toward continuous improvement. Secondly, for a sales standpoint, the certification is crucial for gaining access into highly lucrative markets like the Aerospace and Defense Industry, for example.

    In my career, I have worked as a sales representative for metal manufacturers and sought after Aerospace/Defense level business. Even if the director of procurement is you best friend and you have a solid company to represent, it is extremely difficult to quote work for a company like Boeing or Lockheed Martin without an AS9100 certification.

    Just a few thoughts. I have just started reading this blog and have enjoyed every minute of it. Keep up the good work!

  53. I don’t normally leave comments, but this chat has hit a topic that’s near and dear to me personally. Like Mark, I am not “certified” in anything other than trials and tribulations over the past 16 years of learning the TPS principles through application. However, now that I’m leading a firm that’s truly trying to change cultures of many industries trying to implement “lean” concepts, it’s imperative that we provide a mechanism to initiate champions into the concepts quickly and thoroughly.

    Our certification program was created out of “demand” from our clients seeking to learn more. It’s in that spirit that we are going to try and teach this course. We’ve seen all of the models that are out there today, but have molded ours around tools and principles that focus on “why” do we do this. If we don’t take a “wholistic (TM)” approach to change the person, then they will never be able to motivate anyone else to try these methods.

    Is anyone truly “qualified?” A sensei is someone who’s gone “before” others in the journey. For our session, we will try to lead these folks not only in the classroom but in a hands-on project at a client, and then into the preparation and follow-up stages of their next 6 projects in their company. If at the end of this process, each one can then lead someone else to begin, then we’ll call it ‘value-added’ and a success. We’ll have made other disciples.

  54. I think since it takes 10,000 hours to become “an expert” at something (Ericcson, 1993) certificates for anything less than 5,000 hours (i.e. college) provide a false sense of accomplishment and often produce a “finish line” mentality than once received, the recipient stops. Even with college, we tend to discount the knowledge gained there until additional experience is gained.

  55. Certainly it is very important that one clearly understands and practices Lean in order to know Lean. Lean is more than tools, its the culture of continuous improvement and “Deep Thinking”. One can not be considered an expert in Lean without the time on the job. I would chose one with demonstrated abilities over one with only a certification if I were looking for a leader. A certification however is not a negative on a resume. It does show that you understand the theory and hopefully will base your effort with good sound proven methods. Both are important. Same goes for a college degree.

  56. Unfortunately, I agree with Mark. I think certifications are useless and a poor indicator of someone’s ability to get the job done. I once worked at a Medical College in the Performance Improvement Department and the absolute best process improvement expert was an older African American women who couldn’t read. She was brilliant at finding low cost solutions to problems. She could never pass a certification exam. Conversely, I’ve worked with many Six Sigma Master Black Belts who couldn’t get crap done… and I’m seeing more and more of these certified Belts.

  57. Ouch… when you wrote this back in 2009 I had just started out on a Lean training (an ‘official unofficial’ Lean Practitioner Course with certification at the end) through LMI, Dutch affiliate to LEI. And because tomorrow is certification day (hopefully). So I’ve just been going over my A3’s for the umpteenth time, studying and studying and then I read this post. Just happening to be tweeted about by you today as your most commented on post up till now…. So ouch. It hurts. Hoping to certify tomorrow nevertheless. ;-)

    • Freek – Congratulations on that milestone, and I mean it. I wouldn’t criticize an individual who does a certification for personal development and learning.

      What I would criticize is organizations that use certification as a hard-set requirement, filtering out those who don’t have certification. Or I would criticize people who offer “certification” as a trivial exercise that doesn’t show demonstrated ability to do something with Lean knowledge.

      It sounds like you were going about things the right way, Freek.

  58. What a great set of posts! I have recently been mulling the idea of creating an internal certification/recognition programme for lean. I am very clear that while it is important to build any certification on a solid theoretical foundation, it would be heavily biased towards recognising the practical application of the lean approach (as the SME certification does I feel).

