A learning tour is a technique used to advance the knowledge and effective use of Lean principals through shared training and peer-to-peer relationships. It is usually in the form of a one day event, and hosted by a company looking to improve several areas of their facility. 

Anyone can attend, including executives, managers, operators, engineers, customer service employees, etc. The better the mix the better the event. Also, it’s advantageous to have participants from other companies. The tour works best when participants know little about the host company’s business. A new set of eyes is a powerful tool and the heart of a learning tour. 

Participants should have a desire to look at the processes and brainstorm ways to make them better. Participants can be divided into teams, with the size of the team based on the overall size of a company and its ability to accommodate attendees. Generally, teams have 6 to 8 participants. 

Each team is presented with a real world problem, and perform a mini-Kaizen (problem-solving) process to identify waste in the current process and potential actions for improvement. Teams will identify areas for short-term and long-term opportunity and develop potential solutions for the host company. 

Observations and suggestions will be captured on a story board and presented to the host company in a report out session at the end of the day. 

A recent learning tour at Mission Foods in McMinnville concentrated, in part, on “changing up” bagging machines for tortilla chips, when the bag size needed changing. The time spent setting up the machine for different bag sizes was costing Mission $24 a minute. The learning tour team videotaped the machine set-up, and analyzed the change second by second. With the team’s suggestions, the time for changing bag sizes reduced from 20 minutes to 6.