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Learning Through Lean

This article is the second of two, each focused on the application of Lean to the development, delivery and improvement cycle of a 3-hour workshop. The first article introduced the project and primary lean principles, as well as described the application the principles to initiate the planning and development of the workshop. If you have not read this first article, I recommend taking a few minutes to do so first in order to set the context.

With the discussion around planning and development of the workshop completed, below you will find the execution of the workshop, the lessons learned during and afterwards, and the actions that have been, or will be applied for future training sessions of the workshop. The article continues with the application of Lean terminology.

It is my hope that walking through the Lean principles in this applied fashion, along with lessons learned, that others will gain a better appreciation of Lean and just how applicable it may be.

DO (with Flow & Pull)

With development of the workshop content and sequencing complete, the time rapidly came to deliver. A strong effort was placed upon ensuring the optimized flow would be executed as planned. Not only would this ensure completion of all of the content, it was also designed to keep people moving forward with the same train of thought – gradual progression through the content and its application.

The concept of pull (allowing the students to draw value as needed) was really only utilized during the session exercises, when any questions arose, or when dialogue commenced either as a result of a question or by my initiation – additional explanation was provided as required to ensure understanding.

The class was larger than anticipated, surpassing the “maximum registrants” allotted, where participants presented a wide breadth of both experience and expertise, albeit mostly within the industrial realm. There were a few junior engineers-in-training, a few intermediates, and many 10 to 15-year engineering and project management veterans. This was the first time I delivered this material, with so many people’s expectations to manage, but I was confident with my preparations.

With an unexpected extension of the lunch break (surprise!), a few last-minute adjustments were made in agreement with the organizers, to accommodate a shortened learning window. I informed the class that they were being introduced to new content (a first of its kind in Canada), the adjustments we would make, and then the class proceeded.

Overall the course was delivered as designed, with the flow only occasionally being interrupted.


In order to “check” upon everyone’s understanding of the content, and the appreciation of the flow and value derived, three primary strategies were utilized.

  1. Participants were asked for honest feedback throughout the duration of the course, as well as afterwards via survey. This gave them an opportunity to bring things up directly, voice concerns over anything they felt others might appreciate too, and also to comment anonymously, depending on their preferences. The group was very supportive and utilized each of these opportunities well.

  2. Direct feedback regarding areas for improvement was requested from both my assistant and one of the organizers, both of whom were in attendance and participating in the workshop. Again, valuable comments were received from both individuals.

  3. I made some of my own observations about aspects that went well and not so well, where and what questions arose, and also noted the timelines in which it took for activities to get started and finished.


As with all minimum viable products, there were a few things learned upon which adjustments have, and will continue to be made. These were the takeaways:

  1. There were notably a few elements meant for context and consistency that could perhaps still be removed, shifted within the timing of delivery, or have less emphasis placed upon them. These were things I felt important overall, but seemed to detract from the flow and added a bit of confusion when it came time to perform one of the exercises.

  2. Although the intent had been to allow some flexibility in approach during exercises due to the experience in the room, at some tables participants felt some of the instructions had been left too vague, or there were too many differing opinions on which way to proceed. Both of these situations led to confusion and delays in getting started with the actual exercises. I realized too late that the importance and effort of gaining alignment between previously unacquainted participants had been underestimated. In this case, a better start would have resulted by setting a standard approach to follow for all.

  3. Facilitating teams through the stages of forming, storming, norming and performing is a positive, but time-consuming process. The first exercise was definitely a good one to get through some of the first two stages, as there was plenty of dialogue (or at least discussion) at each working table. However, focus was lost on recording information that would be needed for the next exercise.

  4. Ultimately, more time for discussion around the instructions and for performing each of the exercises would have benefited everyone. The combination of individuals not knowing each other, of being uncertain with challenging or questioning each other, and with too much flexibility in approach, ensured that none of the exercises were completed fully in the times allotted.

  5. Approximately 60% of the class provided some form of feedback (very high response rate, which was helpful in a Lean implementation such as this). The majority of responders were somewhat or very satisfied with the outcomes (78% on course overall, 89% on content, 94% on presenter). And much of their feedback aligned with my own, with common comments including:

  • A lot of content covered in a short time

  • More instruction or examples for exercises desired

  • Another facilitator would have been beneficial

  • More time was necessary

  • Information a project manager should learn

ACT (for Continuous Improvement)

Since running the GPM P5 Impact Analysis Workshop, a full and complete set of instructions and example of the tool’s use were developed, based upon one of the project exercises done in class. This was issued to all participants along with the tool itself to ensure that they will be able to test the tool out on their own projects with more detailed guidance.

In future, both the instruction set and worked example will be used to demonstrate, with more clarity, the expected steps and outcomes of each exercise.

Consideration will be given to the assignment of leadership roles for each exercise, to help the groups move into norming and performing stages more quickly. While this may add more content, complexity (and time) to the class, it should also bring better value overall for the students.

Finally, the length of the class will be extended, along with holding the limitation to the number of participants that can register a bit lower. This will do several things:

  • Allow more time for people to become comfortable working with each other

  • Allow more time for exercises to be completed, and

  • Allow an ease of facilitating the entire group during exercises such that no questions go unanswered, and delays in getting started are limited.

Developing and running this workshop turned out to be a great learning experience – for the participants, as well as for me. And although with the adjustments made, I expect the next iteration of the class to run smoother, I do anticipate that more lessons learned will come!

May the next round of registrants please step forward!

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