    But after reading all of these posts would I still want to? Well, I still feel that when applied within a single organisation it helps on a number of fronts:

    – It is something for staff to aspire to and encourages wider organisational involvement. The recognition component is crucial and this is clearly an internal recognition of achievement.

    – It provides a measure of progress/skills on our lean journey, we’re three years in and developing depth of skills continues to be a challenge. This helps with self-development and the need for depth of knowledge rather than just bredth.

    – It is a measure of standardisation – variation from the standard can be difficult to spot when looking organisation wide. I always fear that the signal-to-noise becomes a problem as the message translates across the organisation. The Peer Review component (or Certification Panel) is a method of maintaining consistency.

    I too have some bias as a certified MBB in GE for many years. And as indicated by others my certification got me an interview for my current job. My experience got me the job, but I needed to get an interview first!

    I always saw the old GE approach as effecive because it motivated a broad range of people to engage and achieve the best they could. It only went wrong when it started to become less practical and more of a tick-box approach. I’ll be sure not forget that point!

  59. This question hits home.
    My background is in industrial engineering with many LEAN experiences.
    I have 23 years of engineering experience with 3 formal degrees in engineering and management (mechanical, industrial, MBA).

    Keep this in mind.
    LEAN did not take into effect until the 90s.
    Before LEAN there was industrial engineering that reduced wastes and increased efficiency. Some people do not realize this. The titles have changed from Industrial Engineering to LEAN manufacturing engineer.

    I have gained 3 LEAN certifications over the years thru the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE). This is a well know society. Without these LEAN certifications, I most likely would not landed a job as a LEAN manufacturing engineer. In fact, I most likely would not be interviewing with a lot of companies without this certification.

    Yes, companies look at your formal education and direct experience, but for my roll as an LEAN manufacturing engineer the job would not be mind without the LEAN certification. They told me this during the interview. I am starting to believe companies do not care what you studied in college; just as long as you have a degree in something. They want those certifications.

    To answer your question, each interviewer and company you go thru has there own stigmas about the requirements for a job. It is usually determined by their own background (university, professional society, etc.). However each person is different. Some people that you will interview with have very little knowledge of LEAN. In fact, I had examples of how I used LEAN on my resume, for example. Th recruiter that I talked to told me that I did not have that my LEAN experience, when in fact I had over 15 years experience. Use the word LEAN on you resume several times. It will a lest get that attention.

    The best way that I find out what employers want is read the job ads. Just read them, even if you are not interesting in the position for some reason. They might list the certification they want.

    I would go with an organization that is well known to the hiring manager to get the LEAN certification. Remember, it is what they think is the best certification, not yours. I would go with IIE, SME, or other well known organizations.

    Also, keep in mind some people do not know the difference between 6 sigma and lean.
    They work well with each other, but are not the same. If you get a LEAN certification you need to tell that at an interview. I have taken a 6 sigma black belt class. There was only about 10 pages of text relating to LEAN. You will learn more about LEAN thru a LEAN certification class than a 6 sigma class.

    IIE has a LEAN BLACK BELT. It used to be call MASTER LEAN. It was for marketing purposes for the person looking for a job (like you). The IIE LEAN certification really focuses on LEAN in manufacturing as well as the service industry. I am not sure about the SME LEAN certification. It may not cover the service industrial, in which you may find your opportunity.

    I posed the same question about 5 years ago.


    Report this to a Moderator

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences. Regardless of your thoughts on certification, please don’t spell it as LEAN as it’s not an acronym. That’s a pet peeve of mine and, right or not, my bias is that people or organizations that write “LEAN” are very new to the methodology.

  60. Looking for certificate depends on what level you are hiring.
    For entry level person a certificate is a positive.
    For senior level person track record should speak.

  61. I would like to know how many of you would let someone do surgery on your wife or child that claimed to have “experience” doing it, but was not a board certified surgeon? How many of you would hire an attorney that was not certified by the BAR? How many of you would let someone drill on your teeth that claimed to have “experience?” Would you take your pet to vet that just had a lot of “experience” but never took an exam in Zoology?

