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The Value of Lean Certifications

By Steve Kane Published on May 28th, 2021

It’s often argued that certifications are not required to practice Lean. This is absolutely true. Lean and other continuous improvement methods can and should be practiced by anyone in any organization without a certification or any other formal training for that matter. If each person in an organization, whether it be a business or a family at home, spent 10 minutes making one small improvement per day, then the improvements would pile up quickly. There would be noticeable differences in the work or home environment within weeks, if not days. So, what’s the point of earning a certification?

Why Earn a Lean Certification?

There are many ways to learn the theory of continuous improvement methods. Books, videos, websites, conferences, discussion groups, etc. can help develop an understanding of theory. Theory alone isn’t enough. Improving business operations requires skill and change management in addition to theory. Any skill is developed through trial and error (experience).

Credible certification courses are comprised of a body of knowledge combined with an experiential element that will require a certification candidate demonstrate proficiency to an experienced instructor or coach.

The point of a certification is to learn a discreet set of skills to an acceptable level of mastery while avoiding the pitfalls and costs of trial and error.

The Pitfalls of Trial and Error

Trial and error can be a great way to learn. It can also be costly in terms of time, money, and potentially safety. The Wright brothers learned powered fight through trial and error. Many others did the same. Some didn’t survive.

Learning to fly today involves training from a certified flight instructor who follows a proven course curriculum.

Learning Lean doesn’t involve the risks of learning to fly, but you get the point. Some mistakes can provide great learning experiences. Others should be avoided.

The instructor or coach’s role is to help the learner gain the experience from the right mistakes and avoid the wrong ones.

The Importance of Coaching

Qualified coaches have proven proficiency in both the skill of coaching and the skill the learner is trying to develop. The coach observes the learner’s performance and compares it to a reference. Deliberate discussion helps the learner reflect on the gap between the performance and the reference. The reference is a proven method. Kata is an excellent example.

The Kata learner is developing skill in PDCA. The learner demonstrates ability while the coach observes. The coach comes to understand the learner’s thinking through dialogue. This aids the learner by reinforcing and demonstrating the correct method (PDCA) through a series of questions that require the learner to reflect on the PDCA process. What did you plan? What did you expect? What actually happened? What did you learn?

Objective reflection while learning a skill is very difficult to do alone. An outside perspective with someone is already expert in the skill area leads to both faster and correct learning.

The Value of Lean Certification

Certification courses get people from where they are to where they want to be more quickly while avoiding the risks of incorrect practice. The process of earning the certification results in both learning and real-world improvements for the sponsoring organization.

A certificate communicates the proven abilities of the certificant.



  1. Florin Arnăutu

    May 28, 2021 - 3:46 pm

    Good article, a reminder and clarifier of why certifications are important.
    Thank you!

    Nonetheless, besides your company, maybe it would be useful for readers to get a list of other companies you recommend for certification. Maybe such a list already exists, but I am not aware of it.

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