Using Single Point Lessons as a Teaching Aide

Tim McMahon is the Founder and Contributor of A Lean Journey Blog. This site is dedicated to sharing lessons and experiences along the Lean Journey in the Quest for True North. The blog also serves as the source for learning and reflection which are critical elements in Lean Thinking. 

Tim is a lean practitioner with more than 10 years of Lean manufacturing experience.  He currently leads continuous improvement efforts for a high tech manufacturer. Tim teaches problem solving skills, lean countermeasures, and how to see opportunities for improvement by actively learning, thinking and being engaged.  

Tim’s blog is always interesting and full of good information for the Lean practitioner. Tim was also helpful to me personally as I was starting this blog which is appreciated. It’s a real pleasure to have Tim contributing to Lean Leadership today.

It is often said that lean is 90% people and 10% tools. Knowledge is the factor which determines the rate of change in organizations. How do we learn and teach this knowledge within our organization? Many organizations use a “train the trainer” method where knowledge is handed down from one individual to the next. This is like the school age game “telephone” where one person tells a story to someone who tells someone else and so on till the end of the line where the final result is a variant of the original. The variation from this type of training can result in confusion, longer cycle times, rework, and defects.

A lean tool that can be employed for teaching is a Single Point Lesson, SPL (or One Point Lesson). Single point lessons originated from TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) as a method to teach knowledge and skills necessary for autonomous maintenance.

Keeping in mind this mantra:

Teaching occurs when an opportunity for Learning is presented.

Learning occurs when there is a change in behavior.

Teaching is only VALUABLE when there is a subsequent change in behavior.

The single point lesson is used to communicate a single idea effectively in five to ten minutes on one page. An effective single point lesson has the following characteristics:

  • Visual supported pictures, diagrams, or drawings
  • Short and focused
  • Self initiated and self taught
  • Generated and used at the point of need

As an aide for spreading best practices company-wide, single point lessons can support and enhance improvement efforts. The purpose of single point lessons include:

  • Communicating knowledge and skill about the asset amongst members of the team.
  • Raising the knowledge and skills of the team in a very short period of time.
  • Eliminating problems and for making improvements to the way of working.
  • Making sure that everyone knows about a better way of doing something.
  • Making sure that next time a problem is encountered everyone knows the way to solve it.

A single point lesson is a learning tool for communicating standards, problems, and improvements across a wide range of processes and work environments. Thus, single point lessons may contain information on a number of topics.

Types of Single Point Lessons:

  • Basic Skill – Fill in knowledge and skill gaps
  • Countermeasure – Identify root cause, recognize, and prevent future occurrences
  • Safety – Spread knowledge and share root cause/mistaking proofing ideas
  • Poka Yoke – Communicate solutions and importance of mistake proofing
  • Productivity – Spread successful improvement ideas
  • TPM – Equip team members for safe, effective, efficient use of equipment, tools and methods

Single point lessons should not replace work instructions or standard operation procedures but they can support and simplify instructions and procedures. Single point lessons are an effective training tool because:

  • They are easy for shop floor people to develop – anyone can make one!
  • They are easy for shop floor people to deliver – anyone can be a trainer!
  • They don’t take long to develop or deliver.
  • They facilitate discussion between team members.
  • People want to share their skills and knowledge rather than hoarding it.

Example of a Single Point Lesson

There are endless opportunities for single point lessons as a learning tool in your organization. How can you apply single point lessons?

If you are looking for some examples, Fuss & O’Neill understands sharing best practices and have created a section on there website with over 100 SPL’s from various parties. You can access this great resource by clicking here.  You can enlarge the example to the right by clicking on the image.


You can see more of Tim’s work by going to A Lean Journey.

Please leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, subscribe, retweet, digg, or stumble this article. You can check out my Facebook page and continue the discussion there as well. Your feedback is appreciated.


About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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5 Responses to Using Single Point Lessons as a Teaching Aide

  1. Randy Quick says:

    I cannot agree more! One point lessons are, in my opinion, the single most effective training tool. Ask people “What question do you have to answer on a daily basis? or What training do you provide repeatedly?” A one point lesson will most likely eliminate the need for this.
    We have used OPL’s for task specific training on production lines for years. They simply work.
    Randy Quick

  2. Cheryle Johnson says:

    I found this post very helpful. The contract I am currently working is extremely diverse; we apply Six Sigma to Financial, Public Works, Marine, Retail and Medical Services to name a few. I agree there is value in single-point-lessons. Short lessons presented by frontline employees increases ownership and engagement. We include “knowledge shares” into our staff meetings; they are a value-added step toward our goal of making Six Sigma “the way we do business”.
    Thank you for the share, Cheryle Johnson

    • Hi Cheryle,

      Tim wrote a great article for this post – Thanks, Tim! Single Point Lessons, or One Point Lessons as I was taught, are a fantastic tool. They are easy to use, easy to teach, and can be used anywhere when used properly. Thanks for your comments.


    • Tim McMahon says:

      Thanks Cheryle. Much of Lean is a filtering mechanism making it easier for us to see (either the value or the waste). Single point lessons force us to filter our thought to the vital few thoughts to make one point thus we focus on the value.

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