The Pitfalls of Substanceless Training Programs in Lean Transformation

Prominent organizations and individuals have long engaged in reverse alchemy, where gold is TPS and The Toyota Way and lead is the fluffy training programs weakly derived from TPS and The Toyota Way. With fluff comes lots of wishful thinking (hoping that some type of important change will happen when there is little or no evidence that it happens) and lots of willful ignorance (deliberately remaining uninformed despite the existence of available information), both of which are disconnections from reality and thus far removed from the kaizen mind.

Lean is home to vast substanceless and flimsy training programs that do little or nothing to realize the vision of TPS and The Toyota Way or of Lean transformation. It seems that the principal benefit of such training is three-fold: 1) to make people feel better about themselves; 2) that they know more than others and are thus more erudite; and 3) in doing so elevate their status. These are the wrong benefits.

The Importance of Substance in Lean Training Programs

When embarking on a Lean transformation journey, it is crucial to prioritize substance over superficiality in training programs. Substance refers to the practical application of Lean principles, methodologies, and tools, which align with the core values of TPS and The Toyota Way. By focusing on substance, organizations can ensure that their training initiatives contribute to meaningful change and continuous improvement.

The Flaws of Flimsy Training Programs

Flimsy training programs, devoid of substance, fail to deliver the desired outcomes of Lean transformation. They may create an illusion of progress or knowledge, but ultimately fall short in driving sustainable change. Here are some of the pitfalls of substanceless training programs:

1. Limited Impact on Realizing the Vision

Substanceless training programs do little or nothing to bring organizations closer to realizing the vision of TPS and The Toyota Way. Without a strong foundation in the principles and practices that underpin Lean thinking, participants may struggle to apply their learning effectively in their work environment. This gap between theory and practice hinders the transformation process.

2. Superficial Benefits

One of the primary drawbacks of flimsy training programs is that they primarily serve to boost participants’ egos rather than driving tangible results. When the focus shifts from genuine improvement to personal validation, the essence of Lean transformation is lost. Participants may feel a false sense of superiority without having the skills or knowledge to drive meaningful change.

3. Status Over Substance

Substanceless training programs often prioritize status elevation over the development of practical skills. Participants may become more concerned with appearing knowledgeable or erudite rather than actually applying Lean principles to solve real-world problems. This emphasis on status can create a culture of superficiality and hinder the true potential of Lean transformation.

Embracing Substance in Lean Training

To ensure the success of Lean transformation efforts, organizations must prioritize substance in their training programs. Here are some key considerations:

1. Practical Application

Training programs should focus on equipping participants with practical skills and knowledge that can be directly applied in their work. Emphasize hands-on learning, real-world case studies, and opportunities for participants to practice Lean principles in their daily activities.

2. Continuous Improvement Mindset

Instill a kaizen mindset in training programs, encouraging participants to embrace a culture of continuous improvement. This involves fostering a deep understanding of Lean principles and empowering individuals to identify and eliminate waste, improve processes, and drive sustainable change.

3. Alignment with TPS and The Toyota Way

Ensure that training programs align with the core values and principles of TPS and The Toyota Way. By grounding training initiatives in these foundational concepts, organizations can ensure that participants develop a deep understanding of Lean thinking and its practical application.


Substanceless training programs in Lean transformation offer little value and can hinder progress towards realizing the vision of TPS and The Toyota Way. Organizations must prioritize substance, practical application, and a continuous improvement mindset in their training initiatives. By doing so, they can drive meaningful change, empower individuals, and create a culture of sustainable improvement.