    Certifications are what separates fact from fiction. I will never hire anyone again that does not have a degree, or certification in the area of expertise needed, regardless of the “experience” they claimed to have. I have learned this the hard way. Results proven in the real world show that an educated and certified employee will outperform someone that claims to have some “experience” every time. Lack of education in our country is an epidemic. It is a result of our instant gratification society that believes for some reason that they are owed something just because they were born, or claim to have some “experience” which almost always turns out to be a lie. Certifications and College degrees are the only way an employer can know that someone has taken the time to learn a specific area of knowledge.

    18 years I went to college at night while I worked a full time job during the day! For someone to say that was a waste of time, or not important is part of the problem and not the solution. I learned more in about SPC, Control Charts, Standard Deviation, DOE, Theory of Constraints, The Toyota Way, Advanced Statistics, Probability, and hundreds more practical courses and applications that I use everyday, and I never would have learned any of this by putting a bunch of sticky notes on a wall and claiming to know something about Lean! Certifications are what separates the want-a-be’s from the real thing. Certifications are what prove a person has done the work and learned something the right way.

    I am also a “Certified” Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, and I train other Black Belts for ASQ “Certification.” I invested thousands of hours to learn the BOK and all the tools of DMAIC that gave me the knowledge and tools to systematically save hundreds of millions of dollars that I could never have done by putting sticky notes on the wall and claiming to be a Lean expert. In fact I never would have even been given the opportunity to be in such a position to be this successful without my “certifications.” Yes, Certifications and education are extremely important. I am currently working on my Lean “Certification” with SME who has now partnered with AME, and Shingo to offer a very comprehensive “Certification” that no one can learn through “experience” alone. Read Womack, Deming, Juran, and Crosby. Learn and get certified! Prove you actually know something!

    • Ironically, Jim Womack is not certified as a lean anything, so why should we listen to him?

      Both lean and six sigma are (very ironically) plagued by a lack of standards about certification – what it takes to get etc. That’s a real problem. There are many “instant gratification” certifications that are basically just sold online to anyone with a credit card.

      I would still have to rely on interviews to know if a certified person knew anything or had done anything worthwhile – as well as what their attitude and personality might be.

  62. Mark,
    Six Sigma standards have been very clear and concise since 1984. It’s even in Webster’s and offered by numerous “accredited” Universities. There is no “lack” of standard for DMAIC methodology! You’re in quicksand here sir. I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with you, and usually respect your opinions, but this time you are out in left field. Actually James Womack has a Master’s degree from Harvard, and a PhD from M.I.T. I’d say that’s about the best certification you can get! “Why should we listen..” to Womack? Are you serious? Good grief, you even quoted Womack as one of the world’s greatest Lean guru’s in your last book! Totally agree there are a lot of fly-by-night non-accredited certifications on the internet, but everyone must do their own due diligence obviously (so it’s not really much of a problem at all), buyer beware, always.

    You can’t discriminate Certifications from Diplomas so long as they come from an “accredited” body. Just research the definitions. Each have distinguishing value. I have been a member of ASQ since 1979 (back when it was still called ASQC), and ASQ is THE most admired and respected Quality organization on the planet. ASQ also established the most accepted standards for quality certifications in the world. In today’s tight job market, without a college degree PLUS accredited certifications from organizations like ASQ and SME, you can be the smoothest talking interviewer in the world, and still be at the bottom of the totem pole. Come on man… don’t alienate all of us that have worked so hard for so many years to get certified while at the same time teaching and applying Lean tools every day. That’s just not fair to all of us that did the work to get certified and do things the right way. Without “Standards” we have nothing. You teach and write about this all the time.

