In Lean, the term sensei means ‘expert’ or ‘master’ and highlights the Japanese origin of modern lean practices. Its use shows great respect to the recipient. It is normally bestowed upon lean practitioners who have shown extraordinary skill in lean implementation, and are exceptional at passing that knowledge on to others.
If you like this reference guide, please help us spread the word about it!
This term is commonly used in companies with a Japanese heritage, or that work frequently with Japanese consultants. It is less commonly used in Americanized versions of Lean.
But even when the specific term, sensei, is not used, the concept of the Lean sensei is. Most companies have a few well-respected Lean implementers who are asked to participate in the most important projects, or are consulted regularly. They end up taking on a mentoring role with those in their discipline.
Find yourself a ‘sensei’ who can help you develop faster in your skills than you could alone. Be careful who you choose—make sure that their expertise is real, and not perceived. It is easy to confuse knowing something with mastering something. True sensei thinking is less about knowing specific tools than it is about knowing how to think about a problem in an insightful way with a focus on flow and waste reduction.
When you identify a sensei to use as a Lean mentor, use them as a sounding board for projects, but also take time to have the occasional philosophical discussion about Lean.