How to Train Lean Champions to Run Kaizen Events – Part 1

January 3, 2011

I decided to write this three part series on selecting and training your internal Lean experts (a.k.a. Lean Champions) to help people understand how to build your internal expertise in Lean.

Where to Start

Many times people have asked me “Can you train us to do our own Kaizen Events or make our events better?” The answer is ‘yes’ of course, but I think there is a misconception of what this means. The reason I say this is because unless your Champions already have a deep understanding of the specific Lean subjects (such as 5S, Standardized Work, Layout, Quick Changeover, Total Productive Maintenance, Cellular-Flow, Pull Systems and Kanban, etc.) they will have start there first. The Kaizen Event (a.k.a. Kaizen Blitz, Quick Kaizen, Rapid Improvement Event, etc.) methodology is the same for different types of events, but the tools will be different and that’s where I think people are confused. For example, if you are doing a 5S event, you need to have the Lean Champion who is an expert in 5S; if you are doing a quick changeover event, you need a Lean Champion that is an expert in that subject and so on. Your Champions have to become experts in Lean thinking and applying the correct tools at the right time for the right event. If they are not intimately familiar with specific tools, then how can they run a successful Kaizen Event? This series will explain what it takes to train up your own Lean Champions to perform winning Kaizen Events.

NOTE: There are several ways to create Lean Champions this is just one method. If you have another system and you are successful with it, continue to use it and maybe you can pick up a few ideas here to improve your current methodology (after all isn’t that what Kaizen is about – improvement). If you do not have a program in place to create Lean Champions then consider this approach.

Lean Champions

In order for your Lean journey to be successful you have to have your own internal Lean Champions. A Lean Champion is a subject matter expert (SME) in specific tools of Lean (see Building Blocks of Lean). I cannot over-emphasize that Lean is not about the tools! Lean is about using your ‘head and heart’, its how you think about your job, how to simplify things, how to remove waste, how to make things easier. The tools are just a vehicle which helps us realize our Lean goals; its Lean thinking1 that is important. As with any house, you start building from the foundation and work your way up. It is important that you get a solid foundation on which to build upon. Some Building Block of Lean, Lean Toolsorganizations start with upper level building blocks first (like TPM, cells, or Kanban) and they wonder why they are not getting the results that they has hoped for. A main culprit is that the basic building blocks lay the foundation and discipline to be able to perform the higher level Lean concepts. For instance, your cells may be effective, but if you don’t have good teamwork, 5S and standard work they probably are not as effective as you’d hoped they’d be.

The reason that the Lean Champions have to be internal to your company is because they know your culture the best. Using outside expert Lean consultants will definitely give you improvements, but unless you have people at your organization that understand the changes, many things can happen such as: people will put things back the way they used to be after the consultant leaves, it is hard to maintain and improve if you do not understand the Lean concepts, or you have to keep paying the consultant to come back over and over again to make improvements. In order to sustain and improve your Lean efforts you have to have your own Lean experts on staff (see Table 1, Building Internal Lean Champions). There are three ways to accomplish this:

Table 1, Building Internal Lean Champions



Con Rating
1. Hire outside Lean experts into your company
  • They know Lean
  •  They don’t know your culture


2. Have current employees become experts in Lean
  • They know your culture
  •  It will take a long time for them to learn Lean


3. Have outside consultants train your internal resources
  • They know Lean, you know your culture
  • You will have people to continue your Lean efforts
  • More cost effective
  • It will fail if management doesn’t support your Lean efforts


Of these three methods I would recommend a combination of 1 and 2 or 2 and 3. An advantage of using consultants is that they usually have a lot of experience implementing Lean in many different types of companies. They bring with them tried and true methodologies and usually present best practices. If you hire Lean practitioners from the outside just be aware that they may have only learned one way to apply Lean principles (based on wherever they worked previously) or they may be used to using the tools but not implementing or deploying them for the first time throughout an organization.

The next post in this series will talk about selecting Lean Champions and how to marry “Theory to practice.” Stay tuned for more and let me know your thoughts. Thanks – Tony

Let’s make 2011 the best Lean year ever!

P.S. If you need help with your Lean implementation or training, feel free to contact me for more information.

Reference: 1. Lean Thinking – Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation” by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones

One Response to “How to Train Lean Champions to Run Kaizen Events – Part 1”

  1. […] This is the second in a series of three blog postings that talks about training your internal Lean Experts or Champions. See first post Training Lean Champions. […]

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