How to get the most out of a lean six sigma training provider

Andy Slaney, Principal Consultant at BSI Group highlights some of the key things to ask your prospective lean six sigma (business improvement techniques) training provider before signing up for their course…

The desire to improve process outcomes and the need to deliver those outcomes in the most efficient, cost effective, customer and employee friendly way is (or at least should be) a goal that all organisations are striving for.

With this in mind, for organisations looking to acquire knowledge in the various tools, techniques and methodologies associated with continual improvement (CI), the selection of a suitable training provider and partner becomes paramount.

As someone who works for a global supplier of lean six sigma and business improvement training and support services, there are a number of questions I would recommend that any organisation who is ‘vetting’ potential suppliers ask the candidates they’re considering.

The following 10 questions I’d certainly recommend, although those who have bought training products recently can no doubt add more points of enquiry to the list.

What types of organisations have you worked with and in which sectors are you active?

It may not be an absolute requirement for training providers to have worked successfully across a large number of sectors, or for that matter in your particular sector specifically, but it is clear that multi-sector / multi-regional experience counts. And counts quite a lot! Broad-based experienced not only helps providers gain insights into what techniques work best where, but also generates innovation in the use of CI tools across sectors and enables them to recommend the best solutions to you.

What level of ROI and benefits have your clients achieved as a result of the training you’ve provided to them?

Although not all organisations are looking for ‘big money savings’ from their lean six sigma programmes and every individual project may have different outcomes, lean six sigma is about improvement. Improvement means better business efficiency (reduced process waste), as well as enhanced organisational effectiveness (greater consistency in meeting customer needs) and invariably if done well this generates financial benefits for the stakeholders involved.

Also for organisations looking primarily for staff development, as well as monetary gains from their programme, in Lean Six Sigma what better way to measure progress than through the timely delivery of well-orchestrated project work by those involved. Although training providers may not be directly responsible for benefits accrued, it is clear that great training and support has a major impact on outcomes and great training providers will always follow up with clients to see how things are working out.

Ask your potential training provider how things have worked out for some of their clients, a good provider will always be able to supply case studies to demonstrate their client’s successes.

How much repeat business, or follow on training have you done with clients?

For sizeable organisations that are not just looking to understand lean six sigma, but are intent on deploying the methodology in a serious manner, requirements often extend beyond a one-off training course. In these circumstances a good product, or good service predicates repeat business and so it makes sense to ask any potential provider for examples of the repeat business they have earned and where they have now established themselves with a client as the ‘provider of choice’. References from such clients are a great thing to obtain here.

Who are and what are the backgrounds of the trainers, coaches and facilitators you will be providing?

People learn from people and so CV’s or profiles (incl. experience, qualifications, achievements, types of courses or client support delivered, recommendations and referrals) are paramount. You are often going to be paying a lot to instigate a lean six sigma programme and you need to make sure that the training fees are justified.

Ask to speak with your trainer, get a feel for what they know, the experience they have, what they have achieved with others, as well as their perspectives, personality and fit with your organisation and what you want to achieve.

These early steps often pay off considerably in the long term and remember a key component of any educational package is the quality of delivery – even great content simply won’t hit the mark if trainer delivery is poor.

What delivery options are available?

If online training or the use of internal (to the organisation) trainers are options that are being considered be clear about the impact this will have on delivery effectiveness and the experience that course attendees will get. Particularly in terms of post-course support as an important part of the learning journey.

Online courses or the use of internal trainers will typically be cheaper options and may be very effective, but be clear about how they can be effective for you. If, for example, knowledgeable internal resources are at a premium, or inexperienced trainees would benefit more from one to one trainer-trainee contact how will your chosen online or internal solution work for you.

Additionally, always ask your potential supplier how they can support any online training you are looking to provide, or your internal training goals through things like material provision in conjunction with ‘train the trainer’ courses and trainer assessments.

What content will be covered during the course and how will it be relevant to my organisation?

Understanding course provider content in detail is essential as it can not only help you benchmark against other suppliers, but will ensure that what you will learn fits neatly with your expectations. We have all seen the ‘earn your Green Belt within 2 days’ type courses advertised or those that pertain to be deeply sector specific, but in fact are a slightly modified hybrid or a rehash of a generic package. Buyer beware!

Understand content, make comparisons, take advice and always look to choose the best course for your needs and if you can’t find what you want most reputable providers will normally be happy to consider the development of a bespoke package. So if you feel their current offer doesn’t quite fit ask for modifications and how these can be achieved.

What support do you offer to clients beyond the training course?

For those new to something like lean six sigma and for organisations that cannot provide internal experienced support to trainees it is sometimes essential that a third party step in. Ask your potential provider whether they will be able to provide ongoing coaching, progress evaluation and facilitation should you need them to? If they can’t, be clear how you will get around this barrier since post-course support for trainees in many circumstances might be considered a ‘must have’.

What other training or educational products do you offer?

CI and lean six sigma do not exist in a vacuum and the approach and ‘mindset’ that successful practitioners develop can have a far-reaching impact. Particularly for those looking for ongoing staff development, it is worthwhile asking any potential training provider what other products and services they offer – change, project and quality management training, as well as leadership courses, can often supplement Green or Black Belt training very effectively, as can additional ‘functional’ courses.

If all of your educational needs can be supplied by one trusted provider who has built an in-depth knowledge of your organisation and everything they provide is interwoven then the positive impacts of implementing ‘a holistic staff development and educational strategy’ will soon become abundantly clear.

Do you use lean six sigma within your own organisation and what positive results have you seen?

What you are really asking here is ‘do you walk the talk’. If a training provider truly believes in their product, given lean six sigma’s cross-sector applicability, should they not be using the methodology and techniques themselves?
It stands to reason that they should and if they don’t ask them why not and why does what they are recommending for you not work for them? There may be reasons, but in most circumstances, there will be limited excuses for providers not using at least some of the methods and philosophies themselves that they profess will work for others.

Finally, what’s the price?

Third party training and support costs money, and how the pricing supplied by your potential providers fits with your budget is obviously critical, as is your need to attain the best value for money. The key word here, however, is VALUE and so any pricing received from potential suppliers needs to be viewed within the context of the answers obtained to all previous questions.

For example, a low priced, but ineffective training course with limited support is in the long run far more expensive than a higher priced course with adequate support, that delivers results. Staff development, increased customer satisfaction and financial payback to your organisation, are typical objectives and so never fail to bear these in mind when choosing a training provider. As we all know, in most spheres, the cheapest isn’t always the best, but nor necessarily is the most expensive and so evaluate carefully.

Good luck in meeting your future CI training and educational needs. I’d welcome feedback from both providers and trainees on any of the advice given here and please feel free to add additional questions or points to my list.

Andy Slaney

Principal Consultant
BSI Group


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