If you're familiar with the process-improvement methodology known as Lean - that of eliminating the expenditure of any resource that does not directly increase business performance - you might associate it solely with manufacturing. Interestingly, Lean's influence has spread beyond the assembly line to non-manufacturing lines of business: hospitals use Lean to save lives, and programmers mash up Lean to reduce defects, for example.
Training is one non-manufacturing application that benefits from the Lean perspective of banishing waste.
For anyone interested in improving their course development, my colleague Todd Hudson offers a very useful summary of training wastes that can improve course development.
- Use sound analysis to identify waste. Say you're designing classroom-based training and learner travel expenses are part of your budget. If the material could be delivered effectively via online training, then a travel budget would be transportation waste. Printing materials that learners could consume electronically would commit the sin of inventory waste. Teaching more than they can remember would be over teaching waste. You get the point.
- Don't solve a problem that doesn't need fixing. A big advantage of Lean is that it helps you identify a problem correctly before jumping to an answer. For example, say your shipping company wants to reduce accidents by improving forklift safety. Before developing your training course, you troubleshoot and discover the issue isn't forklift misuse—it's bad lighting and poor dock signage, problems that won't be solved with driver retraining. Imagine how much waste you prevented by finding the true root cause of the problem.
- Get learner input. Involving users in continuous improvement efforts is key to Lean's success. This applies to training, too—gathering feedback can take several forms, such as user testing, learner surveys and on-the-job observation.
- Invest time up front to prevent defects. Defects can create huge hidden costs. It's particularly insidious if learners have no feedback channel (see bullet point above) and defects go undetected. So get it right the first time—make sure source materials are current, identify and fix bugs, and user-test if you can. This up-front effort is small compared to an expensive reworking, incomplete instructions and mistakes on the job later.
- Know what success looks like. After developing a training course, you might overlook finding out how well it worked. One way to avoid this is to determine from the start how you'll measure success. Ideally, it is best to make the metrics as specific as possible. You can't reliably measure "a safer workplace" or "more accurate software usage," but you can put metrics around "fewer preventable accidents" or "increased sales." Even subjective outcomes, such as customer satisfaction ratings, count as data if designed well.
Finally, you can help take your business to a whole new level when you take into account how your training is delivered. If your company has an existing technology platform, consider integrating a learning management system to house all content on a central platform. This eliminates the need for days-long training conferences and transportation costs and allows you to train, track and measure learner performance easily and efficiently.