Cascade teaching is a lean tool method used to drive lean knowledge into an organization. It provides a standardized education of lean principles, either broadly or topic-focused, and offers a top-down connection throughout an organization to establish leadership expectations and practices.
When cascade teaching is used properly it includes everyone in the learning chain, including the primary leader. It is also important to note that cascade teaching requires change management preparations that must be accomplished in order to erase any skepticism or cynicism that might result from improper cascade teaching.
To get the most benefit from cascade teaching, two elements must be standardized – both the content, or message, and the process, or design.
For example, a CEO may begin teaching something — a lean overview, a concept like continuous flow or a tool such as error proofing. The CEO teaches the vice presidents at the company. The vice presidents, having taken the class from the CEO, now prepare to teach their direct reports such as the plant managers. The plant managers, in turn, prepare and teach their staffs. The staff members then prepare and teach the people who report to them. This continues through to the front-line employees so that everyone has been provided the same teaching and messages.
There are two primary benefits to this approach to cascade teaching. First, when the teaching is received from the primary leader (CEO), the student is likely to take it much more seriously than if it is taught by a corporate staff member. Second, when the executive or manager must teach, then they must prepare to teach and this helps extend the learning process much further than if they were just a student. These two benefits are very significant and powerful in spreading a message and creating alignment within an organization.
There can be some barriers to successful cascade teaching, though. One, it is hard to maintain a standard message when each leader is responsible for teaching. This barrier can usually be eliminated by preparing extensive teacher’s notes for the managers.
Two, managers are not trained to be effective instructors. This barrier can be mitigated by coupling each instructor with a trained instructor who can help them with the process and coach them on teaching.
Third, it is hard to schedule. Instead of open classes that people can attend as their schedule allows, you are asking a manager and his entire staff to be at the same place at the same time for an extended time. The only solution to this is the strong emphasis on the importance of everyone participating, and then making it happen.
Fourth, the executive’s or manager’s behavior may not be consistent with what is being taught, leading to cynicism. This is a barrier regardless of who is doing the teaching, but is somewhat reduced through the cascade teaching approach.
It is best to have an extended plan for cascade teaching; don’t just do one module then ask "what’s next?" Because of the significant work that you must do to remove barriers, it is best to leverage this over an extended series of cascade teaching sessions. Have a plan for this. What will be taught first, second, third? How often will new classes be distributed? How will one course link to the next? If cascade teaching is done for more than a year, executives will eventually choose this process to send any important message to the organization.
The teaching that will be done must be designed. The approach to this will depend on the organization and the capabilities of the senior executive leading the effort. It may be designed by the individual executive or by a central support staff or even by an outside organization. The designer of the materials must then prepare the first teacher to do the teaching. They may also be involved in preparing other levels of management to do the same teaching, depending on need and availability.
Cascade teaching can start at any level depending on what level the teaching is needed. For example, if a plant manager decides to transform safety practices in the plant, a cascade teaching program may begin at that level and be driven down throughout the organization.
How the Tool Relates to Lean Rules and Principles
Cascade teaching applies the principle of Create a Learning Organization by strongly valuing learning. It turns leaders into teachers. And, in order to be teachers, they must also be learners. The exchange between boss and subordinate, or mentor/mentee, begins to build a learning culture.
Cascade teaching also Establishes High Agreement of Both What and How. Through cascade teaching, the company’s approach to a practice or tool is taught in a standardized way, providing a consistent application among students.
Lean Rule #3: Specify and simplify every flow path is applied as the teaching flows throughout the organization following its designed hierarchy.
The Lean Learning Center