mirror picThe KPO, short for kaizen promotion office or officer (a.k.a. lean promotion office, JIT promotion office, operational excellence, company business system office, continuous improvement office…you get the picture) represents an organization’s “lean function.” That lean function has at least 8 key result areas including change management, kaizen event management and daily kaizen deployment. The KPO has an extremely important role in every lean transformation, so the folks in that group need to have a certain set of core and technical competencies.

The competency requirements vary depending upon the KPO’s role or position within the organization. For example, the requirements for a corporate KPO, typically a VP or director level, will have a different weighting or emphasis than say, a business unit or value stream KPO. Makes sense, right?

That said, core competencies, really “how” people get their job done, include: 1) strategic orientation, 2) change leadership, 3) group leadership/facilitation, 4) focus and accountability, 5) talent development, 6) flexibility, 7) interpersonal understanding, and 8 ) self-management. Admittedly, these “soft” skills are hard to develop and hone, but through experience, coaching and study a person can progress.

Technical competencies, the “what” people need to know and be good at, encompass lean principles, systems and tools. For these, experience is the best teacher, along with instruction from a good sensei. But, let’s not forgot good old-fashioned study.  Often KPO’s, and other lean leaders for that matter, have a tough time picking up a book! It’s weird. Heck, a lot of times they’ll BUY the books, but won’t even crack the binding! So, here’s where a little direction and positive pressure may be beneficial.

The SME/Shingo/Shingo Prize Lean Certification Body of Knowledge serves as a great study outline. Similarly, the pursuit of the various Lean Certification levels (Knowledge, Bronze, Silver and Gold) is an excellent way to drive a rigorous program of study (with recommended reading) and application.  Additionally, the Bronze, Silver and Gold certifications require specific experience portfolios that include things like value stream analysis and kaizen event participation or facilitation. Furthermore, Silver and Gold requires the candidate to demonstrate that they have mentored others – knowledge is meant to be shared.

To the Lean Certification or similar courses of study,  formal or informal, the KPO can often do well by pursuing six sigma certification (green belt in most cases is probably sufficient) and other supplemental study in areas like project management. Add also networking, touring other lean operations, exploring the many lean blogs, attending conferences and seminars, etc.

Guess what? As a KPO, the person who is most responsible for your development is you. Intellectual curiosity, to the point of obsession is not a bad thing. Study, apply, learn and teach.  Remember, you can’t share what you don’t have!

So, what do you think? How should KPO’s best develop their capabilities?

Related post: The Kaizen Promotion Office Does What? 8 Critical Deliverables.