Senior Management Boot Camp: It’s All About Leadership

How do you start engaging 9,000 employees at 30 or more sites in 12 different countries—each with its own unique culture—and get them to exhibit workplace behavior that members of a lean company should? Many companies start by launching CI activities at a site level, and as these produce results, they staff the site with lean experts and then repeat the cycle at another site, and another, and so on. Ultimately, the company creates a corporate CI group and starts to train and deploy more CI activities across multiple sites. However this recipe does not always work, and oftentimes, it takes too long to gain momentum.

One pharmaceuticals company found itself in this situation and became frustrated with the speed at which the transformation was taking place. Good kaizen events with great results did not drop to the bottom line, and sustainment was mostly an afterthought. When a new VP of Operations was hired, he quickly identified the issue. The problem was with the 150 or senior executives who understood very little about lean concepts, tools and how to sustain gains. More importantly, most of these leaders did not understand how to lead in a lean environment and develop a culture that exhibits the right behaviors—behaviors that they needed to exhibit themselves.

The company decided to engage TBM to develop and implement a lean-themed Senior Management Boot Camp for all of their senior executives in small groups of 20 or so. These camps were five days long, and it was amazing to see the “light” turn on at the end of five days.

The boot camp was not just lectures. As the name applies, it involved “getting down and getting dirty” and “learning by doing.” The boot camp also included a simulation where the participants set up a cookie factory and mixed, cooked, extruded, packed and shipped cookies. These simple processes quickly devolved to chaos as they started the operations. The simulation goes from a “push” mode with lots of WIP to a much more orderly enterprise as they make the necessary changes to a “pull” mode in the final round.


The lessons from this simulation are many as it demonstrates several key lean principles: 5S, standard work, pull, gage RR, SQDC, visual management, and waste identification and elimination. The team of senior managers became energized when they saw that in a short period of time, they could take a chaotic operation and create sense and order by applying lean principles. The boot camp also included other breakout sessions, some of which covered business process mapping (non-manufacturing), waste elimination and value stream mapping. (The VSM exercise allowed the team to create current and future state maps and identify and prioritize opportunities.)

While a lot of time was spent on tools, participants also learned about cultural change. This is another powerful session as the senior executives discovered that they have a lot of influence on the teams that they direct, and that if they exhibit the right leadership behaviors, this will translate into similar behaviors from the people they direct. They also came to understand what it means to have leader standard work, layered auditing, and the importance of rhythm in their daily/weekly/monthly activities.

At the end of the boot camp, participants came up with two or three key activities that they would sponsor or lead. When it was all finished, the participants took responsibility for their roles in the lean effort and became enablers instead of impediments. In other words—it’s truly is all about leadership.

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About Nero Haralalka

Nero has become particularly sought after for his ability to lead and motivate teams, from the shop floor to corporate offices in all aspects of LeanSigma including Manufacturing and Business Process. He has lead the transformations with many world class clients and worked closely with companies such as Genzyme Pharmaceuticals, Freescale Semiconductor, Pactiv, Carlisle Construction Materials, Energizer, McCain, Kaiser Aluminum, Hubbell, and St. Jude Medical. In 2009 he consulted for 6 months at Pactiv as Director of CI and supported their Lean Initiatives from Policy Deployment implementation to Cost Reduction projects, resulting in breakthrough performance.

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