The Age of “Lean Manufacturing” in Learning Content Management Systems

Guest Post by Mark Hellinger, Xyleme President & CEO

We all have read about how traditional manufacturing jobs are rapidly disappearing in the U.S. and Western Europe. In reality, since the dawn of the information age, a new type of manufacturing job has emerged, the “digital” factory worker – software engineers, database architects, etc. Since these jobs are counted in the services sector and not manufacturing, people often overlook the fact that we are actually hiring many more workers in “digital” manufacturing than ever before in traditional industries, but the truth is that the skill requirements are much higher.

The “manufacturing” of software requires people to create, test and ship products in a systematic approach, as you would with physical goods like automobiles. In the case of software, or let’s say “digital products” in general, the “production systems” have undergone vast technological change, in the same way as traditional manufacturing techniques. The same is true for “digital content”, including training content and learning content management systems.

Back when I started as a software engineer, you wrote programs that were procedural in nature, self-contained, beginning to end. The system was a linear process. You really had no way to know if anyone else had built something similar before. And then came along came object-oriented programming and all of a sudden the “production system” changed. You could easily re-use code built before. Test systems emerged that allowed you to validate “modules” or components before the entire system was finished. Version control systems emerged to help you track changes and manage new revisions. While initially things took a little longer to build, the “system” allowed you to build new things much more rapidly as your library of “assets” grew. The on-going time and expense of maintenance decreased dramatically.

So what does this have to do with Learning Content Management Systems?

To begin with, what I constantly hear from Learning and Development departments is that they are faced with similar “production” problems. Do more with less… Customize, Localize, Globalize… If you start to think of developing learning content in the “manufacturing” metaphor, you can look at the history of traditional manufacturing and software “manufacturing” and see some very interesting parallels.

Like software, traditional manufacturing started with an assembly-line style production model. Eventually, a better manufacturing system was adopted that changed the way things were built. This is now known as the “Lean Manufacturing” model – based on the Toyota Production System. One of its key tenets is that you achieve cost reductions by eliminating waste, whether it is labor, materials, or other resources. Another is that it drastically reduces production cycle times.

Learning Content “Manufacturing” in the Training and Development world is undergoing the same transformation. It’s about building new systems that eliminate waste, improve quality and allow you rapidly adapt to customer needs. Unfortunately, many organizations still produce content using traditional production systems (not tools – while new tools have emerged, systems have often been overlooked).

Improvements in Learning Content development mean a new system, not a bunch of new tools with old processes. It’s about designing and building content components. Being able to find, re-use and re-purpose them without having to cut, paste, assemble, review and test over and over again. It’s about being customer driven. It’s about getting the right content to the consumer in the format they want when they want it. It’s about Lean Manufacturing techniques for Learning Content Management Systems.

And I think you know what happened to many companies that did not adopt the new manufacturing model …

So, what you really need is a new factory system. A Learning Content “Manufacturing” System, not one of those old LCMS products.