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A Section from "The Continuous Improvement Development Guide"

Volume 1: Introduction & Exploration >

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Selecting the Program Leader

Basic Section Information

The program leader is the organization’s guide while creating a culture of continuous improvement. This person will work closely with senior management and will act their behalf when directing the organization on its journey.

This person is part project manager, part coach and mentor, part consultant, and part bulldozer. He or she is responsible for helping chart the course the organization will take, developing the skills the team will need to get there, and leading the organization down the chosen path.

The hiring of a program leader presents a special catch-22 challenge. It can be hard to commit to hiring a senior individual without a clear understanding of how the company will conduct its transformation. But without someone guiding the organization, it can be a challenge to figure out what, or who, it needs to be successful.  


There are no prerequisites for this section.

Section Details

Estimated Time for Section: 1-3(+) days. The time will vary based on the selection process used, the number of potential candidates, and the makeup of the decision making body. While the time invested may be a total of 1-3 days, there is generally a much longer lead time from when the senior leaders decide to hire a program leader until the time he or she shows up for work.

Difficulty: High. Selecting the right person for this job can be challenging, especially when there are several decision makers with competing interests. This is likely to be compounded by the pressure to get started on the transformation.

Risk: High. The right program leader will make or break an organization’s effort to develop a business management system. There is also a risk associated with lost opportunity if the program leader hiring process takes too long.

Materials Required

  • No special materials are required for this section.


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Detailed Section Information

Key Responsibilities of the Program Leader

Few people will be more important to an organization during its transition than the program leader. His or her key responsibilities include:

  • Selling key leaders on using this practical guide. There are two basic situations in how this Nuts & Bolts Guide comes up on the radar. In the first situation, a senior executive decides to use it and gets the ball rolling on hiring a program leader with the guide in mind. In the other case, an individual is tasked with leading the company’s continuous improvement effort and then selects this guide as part of that process, becoming the program leader by default. Regardless of the origin of program leader, though, the entire leadership team will need to come to understand and accept that the company is using this practical guide to charts its course. This often means that the program leader assumes the role of salesperson. If the leadership group is not bought in, this guide will be difficult to use.
  • Gauge and develop the commitment of top leadership. The program leader must understand how the executive team will be participating in the pending changes. If they are not committed, again, developing a good, strong business management system will be extremely difficult. It is the program leader’s job to help those that are on the fence to become fully committed.
  • Select and schedule the sections that will be completed from this guide. All organizations have their own unique needs and talent. It should come as no surprise that there is not a one size fits all solution to creating a business management system. This practical guide provides a good starting point, but it must be adjusted by the program leader.
  • Become a subject matter expert. The program leader must have the capacity to become a subject matter expert on continuous improvement. In addition to having the responsibility to train the organization, this person will also need to develop the knowledge necessary to create a vision for the company. While it helps to start with a solid foundation, the true requirement is to be a great learner. There is a wealth of information available, especially online, for a dedicated student of Lean to develop skills.

The rest of this section is only available in our extended (member/free) and premium products. Click the links under “Section Options” at the top of the page for more information.

  • The program leader is the single most important person to the success of your continuous improvement efforts. Even with top level executive support, a transition will not happen smoothly without a steady hand on the tiller. Top level executives simply don’t have the necessary time to be the hands-on leader of change.
  • If you are a senior executive, make sure your team knows that the program leader is acting on your behalf.
  • Senior leaders, be careful not to let the program leader position be perceived as a career path off-ramp. Discuss the follow-on job during interviews, and agree to a timeline. Make sure that…

The rest of this section is only available in our extended (member/free) and premium products. Click the links under “Section Options” at the top of the page for more information.

  • The program leader is an agent of the top executive and should be empowered to make decisions on his or her behalf.
  • The program leader is the single most important person to your Lean initiative. Even with great, committed senior executives, the frontline won’t know what to do without specific guidance.

Supporting Content and Additional Information

To help you with the selection of your program leader, we offer a decision matrix template customized to selecting a program leader. It is entitled “Program Leader Selection Tool.” A PDF of this form is available with the independent learning pack. The Excel version is available with the corporate training pack. It is designed to help focus your selection process and choose from between several candidates. This tool is especially useful when the selection is being made by committee.

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