[Cross-posted from LinkedIn]

Hi all,

I'm looking for examples of where lean principles have been put into practice in the context of Learning & Development, and am hoping the Learning & Skills Group can help with this.

Consider L&D as a process of Defining, Designing, Developing and Delivering learning activities. Lean thinking is a mechanism for continuous improvement of those processes which is focused on maximising the value provided to the customer at every stage.

So, I'm looking for L&D teams where ideas such as keizen, visual management, PDSA, value stream mapping, muda, failure demand or Lean Six Sigma have been put into practice - whether it was a success or not!

Many thanks,


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Hi Mark,

It would be great to see answers and actual examples. I'm posting to tell you why in my experience you may not get many.

L&D struggles to demonstrate ROI. It's a constant battle, one that is never won at the department level, but one individual at a time. We can tick boxes, we can Kirkpatrick 1, maybe 2, but in environments where 6-monthly performance reviews are the norm, any longitudinal study is seen as a waste of time, perpetuating the least valuable K1, K2 metrics and the ROI story struggle. We struggle with ROI because we lack a good range of reliable metrics, at least compared to many other fields, including the business fields we support.

I'm not an expert in Lean but I assume it comes from manufacturing. Lean is great when a company moulds plastic shapes, cuts steel sheets into shapes and assembles gadgets. In the manufacturing line, a defect is a defect, it's detectable, it's countable, it's reportable. Lovely metrics. Lots of metrics. But we are talking about learning, people, brains... more to do with psychology than with nuts, bolts and extruded plastics. How do you measure a brain's performance? What is a defect in learning? Is an icebreaker at the beginning of a session waste? It depends on who you ask, of course. So how do you define "defects" and "waste" in the field of learning?

I have found an incomplete answer to that question, but it wasn't in Lean. It was in Agile. I have been practicing Agile, User-Centred Design, Design Thinking and User Experience in the context of learning for a while. Rapid iteration means you don't get to produce the pretty finished elearning products that require full waterfall project management, but I have been in very nimble L&D teams that produced a vast amount of learning solutions within an organisation with thousands of learners by incrementally adding value (value being defined by the product owner, not by an immutable truth such as the presence of a "defect") in suprisingly short periods of time. With Agile, you can ruthlessly and cheaply throw away what is not perceived as value (and it won't hurt, and you can call it "defects" if you like), and produce more material at speed. With UX and UCD, you ensure relevance, engagement, learner excitement that you cannot possibly get from a reductionist methodology such as Lean. Lean is there to eliminate, not to add. UCD and agile combined gives you the ability to innovate learning solutions constantly, and cheaply.

I started this post not really wanting to talk you out of Lean, but now that I read back it looks like it. So yes, I wouldn't look at Lean for learning. There, I said it :-)



Hi Antonio,

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my question.

I agree that there is a problem with metrics when it comes to the design & delivery of learning experiences. And I'm totally with you with regards to the use of Agile etc as part of the process. Building materials in small increments, focussed on the user, is by far the best way to get quality outputs.

I consider Agile techniques a form of Lean, so I wouldn't say you've talked me out of Lean though ;-)

When we think about the processes involved in designing & delivering learning (as if it was something that could be "delivered"...) then I think there is still a place for considering lean principles such as value stream mapping, waste reduction and iterating towards perfection. Agile design & development is part of that, but also there are the administrative processes involved, which are much more easily measured.

I would like to hear more about your nimble L&D teams. Perhaps we could have a chat sometime?

All the best,



Hi Mark,

A training development team in my company (not mine) have recently started working towards developing more in this way. One of my colleagues wrote this article. Maybe it is useful for you.


Thanks Aimee,

Yes, this is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. I've had similar experiences on other elearning development projects, where we got the client in every two weeks to provide feedback. It makes a massive difference to the overall success of the project.

All the best,




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