    I admire anyone who is willing to pay their dues to obtain an “accredited” certification of any kind. An “accredited” Lean certification like the one offered by SME, supported by ASQ, AME, and Shingo is long overdue. Check out their curriculum sometime. It is not for the faint of heart! Anyone that comes away with that certification in Bronze, Silver, or Gold will be well suited for any position requiring Lean knowledge.

    • Gary – I think you are misunderstanding my point. You were saying that you wouldn’t hire anyone without certification. Jim Womack doesn’t have certification. His PhD is in political science, by the way. But can he help an organization understand lean? Of course.

      Degrees and certifications are two different things and my post wasn’t about degrees at all (and it wasn’t about six sigma). I certainly respect people who have real certifications that required real work and practice (like those from ASQ, Shingo, etc) but there are many online only belts and certifications available now that seem like BS, as you agree.

      There are clear standards that sadly aren’t followed by many of those selling belts. Do a google search for Mike Micklewright’s great article “Black Belt for Sale” at qualitydigest.com.

      My point is a certification doesn’t guarantee knowledge or ability and lack of formal lean certification doesn’t mean that person should be ruled out. Of course I think Jim Womack is an expert in this field. Pascal Dennis and others from Toyota aren’t “lean certified” either and many organizations, if they followed the letter of their job posting requirements, wouldn’t hire a guy like Pascal and that would be their loss.

      I think you’re being upset about things I’m not saying. We are in agreement that everyone must do their due diligence.

  63. Okay, I can at least partially agree with that. You might find I am more ridged about certifications than you think. I believe ASQ is the only organization with a legitimate Six Sigma Certification. And, up until recently when SME developed the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Lean certifications, I do not think anyone had a legitimate Lean certification, and I do not believe anyone else meets stringent enough standards for Lean. I don’t think that will ever change either, because they have set the bar pretty high, especially with ASQ, AME, and Shingo standing behind it. Where we disagree, is that I see legitimate “accredited” certifications equal to, if not even more valuable than a college degree. I certainly know I worked a lot harder to get my ASQ Black Belt than anything I ever earned in College! Furthermore, to maintain your Certifications, you have to do ongoing education, and performance reviews with active projects and a continuous portfolio, and if you don’t, then you must take the exam all over again within a period of time! That can be quite daunting, but insures that you maintain a certain level of knowledge. Not a single college degree requires that. If you want to get deeper, consider 90+ percent of universities and colleges are very left-wing (Liberal) slanted, so it is almost impossible to get an unbiased education these days. Luckily, it’s kind of hard to Liberally slant technology degrees, but believe me, they still do. This is the primary reason I refused to get my pHD, because I just could not stomach the politics anymore.

    • Gary, you wrote – “Where we disagree, is that I see legitimate “accredited” certifications equal to, if not even more valuable than a college degree.”

      I think you are disagreeing with something I didn’t say.

      • I have taken the AME Bronze certification, and I was disappointed with the test. The test was designed around reading 4 text books and your ability to find the answers in an open book setting. The second half of the certification is to send in projects that you have worked on.
        If you are a good writer it would be easy to make the projects you have worked on sound for appealing. It would be more beneficial if your mentor or other people involved in a lean transformation would be involved to tell their side of the story on if the person can “lead and coach” successful tranformations.

        As you can tell not big into certifications.

  64. Mark,
    A good question. I have very mixed views on the subjects. Three questions I guess I would ask someone with a certificate:
    1. How many times did you have to wash your hands before you earned your certificate?
    2. If the plant shop floor is a reflection of management, what did your gemba reflect throughout your certification process?

    3. Who was your teacher and how do questions 1 & 2 above apply to your instructor?

    Just something to hansei on:
    Practice over theory.

  65. Great thread, Mark.

    I’ll give two perspectives.

