Training Lean Skills Cross Border Print E-mail
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Written by Carlos Rodriguez   
Tuesday, 04 September 2012 02:30

Cultural pride might keep those who need help from asking for it.

Many people assume that higher-cost labor markets are more efficient because workers are better trained in efficient manufacturing principles. The reality is that tools such as Lean Sigma that make higher-cost labor markets efficient can be deployed in virtually any labor market. The trick is putting together the right mix of training and creating an assessment process that ensures core concepts are well understood.

Part of EPIC Technologies’ Lean manufacturing philosophy is to minimize variation both on the production floor and among facilities. Lean and Six Sigma principles are utilized in every facility. The basic principles covered in training are the same. However, there have been some modifications in the way concepts are taught and the coaching process as students in Mexico begin to apply their training. This month, we focus on some of the lessons learned as Green Belt training was deployed in Mexico.

A key part of the training provided to engineers and technicians is a 40-hour Green Belt training course. The course trains students in the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC) process by clustering each of those activities into three-to-five training modules that were initially taught as day-long Saturday courses. The training was provided in English because product engineers were fluent in English. The challenge was that most technicians did not have as strong a comprehension of English as their engineering counterparts. Additionally, even with strong English skills, it can sometimes be challenging to learn new concepts in a language that differs from the language in which the foundation concepts were taught. Plus, culturally it was considered an admission of incompetence to indicate a lack of understanding, so students who were struggling did not ask for help.

Addressing these issues required several modifications:

  • Strong focus is now placed on establishing coaching relationships with more experienced personnel, so students feel comfortable asking for help.
  • Students are now introduced to the activity and results they will achieve through examples and then taught the theoretical concepts after they understand the way the tools will help them do their jobs better.
  • Training is being translated to Spanish.
  • The timing of courses has been changed from 10-hour Saturday sessions to three-hour training blocks several times during the week.
    Initial project deadlines are now set, and there are higher initial performance expectations.

Within the training process, a Black Belt serves as the mentor, and there are also champions. One of the areas of fine-tuning over time was creating the right mix of coaching and accountability. While having a strong coaching relationship is important in building individual student confidence and assessing how well students understand the material, too much of a safety net discourages initiative. At the end of the original training sessions, students were told they were on their own, and they should schedule their champion review when they were ready. The result was that students either took a very long time or never scheduled a project review because they never quite felt the project was ready for review. The corrective action has been to redesign the mentor role. During training the mentor is a supportive coach. Once training is complete, the mentor switches gears and becomes a taskmaster, setting deadlines for the champion review and challenging assumptions. Just as birds learn to fly by being pushed out of the nest, students learn to apply skills by being pushed to demonstrate results. This process has been modified further with the current group of students. Normally there is a single Green Belt leader on each project. Engineers and technicians are now paired as teams.

This is a win-win situation because the technicians have greater hands-on process experience, while the engineers have greater familiarity with DMAIC concepts and their application. The end result of this co-leadership model is much stronger than with the single leader model, due to the complementary skills mix.

The benefits of this approach to training go beyond establishing a strong Lean Sigma culture. Developing labor markets often have personnel who are highly skilled in terms of experience, but less skilled in terms of selling their ideas because they’ve worked in companies where foreign management wanted employees to do what they were told vs. offering suggestions for improving projects. Introducing programs such as Lean Sigma gives these team members the skills they need to sell their ideas to management through cost/benefit analyses. They learn a new language that enables them to transform their recommendations into a practical model that is easy to analyze and approve. This empowerment builds employee confidence and drives strong continuous improvement efforts. It also contributes to lower turnover by enhancing job satisfaction and the feeling of being an important member of the team.

Carlos Rodriguez is a Lean Sigma Black Belt with EPIC Technologies (; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 September 2012 14:10


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