8.09.2012

The "Preceptor" and the Lean Transformation

Conrad Soltero and Patrice Boutier recently published an interesting book titled The 7 Kata: Toyota Kata, TWI, and Lean Training that explains why a mix of the skill sets that Training Within Industry (TWI) and the Toyota Kata (behavior patterns) teach is the ideal recipe to boost organizational synergies and enhance any Lean transformation.

In this book, the authors introduce a term -- preceptor -- that might be unfamiliar to readers of Lean literature. I asked Conrad if he could expound on how exactly he and Patrice define this term, and here is his repsonse:

After working in a healthcare environment, I became curious about its use in that industry sector. After a deeper understanding of its use in healthcare and delving a bit into the word’s origins, Patrice and I became convinced that it was an important concept that would convey a proper meaning for the English reader.

Any organization preparing for a Lean journey must understand that what they’re actually undertaking is an organizational transformation -- a true renovation of their entire culture. As creatures of habit, we know that transformation at this level is not trivial and many managers will be asked to not only do things differently, but quite possibly to lead for the first time in their careers.

When we say lead, we mean the ability to: prepare their charges for the transformation, demonstrate Lean skills (7 kata), teach the Lean skills, maintain the efficacy of the skills, and have a command of the tools of Lean and Six Sigma. This depth and breadth of required improvement knowledge exceeds certifications, colored and non-colored belts, and even formal education. Once this knowledge is acquired, however, a tacit understanding of the organization’s “precepts” becomes inherent and can be more easily spread throughout the organization. Hence the word preceptor was chosen to reflect the level of commitment that the organization’s leadership must prepare for.

The use of the word preceptor seeks to translate the word sensei into a descriptive English word. We understand from martial arts that a sensei is more than a trainer or teacher. Our understanding was that a sensei is also tasked with preserving the ethic or “precepts” of the given martial style. We felt the need to not only distinguish the differences between a kata coach and a preceptor, but also sought out a somewhat unfamiliar expression that might evoke curious investigation. Our primary concern was in convincing management that their Lean transformational efforts will fall flat without their practice and teaching of the three Lean skills (improvement, one-on-one JT, and problem solving).

Are any readers familiar the term preceptor in this context? Do you agree with Conrad's use of the word in relation to the term sensei?

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Somehow, it is applicable. Sensei is a relative term but if you go back to its original meaning, it is completely different to what the book says.

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