    First, I have a SS Greenbelt through Honeywell, and ‘reaffirmed’ through another employer who used the GE curriculum/process. I also (now) have my LBC through AME/SME/Shingo/ASQ and am working on my LSC. In this perspective, the certifications are FAR, FAR from showing my knowledge and understanding of lean – or Statistical Analysis. They do provide ‘resume material’ as more and more organizations are looking for certifications (yes, I too worry about this, much like Jim Baran and Jamie F have both mentioned). However, in today’s world (like someone mentioned already), HR drives the boat and wants a certification. So, I see them as a need to “keep up with the Jones’s”.

    Second perspective: When I hire directly, or are participating in the hiring process, I could CARE LESS about the certification, because I know it is basically meaningless. I’ve asked SSBB and LBC certified individuals some basic questions about implementing lean and can tell they have no idea. The certification doesn’t prove you have any ability. It doesn’t even guarantee an interview with me. However, if you have it, I tend to drive harder to really determine if you’ve ‘earned’ it, or merely completed the process.

    So, what’s the summary? I hate certifications and don’t use them (at least not positively) to look at potential candidates, but I recognize that others do, which may affect my employment status…

    I like Sam’s comments, too! Great three questions to ask.

  66. I trained in PRINCE in 1992. There was no certification then. Now there is a renewable certification every 5 years. This is not so bad as it is very process based and is factual. However particularly in health IT, EMRs etc there seems to be a “certification industry”. Most of these certifications require you take a course whether you are an expert in the subject or not. $1500 for the course etc plus the test. As a commercial organisation which many of these are it is their interest that you fail once. Then you get an email from the person who has created a range of courses to which they attach the attach all the certifications after their name.

    CPEHR is a good example. Much of the course was opinionated rather than factual and those who I know that beat the 70% pass level only just scraped through. One said it was more difficult than their MBA. Does it add value to EHR implementation? No – if you are an IT professional e.g. have a Masters and you have some health project experience it adds no value whatsoever but clients are badgered that they should only accept a CPEHR qualified consultant. Just an example and I am sure there are many examples across all fields.

  67. I have a question. I am recently getting into lean management and learning all about it and was considering getting a lean certificate to go along with my education. I’m about to complete my undergraduate degree and was wondering if I should bother trying to get a certificate or not?

    • Hi Ben – the certificate might help get a job, but then again maybe not. If you’re looking for an entry-level position, I’m not sure how a certificate would help… it might, at best, differentiate you as somebody who has a strong enough interest in Lean to go get that credential.

  68. Wow! Geez, Mark…at this rate you could almost write a book on these comments alone! I looked back and found that I had commented on this back in 2009, then again in 2013!

    I’d call it signs of a great discussion! (I still stand behind my 2009 comments, by the way!)

  69. I would just like to say, that as a very new lean practitioner, I am pursuing Lean Certification as a way of filling in gaps in my knowledge of some of the tools. As an example, my company is undergoing a very large and costly “Lean Transformation”, but there has been a Leadership gap on developing standard work. I have been playing with implementing it on a pilot line, but I can only get so far without direction. Maybe this is an indication of having a poor sensei, but regardless I want to develop understanding of the basics of that particular skill before I start the process of “learning by doing”.

  70. I don’t think having or not having a certification will say how good or bad are you applying lean, some certifications are good and really challenge your knowledge and some others are just wasting of time and money. Certification is like going for College or Master of PhD degree, you have a paper that say you were instructed in certain way and with certain structure. The knowledge is there but the know-how is coming with practice not with certifications. I really like certification as way to gague your knowledge level but is not a way the gauge your real life skills level and how to deal with the different challenge. My advise go get your certification but look for the correct live experience to support and growth the knowledge.

  71. My CEO wishes to develop criteria for outpatient clininc Lean certification. We are early in our Lean journey. Is there such a criteria out there? Can you share it, so that I can help our CEO to develop our own criteria?

    Thank you!


    • Why would your CEO want to go through the expense and effort to create your own Lean certification? There are some existing certifications that others have mentioned and endorsed.

      Personally, I’d suggest working on solving problems that matter to patients and staff instead of worrying about certification. I think that would be more beneficial to the clinic and everybody involved.


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