Lean Training: Lessons From Vimy Ridge
Who is the best at lean training? The Military. They must. Young, inexperienced nineteen-year-old+ children are your responsibility. You must prepare them to fight and win. You have to survive. How is the military able to do this in such a short time? They teach the raw recruits how to survive, and one of those best practices is to react, not react.
What does this mean? Respond, not react. It’s a simple concept, but it is worth considering. It’s a field day, and all hell is breaking out, so you don’t have the time to read the manual. The manual may actually be used as a triage blanket. What should you teach your men? They are trained to handle what’s happening around them. They can’t jump without looking, so give them the best tools to help determine the next steps.
It can be challenging to recall the plan when…
This means that troops on the ground must demonstrate both discipline and ingenuity. They must be able to defend and fight for their country, and they must also be able to solve problems and achieve success. When the military is involved, there is always a plan and an objective. Any ground grunt will tell you that it is difficult to remember the project when there are bombs going off every 15 seconds and bullets flying.
Most people find everyday work not so exciting—however, problem-solving sounds very much like lean training.
Although Lean training is a new idea, it’s not new to the Canadian military. Canada will never forget Vimy Ridge as the place where the Canadian Army first came together. The history of Canada shows that the Canadian Army won, where the British and French armies failed. The Canadian Army achieved this feat by adopting a new approach to fighting the war. The crucial part of the plan was to train and do it in a way no one has ever done before.
The Canadian officers met with their British and French counterparts who had been in the Vimy Ridge attacks. Both militaries shared their experiences, and the analysis of these experiences influenced the Canadian battle plan. This would be a lean analysis.
A lean, mean fighting machine to train
Canadians also benefited from their personal war experiences. Many of the officers had previously served in the Boer War. They had suffered terrible losses, and the commanding officer, who was the only one who knew how to execute the plan, was killed in action within minutes. The rest of the soldiers didn’t know what to do and often lost because they were not given leadership. The Canadians decided that everyone needed to see the plan, even the cooks. In the event of an officer falling, the next man who stepped in to fill the void was responsible. The project included everyone.
We would today say that it is putting in place a lean methodology, blending the plan and team. It was transformative. No one had thought to tell the enlisted men that they would have to assume an officer’s position if their officer died.
They were trained. This was the main difference in the Canadian approach. The Canadian system was to introduce the troops behind the front lines on a full-scale model. White tape marked trench positions. The platoons were taught to leap-frog each other – to defend a position and cover the next unit as they moved towards the next objective. The first forty-thousand trench maps were printed and then distributed. Everyone was supposed to know the location of the entire battlefield. The goal was to move quickly on the ground using precision artillery strikes and the most recent weaponry, the machine gun or rifle-launched grenade.
It’s evident that many lean methods were used today. There are many parallels between analysis, planning, evaluating, and setting benchmarks. The most striking thing about the army’s emphasis on training everyone to participate in the plan and making it their own is what makes the story even more enjoyable.
A plan + training = success
The Canadian Army provided the tools their soldiers needed. It had a plan that included everyone and gave everyone ownership of its objectives. They trained. They worked hard to achieve it. This training stressed that everyone was part of the plan and that this plan belonged to them all. We only succeed when we work together. They won the Ridge.
In a rush to become lean, many organizations overlook that poor training is an integral part of their process. Lean training creates culture and involves everyone. That is transformational. It is transformative. Just look at what it did to the Canadian Army’s first outing.
Aaron Lalvani founded Lalvani Group as a consultancy service company that specializes in supply chain procurement optimization, lean, cost reduction strategies, and inventory reduction.