As I’m starting up a new lean sigma mentoring relationship next week I’ve been pondering roles and approaches: what will I do the same, what will I change as I approach a new student? As a lean sigma sensei my job is to assist the organization in implementing lean and six sigma by guiding and teaching. The knowledge transfer approach is see one, do one, teach one. At first the apprentice just watches. Usually I don’t explain what I’m doing, I just run the kaizen event. After a time the student is called upon to perform some of the routine activities. Then comes the day when the roles start to reverse; the student tries to run a kaizen and the sensei observes, intervening off line, giving feedback, asking questions. As confidence and experience grow the student becomes the sensei when able to teach others.
I’m reminded of something James Womack once wrote "We’re now trying to write down all of the techniques you need to actually become lean. The Toyota teaching method is what we would call sensei-deshi, with the sensei being the great teacher and the deshi, the student. Basically, here’s how it works at Toyota: The kids get out of the university and join the company. Then they’re told, “Okay, you know how to do math, and you know how to read. Forget all the rest of the crap. We hope you had a lot of party time because now you’re going to be working long hours for the next 40 years, and we will teach you what you need to know. We’ll start by having you stay right here and look around for waste—muda in Japanese— and we’ll be back in a few hours.” When the teacher comes back, he’ll ask the employee to tell him all about the waste he sees. It’s an empirical teaching method in which the sensei simply asks questions: “What do you think about this operation?” “Why aren’t you looking over here?” “Over there?” “Why is something happening this way?” They start with applications, and let you figure out the principles. Generally, the way we teach in the West is to start with principles, and then let the pupil to work out applications."