lean management

Classroom vs. Online Learning – Which one is better?

As a child I well remember my father declining to tell us the meaning of words when we asked him. He would always say “Look it up in the dictionary”.  A true educator all his life, he knew that we would learn more and retain it better, if we did the research ourselves. In a broader sense, he understood the meaning of education (from the Latin educo ‘I lead out’) and delighted in finding various practical ways to satisfy our childish curiosity – all in the interest of enhancing our learning environment.

Learning is the process through which people acquire knowledge, skills and /or attitudes. New knowledge adds to what we know e.g. knowledge of statistics, knowledge of the six sigma DMAIC problem solving cycle. New skills change what someone can do e.g. computer skills, Minitab skills, or presentation skills. A new attitude means we change previously held beliefs, and typically change how we behave e.g. we gain confidence or we learn to accept a different approach to problem solving. Traditionally our journey to acquiring new knowledge, skills, and attitudes has taken place in the classroom or formal workshops.

In over 18 years spent facilitating formal workshops, I have become fascinated by the variety of learning styles that one can readily observe in the course of a day. Some like learning through debate and discussion, and will interject and ask questions and challenge (all good things) at frequent intervals; some like the interactive group exercises, and others are more comfortable reading through the text book and course notes. A blended learning workshop, customised to suit the client need and address the business problem in hand, is the most effective business learning environment that I know of. That, and the follow-on practical work that puts the theory to the test, and allows for learning on-the-job.

However, workshop-based learning is far from being the only option. Due to geographical distance, family commitments, budget constraints, or all combined, many people seek a more convenient alternative. One of the biggest changes happening in the education system is the steady transition to online tutorials. It was only a matter of time before the demand would grow for the convenience of online learning, especially if it is blended with written course work and occasional group sessions.

In Ireland, IT Sligo, who have over a third of their students now studying online, are at the forefront of this change regarding lean and six sigma learning. They offer a free six-week course in Lean Sigma Quality. Their MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) runs from October to December each year, so there’s still time to register now up until November the 1st.

The course has been running for the past six years and gives an introduction to Lean Sigma Quality, which has revolutionised the global manufacturing and services industries for over two decades. Nowadays, many employers now look for these skills in potential clients and it is a highly sought after practice of tools and techniques that ultimately creates customer satisfaction and a better workflow.

The course covers the following topics…

  • Introduction to Lean and ‘waste’ elimination
  • Lean Tools
  • Error Proofing (poka-yoke)
  • 5S and Visual Factory
  • Introduction to Six Sigma and variation reduction
  • Six Sigma DMAIC problem solving methodology
  • 7 Quality Tools
  • Descriptive Statistics
  • Lean & Six Sigma examples from Manufacturing, Service and Healthcare sectors


All online courses are different and if you have never done one before, it might sound a little daunting. Unlike sitting in a classroom where a facilitator can assess your interest from your body language and level of inquistiveness, this isn’t manageable with an online course so self-discipline is key. You need to put aside the time each week and keep encouraging yourself to move forward over the six-weeks. This course consists of a series of short recorded lectures with some extra learning resources available online. During the course, you will have access to discussion areas where you can ask questions and get support from your fellow classmates. This is something I would highly recommend. Doing an online course can often feel like a lonely experience and can lack the appreciation or encouragement from those we would usually get it from if going to a physical college building each week. But by getting involved in the discussion boards it gives you the opportunity to help others whilst also discovering suggestions and ideas you may not have thought of yourself. Also one successful motivational tool in such online courses are regular quizzes, which smartly are included in this course as your build up to submitting your final report.

On completion, if successful, you will automatically receive your certificate electronically which you can immediately email to your boss or a potential employer, before you pop open a bottle of bubbly and finally put your feet up for the evening.


Lean Restaurant Management

The Gallery Cafe in Gort takes us a long way from high volume manufacturing! Sarah Harty, owner of this Co. Galway restaurant, exemplifies lean practice in many ways e.g. sourcing from local suppliers, good teamwork, innovative use of space and giving back to the community. And the proof of the pudding – a customer review score of 4.5 on Trip Advisor.  Her story is an inspiration to anyone wishing to implement lean business.

Over fifteen years ago, a young woman, Sarah Harty from County Meath, fell in love with the small town of Gort in south Galway.  In 2005, Sarah opened The Gallery Cafe, a place she soon turned into a hub for her local community. Although she didn’t have any experience in running a business, especially one dealing with catering, it didn’t stop her from following her gut and seeing it through with passion. Her initial business idea was simple – paint pictures and serve customers.

One of the first important decisions Sarah took though was finding the right location, which would ultimately lead to a great lean management structure.

The original cafe in Gort was closed down after only a few years in business due to fire regulations, so she moved up further in the town. Although this new premise was great, she learned a lot about what she didn’t want in business. Sarah realised that a larger venue and bigger staff can bring unwanted stresses that her business model ultimately didn’t need.

As luck would have it, within a few years Sarah was able to buy the original location for a great price and refurbished the entire building. This is where it gets interesting. Her basement floor is now made up of a kitchen, bathroom, and an 18-foot well which attracts many a tourist. The ground floor is where her cafe, restaurant, and art galley is located which also acts as a monthly music venue for local artists. The first floor of the building hosts yoga classes and kids meditation with Life Drawing Workshops taking place there in the winter months, and on the top floor is where Sarah now lives.

Sarah’s food is simple and seasonal. She sources everything locally from her butcher next door to her Uncle who provides berries. Even the crockery they use is sourced locally with a team bonding exercise every year with the staff making their own plates and cups together with local ceramics maker Michael Kennedy.

Instead of creating something for her community, she did her research to see what the locals wanted and then met their needs. For Sarah, a successful business is built on great staff and a happy kitchen. Gort has a significant Brazilian community. So instead of filling a kitchen with stressed chefs throwing pots and pans, stamping their feet and ponding their fists, she filled her kitchen with a bunch of happy local Brazilian ladies who bring a great energy to the place.

Although, Sarah’s initial plan was to paint pictures and serve customers, she soon realised that this wasn’t going to be a reality and that it was more beneficial for all to use the gallery as a hub to showcase 22 artists from the area every year. This again, made the community the focal point of her business.

Sarah now employs 12 full-time staff and through hard work, proper planning and practical decisions – her business is now thriving. As she simply puts it “If you support your local community, they will support you.”

See the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXxmQeqDxF0&t=20s

Lean Restaurant Management

Here’s a 15-minute video that takes us a long way from high volume manufacturing! The owner of this Co. Galway restaurant, The Gallery Cafe in Gort, exemplifies lean practice in many ways e.g. sourcing from local suppliers, good teamwork, innovative use of space and giving back to the community. 

Click HERE for further details.