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Focus on the Workforce: The Journey Brings New Understanding



Lea A.P. Tonkin Executive Editor
Target Magazine
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Before Eusebio J. (E.J.) Tamez, a plant superintendent for Del Monte Foods, started studying and working toward lean certification at the bronze level in December 2007, he sought the advice of a senior manager who offered suggestions for gaining the most benefit from the process. "He suggested areas where I needed to focus on improvement, and he also impressed on me the importance of tracking my progress—a PDCA [Plan-Do-Check-Act]approach," Tamez said. Since Tamez, based in Crystal City, TX, had been working with several Del Monte operations on lean implementation, he expected that the lean certification readings and requirements would be a good fit with his day-to-day activities.

As Tamez dug more deeply into the required certification readings, he found applications for these learnings beyond the plant floor. "I began to involve this new information with work in other value streams, not just in operations," Tamez said. "For example, in our planning department in San Francisco, I learned about ways that lean can create more value for our company's customers.

"Some of my big 'Ah-ha!' moments about lean happened when I was facilitating and serving on a team at one of our plants in Mexico," he continued. "You need to be there, not just read about lean, to really understand it." Diving into a problem- solving project at the Icmosa facility in Montemorelos, Mexico, the team focused on finding better ways to transport processed fruit ingredients from California to Mexico. In addition to Tamez, team members included the director of operations; production, warehouse, logistics, and materials managers; and an inventory control lead and distribution center manager from McAllen, TX. "We were using mainly truck mode transportation," recalled Tamez. "Pineapple and peaches, for example, were processed in gallon cans at our California plant and transported by truck to our sister plant in Mexico, where product was utilized as ingredient, reprocessed, and the resulting finished product shipped back to the United States. Our team decided to use rail rather than trucks for ingredient transportation from California to Mexico, saving cost and reducing our environmental footprint."

Another key learning Tamez gained from his lean certification studies was the need to look beyond day-to-day tasks. "You need to see your entire operation from a higher perspective—30,000 feet—and not just from an operations perspective," he says.

A useful strategy for building greater understanding about the potential for lean improvements is to share the lean certification journey with others, Tamez found. "We have a reading group that includes plant managers and supervisors at our Crystal City facility. Every week we read a chapter from one of the required readings—it's Gemba Kaizen right now—and then discuss it during our weekly meetings. It helps to promote shared learning about lean and also strengthens teamwork."

Having achieved lean certification at the Bronze level, Tamez now plans to aim for Silver-level certification. He offered suggestions for others considering their own lean-certification journey:

  • Don't put it off. "I took almost two years in my Bronze lean certification journey. It takes time to do projects and assessments, but it's worth it. If I started all over again, I'd begin moving ahead within two months of completing the body of knowledge requirements," Tamez said.
  • Get a mentor. "An experienced lean coach will help you select and plan projects. In time, you can also become a mentor for others," said Tamez.
  • Use lean learnings to work toward improving your organization's environmentally responsible performance, not just gains in traditional performance measures.


Mentoring and Coaching

Seconding the personal and organizational value gained from the lean certification process, Pat Wardwell, chief operating officer of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership also reflected on the coaching process. Wardwell, who is Lean Gold-Certified (LGC), said, "This journey has allowed me to meet and interact with outstanding lean practitioners who have generously shared their time and experiences. I have had the honor to coach and work with improvement teams that have exceeded my expectations time and again. Having the certification process under my belt gives me much greater credibility. Some of the people I have met through the lean certification process have gone on to become clients of my company or have recommended me to others."

As lean practitioners progress in their certification process, they invest in developing others as well as in their own lean training. For Silver certification at the integrative level, candidates must provide evidence in their portfolio of coaching and mentoring other lean practitioners. Although coaching and mentoring within their own company and with previous mentors is encouraged, added opportunities can be found in the Lean Registry (


Lean Bronze Certification Online Review Program

Another resource for lean-certification participants is the Lean Bronze Certification Online Review Program, launched in May 2009. SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) reports that enrollment in this program is steadily growing. It encompasses eight online courses that help candidates prepare for the Lean Bronze Certification exam. This body of knowledge material is not intended as lean training, but rather as review/preparation material for the exam. The program is available for individual purchase online at or as a corporate site license through Tara Douglass at 800.733.4763.


International Certification Partners

SME also reported that many international lean practitioners have shown interest in the lean-certification program. The Northern Europe Cooperation includes of Denmark, Plan (NGO ORG) of Sweden, and Cardiff University, for example. "In response to international requests, we have created a business model that will allow emerging lean leaders outside of North America to begin their pursuit of lean certification," said Tara Douglass, certification liaison for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

This article originally appeared in Target magazine, the official publication of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (Arlington Heights, IL).


Quick Reference

Bronze Level

  • Candidate receives certification kit, applies and takes exam.
  • Candidate compiles portfolio.
  • Portfolio is peer reviewed.
  • Upon receiving passing results on the exam and portfolio, candidate achieves Lean Bronze Certification.

Silver Level

  • Pass exam.
  • Submit portfolio.

Gold Level

  • Pass exam.
  • Submit portfolio.
  • Complete interview.

Program Levels

  • Knowledge Certificate. (This is not a certification.)
  • Lean Bronze Certification.
  • Lean Silver Certification.
  • Lean Gold Certification.


This article was first published in the July 2010 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 7/1/2010

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