Creating the Perfect Value Stream

Welcome to Part 5 of a 5-part series on Lean Design. If you are still here after reading Parts 1-4, you are probably convinced of the importance of achieving “flow” in your business and manufacturing Value Streams! In this lesson I’ll summarize the four main paths available to you to build your skills in Mixed Model Line Design and Mixed Model Material Management, which I consider to be core knowledge for any Lean Specialist, Manufacturing/Industrial Engineer, or Material Specialist.



This learning method is what scientists, physicians, athletes, musicians, or business professionals have done for millennia: work with a teacher or mentor to learn the essential skills. Athletes have coaches, scientists work as assistants, physicians have a long internship period, Zen students have a Zen Master, etc. The emphasis on mentorship is a huge part of the deployment of the Toyota Production System, and one of the hard-to-copy aspects of the Toyota culture is their “respect for people” through in-house development of their team leaders, supervisions and managers over time. If you are lucky enough to have a trustworthy live mentor, take advantage of it, because that’s the best way to learn. That is not a current option for most of us, so let’s look at other learning possibilities.


IndividualIn the early days of Lean, information about it was hard to find, and the books available were not that good. Today with the internet and a host of excellent reference books, pure information is not scarce, and in fact it can be a bit overwhelming. Careful reading on the subject is going to be a part of your learning experience, no matter what learning path you travel. There are several challenges in just relying on books alone:

  1. Most of us don’t know how to read carefully, or don’t take the time to do so. Our retention of written material tends to be low. Reading for knowledge is slow, and requires a lot of concentration. Maybe you are an exception, so don’t think I am picking on you!
  2. There is a reason why even top athletes have a coach: you don’t know what you don’t know, and it is very easy to be blind to your own weaknesses. It’s easy to misunderstand something without a mentor or coach to set you straight. I have seen this many times with Lean concepts.

That said, I do have a book titled The Complete Guide to Mixed Model Line Design, which you can search for and find on As the title states, it covers this topic in much more detail than I can do in this series.


ComputerWe’re getting closer to the experience of live training by learning from a video and audio presentation. There is a live human (usually) talking to you, and sometimes you can post questions and achieve a level of interactivity. There is a long list of benefits to online training:

  1. 24/7 access from anywhere.
  2. Low cost per student.
  3. Leverage. Create the training once and deliver it 1,000,000 times.
  4. 100% consistency in the message.
  5. Learning can be spread out over time, for better retention.
  6. Testing and recording of results can be done online.
  7. Supervisors can monitor and encourage progress.

On the negative side:

  1. Personal discipline required. Easy to get distracted or pulled away.
  2. Requires internet access.
  3. No immediate feedback or instructor interaction.
  4. Limited Hands-on exercises.
  5. Less engaging than a live instructor.
  6. The quality varies a lot.

In general, online training has great potential and will continue to grow, especially for straightforward technical knowledge that does not require a lot of personal explanation. I recently and successfully assembled and finished a Stratocaster style guitar kit by following YouTube videos. Easy!


TeachingParticipating in a live workshop is qualitatively different from watching a recording or reading a book, in that you have a live human being engaging with you. People tend to pay more attention with a live teacher, although this attention can get eroded when the live sessions go on too long. Next to mentoring, live training (with a qualified instructor) is the method of choice. Here are the pros:

  1. Personal touch. Answer specific questions and go “off topic” if appropriate.
  2. More engaging with a live person.
  3. Can apply knowledge directly to student’s
  4. “Captive Audience”. Students are committed to being there. This is important.
  5. Easier to do hands-on exercises.
  6. Can include extra activities, like plant tours for manufacturing training.

The fact that you are “trapped” with a live class is not a minor detail: most online courses never get completed because the student is not forced to be there! Here are some of the negative aspects of live training:

  1. Expensive. Requires a live instructor.
  2. Travel expenses are often involved.
  3. Not 100% consistent. Quality may depend on instructor.
  4. Takes students away from regular duties for extended periods of time.
  5. Retention will not be optimal. The “drinking from a fire hose” effect.

If you can afford a live workshop, choose that option.

I will mention in passing the option of a hybrid solution: live but online training. This would be similar to a live webinar, but for an entire course. The instructor is there in real time, but over the internet with teleconferencing software. This is not as good as being there physically, but actually pretty close, especially if the students can interact.

If learning about Lean Design in more detail is of interest to you, as I’ve been discussing in this series, then there is a unique opportunity coming up in August. Toyota, the gold standard in Lean Design, will be hosting a public workshop taught by us at their fork truck plant in Columbus Indiana, on the subject of Mixed Model Line Design. The dates are August 7-9, and the workshop includes two plant tours of this award-winning facility. The goal is to learn the Value Stream design methodology in practice at this plant (and many others), see it in action, and bring back to your company some fresh ideas on how to improve what you are doing.

Leave a Reply