Achieving Operational Excellence Through Black Belt Training

The subject of this case study is a large US-owned pharmaceutical company based in the South that discovers, develops and commercialises innovative therapeutics to advance the care of patients suffering from life-threatening diseases worldwide. The site plays a significant role in many of the global group’s functions, including Operational Excellence.

The operational excellence programme is built around the overall corporate strategy and its implementation throughout all functions at the site. A keystone of its success has been the Operational Excellence Advocate Team. This team includes members form each function who were invited to join to help develop the culture and processes of operational excellence throughout the campus. The company have used the MÓR Model of Operational Excellence created by members of the Irish Medtech Association to guide their journey. It has been very successful in helping inform the direction for the early stages of the OpEx Programme. The OpEx Manager and the OpEx Advocate are now helping to inform future direction.

In 2020/2021 The Advocate Team undertook a Lean Leadership Black Belt with LBSPartners. The course sets out to develop their thinking in four main areas of Operational Excellence.

In the “Company Direction” stream the benchmarking model is taught. The hallmark of good benchmarking is to ensure that the assessment is objective. The students learned how to critique different aspects of operational excellence and how to discover and record evidence of their assessment objectively. This learning was further underpinned by all attendees undertaking an assignment to benchmark Leadership at the company. This objective assessment was welcomed by Top Leadership. The modules on developing a unifying purpose for an organisation along with alignment of resources and strategy deployment, culminated in an assignment. The team chose further improvement of the culture of continuous improvement for this assignment.

Processes, Standardisation and Problem Solving make up the second workstream. In this workstream there is a strong focus on Lean Thinking. The company chose to study their Packaging lines to explore Value Stream Mapping and will undertake an exercise to remap their entire End-to-End Value Stream as an outcome of the course.  True root cause problem solving has been identified as a skill that the OpEx team believe is critical to developing performance at the site. Each member of the team will be completing a process improvement project, as an assignment, to ensure they have followed the DMAIC scientific approach to problem solving under guidance and therefore will be on the road to coaching others in the future.

A large focus of the Blackbelt is Leadership – the third workstream. The leadership workstream includes leadership concepts, leading teams, communication & influencing and change management. The development of people & managers is very important to the long-term success of the business. The course explored the key concepts of leadership and stimulated great conversation around how to lead the company at a global level.

The final workstream explores Management Systems & Leadership Behaviours. The advocate team play a large role in the development of these systems. Visual Management and Tiered meeting structures were explored. Recordings of internal tiered meetings were critiqued by the class, something that proved extremely insightful and gave great insights into improvement opportunities to what was already a very mature management process.

The Black Belt course is proving to be very popular with the current cohort and has assisted in the formulation of strategy and direction in real time. This real hands-on learning through facilitated discussion and immediate application of the thinking to assignments which align with the strategy was invaluable.


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