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Contributing from Day 1: How one Lean Leader used the training to kick off her first week on the job

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Lean Leaders' alumna Sharon Jan recounts her experience in PPI's advanced training in process improvement and change management and how Lean Leaders helped set her, and her team at BART, up for success. PPI Principal Justine Hinderliter had the privilege of coaching Sharon during the Fall 2022 cohort of Lean Leaders.

Sharon Jan, BART Senior Performance Analyst

I signed up for the Lean Leaders training program before I had even completed a week at my new job. As a member of a new team at BART called Performance & Innovation, I would be working with departments across BART to measure and improve their processes and performance. To hit the ground running, I knew I’d directly benefit from Lean Leaders, which equips public professionals like me to implement process improvement and change management in our daily work.

Lean Leaders’ laser focus on application shone through from the start. Having just joined a new team, I would have been happy to passively consume the training content. 'Plenty of time to implement what I learned after I was a seasoned employee,' I thought. But PPI’s expert practitioners have field-tested their training and tools many times; they know all too well that learning happens in the action, not by osmosis.

Each training day was interactive and tasked us with practicing the tools as we learned them. They kept us on our toes–sometimes we’d be in small groups, or pairs, or even performing a larger exercise with half of the class. We received homework assignments to complete in between virtual training days and met with our program coach to get immediate feedback and hold us accountable. While the assignments took some work and time, I can can tell you from experience that you get back what you put in.

Lean Leaders Fall 2022 cohort

As a newly minted Lean Leaders alumna, I’d like to share some of my reflections on how you can get the most out of the training:

Get comfortable with your problem. Lean Leaders training is centered around defining and solving a problem you experience at work using Lean tools. The coaches live by Einstein’s saying: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” Lean Leaders guides you from defining to measuring to diagnosing your problem before you even touch solutions. What this means is that, if you tend to jump to solutions and action, you’ll quickly learn to take a step back and approach your problem with more thought and care. Ultimately, I found that this approach led me to develop a much more impactful set of solutions.

Take advantage of 1:1 time with your coach. As part of the Lean Leaders program, I met with my coach Justine regularly. These meetings provided individualized mentorship that further clarified what I learned in the classroom. Lean Leaders coaches have years of experience in process improvement and change management. I tried to make sure I got the most out of my time with my coach by preparing deliverables for her to react to, and coming with specific questions. My goal was to use my time with my coach to remove as many obstacles from my project as possible–and that really paid off!

Bring what you learn back to your team. After taking the training, I truly believe that Lean works best as a team sport. Luckily, my team at BART is made of Lean process improvement experts who were thrilled to conduct a fishbone diagram analysis with me. Because my team is obsessed with continuous improvement, the tools I learned in Lean Leaders have continued to compound to make our work more efficient and effective, even in areas outside of my project. If you’re going back to a team who is new to Lean, encourage your team to embrace a continuous improvement mindset. You could walk them through some of the exercises you learn in training, set aside regular time to define problems, conduct root cause analyses, and think through improvement ideas. You’ll be surprised how many innovations you can think of to everyday work problems.

Use Lean tools to communicate with stakeholders. I also found that the tools we used in Lean Leaders for root cause analysis, solution prioritization, and problem definition all became highly useful communication tools. By presenting the deliverables I completed in training to my manager and director, I was able to gain their buy-in for a set of ambitious solutions.

Don’t just save Lean for your big problems! Just as Lean is best used with a team, Lean is best used continuously. While I was able to use Lean tools to solve a big problem our team faced, I’ve since used the same tools to think through smaller improvements for our team, including creating email templates, standard trackers, and even re-organizing our supply cabinet. This tip may be especially useful when you have a team who is not yet familiar with the Lean approach.

As a result of the program’s thoughtful sequencing, coaching, and in-depth, interactive curriculum, I was able to convert a vague problem (our team needed help prioritizing project requests) to a detailed action plan with targeted solutions, a clear timeline, and metrics. We now have a clear process that we use to shape how we take on new projects and a way to measure how the process is working for us. And, if we find something is not quite right, we can go back to our toolbox and continuously improve!"

Interested in taking your problem-solving and change management skills to the next level?

Our next Lean Leaders program begins on March 23rd.

Reserve your spot now!

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