Get a Lean Certification

by Greg Hutchins

Here is possibly the most important career tip you will hear this year: Get lean—certification, that is.

First, read up on lean in the June 2005 Quality Progress, which offered great introductory articles on lean along with a glossary of basic lean terms. Then consider the new lean certification being developed by three organizations.

So, what is lean? Lean manufacturing is a set of simple, doable and proven tools. Process/project lean is a continuous improvement mind-set. Lean enterprise is a way of doing business. As lean has morphed from a tool set into an enterprise solution, so has its real and perceived value.

What’s Different Now?

Lean has been around for 40 years, but only in the last year has it reached its tipping point, gaining critical mass and exploding.

Organizations see what works, then follow the herd. Today’s mega, global success story is Toyota. The company’s management was prescient, anticipating markets such as compacts and hybrids. Toyota has the most efficient manufacturing operations in the world. It has strong brand equity. Toyota’s top line, bottom line and cash reserves are the envy of all—and it did all this largely through lean.

Every movement also needs an expert—a visionary to sing its praises to the world. Jack Welch, former General Electric CEO, has been on the speaking circuit talking up his recent book, Winning.1 The leaning of American companies is his prescription for improvement. Remember how he extolled Six Sigma 10 years ago, and it exploded.


The definitive need to create a credentialing process for lean manufacturing certification was based on a survey conducted a few months ago, with more than 1,100 industry respondents. The survey results are stunning:2

  • A likelihood of pursuing lean certification was indicated by 77%.
  • Lean certification was critical, very important or important according to 83%.
  • Key lean leaders at their supplier companies should earn lean certification, according to 60%.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers, Assn. for Manufacturing Excellence and Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing decided to collaborate on a new industry standard for lean certification, scheduled for launch in the fourth quarter of 2005.3

Think lean White, Yellow, Green, Black and Master Black Belts—the same as Six Sigma. With hundreds of Six Sigma training programs and certifications offered, the challenge for everyone has been to determine which offered real value. A credible certification should be much more than simply getting a ticket punched through taking a test. To be credible, a certification needs to be robust and provable.

The new lean certification will have three critical elements that will enhance its credibility and acceptance:4

  1. An examination that assesses knowledge of lean principles.
  2. Mentoring of certification candidates.
  3. A portfolio that illustrates how lean principles were applied within an organization and documents the results achieved and lessons learned.

What’s in It for You?

The job numbers are stunning. I think as many as 40% of us will be itinerant professionals within a few years, moving from job to job. Our personal differentiator and added value in the consulting marketplace will be the knowledge we have and the abilities we offer an employer.

So, what is in it for you to get lean certified? It comes down to personal marketability and personal brand equity. The certification should be your bottom-line career management tool. Lean should be covered in every professional workshop, certification and career development offering you consider.

In addition to enhancing your knowledge, skills, marketability, personal brand equity and added value, the lean certification will most certainly add to your earnings potential.


  1. Jack Welch with Suzy Welch, Winning, HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.
  2. “SME, AME and the Shingo Prize Launch New Standard for Lean Certification,” news release, April 28, 2005,
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

GREG HUTCHINS is an engineering principal with Quality Plus Engineering and Lean SCM in Portland, OR. He is a member of ASQ.

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