Lean Certification Effort Accelerates
Program aimed at developing transportable lean credentials continues to advance
By Brian Hogan
On page 165 of the September issue of Manufacturing Engineering, an article entitled Lean Certification Standard Sought announced an effort by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, and the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing to develop an industry standard for Lean certification. When it's fully developed, the new standard will be intended for manufacturing professionals who need transportable credentials that demonstrate to all interested parties their knowledge of Lean Manufacturing principles and tools.
Progress continues on the development of the new standard. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers will begin taking applications for the new certification this month.
Certification includes development of an Experience Portfolio that demonstrates application of Lean Principles, the results achieved in these applications, and lessons learned by the applicant for the certification. This portfolio will show employers (and/or potential employers) that the certified individuals are able to apply lean principles in any company going through a lean transformation. In addition, the certification program involves a mentoring program, which gives each applicant a qualified guide (mentor) to help him or her succeed in achieving certification. Both the Experience Portfolio and the mentoring program were launched at the AME conference held in Boston October 31 - November 4.
Each certification level requires the applicant to pass a written examination consisting of approximately 150 questions within a three-hour time limit. Development of the examination necessary for achieving the first level of certification (there are four in all) is now underway. The first level in the certification process demonstrates knowledge of lean principles, and results in the award of a certificate, but not actual certification. In addition, the applicant must have begun to apply lean principles in the workplace.
The second level of certification demonstrates that the applicant can use lean principles and tools to drive improvements and show results. Those who apply for the third level of certification should be able to drive improvements with lean principles and tools, and orchestrate the transformation of a value stream. At the fourth level, the practitioner holds a position of authority over assets, processes, and people, and has shown an understanding of all aspects of lean transformation across an enterprise.
Candidates for any level of certification will receive the detailed explanation of the preparation required by that level via e-mail. Applicants must satisfy the certification requirements for the levels in sequence. That is, to become certified at level two, you must first be certified at level one, etc. The applicant who wants to be certified must pass the exams or demonstrate the necessary experience at all the levels he or she wishes to skip.
Steve Howell, manager for manufacturing learning, General Motors Corp. (Pontiac, MI), observes that lean certification is going to be very important to industry. "Lean manufacturing is becoming something that manufacturers need from a competitive standpoint," observes Howell. "To be able to understand the level of expertise someone has is very important. This certification process clearly defines a person's knowledge."
Passing a test, or obtaining certification, doesn't result in lifetime certification. The successful applicant must renew his/her lean certification at intervals of three years, or lose the certification. This requirement makes obtaining and sustaining certification into a journey that lasts pretty much through the applicant's career.
Clearly, it takes little effort to hang out a shingle and declare oneself a lean expert. Obtaining the new SME Lean Certification on the other hand, will demand years of work. Why would a person choose to go through this difficult, time-consuming procedure? "People will do this because, once certification is obtained, it's going to provide a lot of credibility," says Howell. "If you have the certification, there's not going to be any doubt about your knowledge of lean."
Nearly 100 industry, academic, and volunteer practitioners of lean have been involved in varying degrees in developing the program. "Blitz Week," which took place at SME headquarters in Dearborn, MI, last July, illustrates the kind of commitment necessary to develop the certification program.
During Blitz Week, 47 experienced lean practitioners gathered to tackle the rapid development of lean certification. Participants came from large companies, such as Boeing, Ford, and GM, small and mid-size companies like AutoZone, Technicolor Video Services, Cardone Industries, and Omnova. Some were faculty from colleges and universities, others were personnel from training and consulting firms.
Over a period of 3 1/2 days, exam questions were written. Says GM's Howell: "I was involved in the second and third days of Blitz Week. It was quite an exciting event. There were two teams; one took care of mentoring, and one looked at testing as well as how to review portfolios and candidates. We discussed the whole process of laying it [certification] out. It was a very intense work session." The participants used a rigorous validation process, determined how a portfolio of knowledge and experience would be used to validate expertise, and worked out how mentoring would be used as the third key element of the certification.
If you wish to participate in the further development of the certification program, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers are welcome.
This article was first published in the November 2005 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.