We had a great little workshop today looking at applications of Lean Thinking in the L&D context.

I left the group with four exercises to carry out back in their organisations:

  1. Identify your customers, and the value you bring to them. Consider both direct and wider customers. Are learners your customers? If not, who?
  2. Identify the chain of activities that takes place to bring value to your customers. In as much detail as possible.
  3. Identify activities that add no value to the process. Can these be removed? Can activities be done in a different way or a different order?
  4. What does perfection look like from the perspective of your customer? Use the Plan, Do, Study, Act cycle to iterate towards perfection.

Over the next four weeks, I'm going to pose a question based on each of these exercises.

So, this week, the question is:

Who is L&D's customer, and what value does L&D offer them?

Options might include:

  • The learners themselves
  • The learners' managers
  • The compliance department
  • Your organisation's customers
  • ?

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

All the best,


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L&D’s customer is anyone who is willing to pay for or sponsor Learning and Development.

The value L&D offers is the removal of whatever is causing the payer or sponsor pain, arising from lack of training or perceived lack of training or lack of availability of training.


It is worth considering that the customer and the consumer of L&D are typically different.

Thanks Dave,

I like the idea of "removal of whatever is causing the payer or sponsor pain"

But I would reword the second part of your sentence slightly:

The value L&D offers is the removal of whatever is causing the payer or sponsor pain, where that pain is caused by a lack of training or the need for performance support

How can we add value when the customer is only perceiving a lack of training? That's like me going into KwikFit saying please fix the brakes, when the noise is caused by a dodgy bearing. If we simply accept the customer's viewpoint, then we're not adding value.



I have a different point of view...

The L&D department/division in an organization is, in my opinion, part of the support mechanism to the business side in order to achieve their goals. As such we need to be perceived as  Business Partners and as Trusted Advisers.

Let the Business managers and employees tell you what they want in their own words ("My new call center sales persons have difficultly achieving their weekly sales"; "The first line managers are asking for a time management workshop for their teams", "there are too many recalls of ....") 

Then together with them analyze the situation - and then help in creating the solution - which do not necessary result in training materials or a course. Sometimes what they perceive as the problem is actually not (like your car repair metaphor) and some times we (L&D) are not the solution. We must be able to tell them this.

We must be perceives as giving added value to them, through our tools, expertise and experience

To summarize, I see our customers to be the business side of the organization. The consumers can be managers and employees, customers and even suppliers.

Mark, interested to hear what sort of lean methodologies you introduced or discussed during the session?

I'm personally in the process of obtaining "lean certification" within my company for L&D activity.

Interesting post! I understand the perspective is from an internal L&D department or professional (and my response is from that perspective). I often advise L&D departments and professionals to ban the word 'customer' as soon as possible and in the most radical way. For me - and I noticed for many others - it suggests that there is a customer-supplier relationship (I'll pay you if you deliver me this or that). I think that is a false framework to work with leading to mediocrity at the best. Any department within an organisation can have a performance issue (or ambition) and a partnership relation could help to solve/achieve it in the best possible way. If there is a request L&D should do a good analysis of the issue together with the department and finding root causes for the problem or performance support measures to best realize the ambition. If causes or measures are related to deficiencies in capabilities only then the L&D department can provide solutions based on / designed from it's own expertise. The solutions have to be effective (and not 'fun' or 'fast' or whathever customers like). Partnership is based on trust. 'I trust you people of the department and respect your area of expertise and I hope you trust me and respect my area of expertise - let's combine our expertise and work together for the best result'. Accepting customer - provider relationships often leads to 'I want this and I want it now - so deliver it to me".

These are my thoughts Mark and I have to say I very much like the lean thinking approach and remove scrap from processes related to learning. But I like to think lean in relation to organizational goals and/or purpose - with purpose 'becomming' stronger these days. So maybe my answer to your question would be that Purpose is the customer. Greetings, Ger



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