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Action Learning, Kaizen & Lean

Kaizen & Lean Operations

Action Learning, Kaizen & Lean

Action Learning SymbolGiven wide range of practices, it can appear that Action Learning is little different from Kaizen Events or even ordinary task forces. The differences can be subtle but important. All three approaches can (usually) solve the assigned problem. However, the longer range, strategic effects are radically different. Table 1 summarizes the commonalities and differences.

A task force may find a solution to the problem but the implementation is usually slow, painful and uncertain. When complete, the organization reverts to its normal modes of operation.

A typical Kaizen Event solves the problem and implementation is swift and sure. However, outside the immediate area that the problem has addressed, the organization reverts to its normal operating modes. Because the culture has not changed, the benefits of the Kaizen Event may be slowly undone over time. Action Learning emphasizes the extension of learning to others in the organization.

In Action Learning the facilitator's role is less dominant than in a typical Kaizen Event. In the Kaizen Event (or Blitz) the pressure of time forces facilitators to make many decisions about scope and scheduling. The facilitator also exerts heavier influence on specific decisions rather than discussing the issues for hours or days. In Action Learning, the group struggles more but learns more.

In Kaizen, the pressure of time gets fast results and forces people to give up dysfunctional mental models. However, it affects only the people directly involved and only with respect to the specific problem. Participants do not learn how to learn. They do not recognize that other mental models might also be dysfunctional. They rarely carry their new learning into dissimilar areas or use it to deal with dissimilar problems.

Summary of Action Learning

By constantly interweaving learning and reflection, Action Learning increases discernment and brings deeper understanding among the participants. People go beyond their pre-programmed assumptions and mental models.

These increased abilities do not just affect the Action Learning group. Participants carry these new abilities to other parts of the organization and begin to influence the thinking and thinking abilities of many others. The quality of thinking, problem solving and decision-making rises throughout the organization, at many levels and in many diverse situations.

The result is cultural change.


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Table 1 Action Learning Thumbnail Comparison

Element Action Learning Kaizen Event Task Force

1. Learning

2. Cultural Change

3. Fix The Problem

1. Fix the Problem

2. Implement Quickly

3. Learn To Fix Similar Problems

1. Fix The Problem

Time Frame


2-5 Days



Reflection occurs after every session and is integral. There is considerable 'second Loop Learning.

Reflection is limited and occurs at the end.

Reflection, if it occurs, is individual, sporadic and not part of the project.

Facilitator Role

Varies but primary role is to maintain focus.

Facilitator dominates, plans & often makes decisions.

No Facilitator

Strategic Level

Highest Strategy Level/Cultural Change To Learning Organization

Tactical To Mid-Strategic. Example- Implement Workcells.

Tactical-Fix The Problem


Varies but often company-wide

Product or Department


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