Lean Literacy

By Jon Miller Updated on March 17th, 2019

Michael Ballé wrote a thoughtful reply to the question of what should be included in an MBA-level course to teach Lean concepts. It is a tough question because as Michael points out, there are some deep differences that must be reconciled between MBA thinking and Lean thinking. The LEI blog article is worth a read. This exchange got me thinking about what Lean concepts should be taught not just to MBAs or business students but to everyone with a stake in prosperity, sustainability and personal well-being.

The analogy with financial literacy, or the lack thereof, may be a good one. A lack of financial literacy and such basic skills as budgeting expenses, paying bills on time, paying off debt, planning for the future, etc. leads to making poor decisions that build debt rather than wealth. These are simple things to learn, yet in the USA a full third of adults have no retirement savings, over a third of households have significant and high-interest-rate credit card debt, and nearly half don’t have $500 cash for an emergency.

Here is a short list of topics for financial literacy.

1. The impact of investing money
2. Budgeting
3. Building credit score
4. Starting saving today
5. Understanding loans and credit
6. Understanding life insurance
7. Basics of health insurance
8. Assessing retirement needs
9. Owning versus renting a home
10. Putting a financial plan into action
11. Avoiding identity theft
12. Avoiding financial scams
13. Starting a family
14. Teaching children about money

That may seem like a lot to learn, but the cost of not becoming financially literate is much higher. The same idea applies to how we spend our time and energy in life and work. Here is the same list of financial literacy topics from a Lean thinking point of view.

1. Understanding the long-term impact of investing in ourselves, our people, building our processes and management systems. We need to work on the business as well as in it.

2. Deciding where we want to put our energy, where we want our time goes in a day versus where we want it to go, and the impact this has on the outcomes we desire.

3. How building mutual respect, trust and credibility is critical to obtaining attention and support from others.

4. The power of improving today, fixing something that bothers you, building the improvement habit little by little, no matter how small.

5. Understanding how problems we sweep under the rug or leave for later to save time spend time on other things builds up “technical debt” and leaves us with bigger problems to solve later.

6. The value hedging against process failures by building in redundancies, checks, safety stock, slack, or other investments that may not add value until disaster threatens.

7. Maintaining the health of our system through daily accountability, periodic checks of standards, daily cleanup and process hygiene.

8. Understanding COGS (cost of goods sold) – knowing along the way whether there be enough left overall is said and done will (at the end the quarter, year or working career) to deliver a profit that sustains us.

9. Making a down payment and building equity by developing people versus “paying rent” via part-time or contract labor, free to switch apartments next month, but building no equity.

10. Learn how to set a target, make a plan, taking action, check progress, reflect with honesty, and make adjustments.

11. Leading by example and not allow your own self or other people to corrupt your identity and culture or to have a negative influence on the credibility and trust you are building.

12. Not being swayed from a sensible plan by the promise from a smooth-talking-expert about a new approach that promises incredible results but lacks transparency of details.

13. How not to let expansion, starting up a new business, new product line, or other growth opportunities distract or overburden your continuous improvement efforts.

14. Teaching people Lean Literacy.

These ideas are easy to grasp the but harder to put into practice. However, succeeding without them is even harder. A manager who goes to school and earns an MBA but doesn’t have financial literacy will struggle in life. These struggles can affect their performance at work. In the same way, how can we teach our people “MBA-level” Lean concepts, tools, techniques without first making sure they have a good grounding in the basics of Lean Literacy and how to apply it to their life and work?

  1. Bob Williams

    March 20, 2019 - 5:51 am

    Impressive list. Reads like a course syllabus for a new module in Gemba Academy that you can market to MBA programs. 😉

    • Jon Miller

      March 20, 2019 - 10:03 am

      Interesting thought. We do cover all of these topics here and there but not all in one place as a single module or course.

    • Bob Emiliani

      March 21, 2019 - 6:02 am

      Having created and delivered both training courses and full-time graduate and undergraduate courses for 20 years, I can tell you there is a significant difference between the structure and content of a training course compared to the structure and content of a graduate MBA course that is part of an accredited degree program, in part because the objectives and outcomes differ substantially. That said, I have imported selected features of training courses into higher ed courses, and exported certain features of higher ed courses into training courses.

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.