Case study: Analysing effective project leadership

Clean Case Studies, Applications of Clean, Clean in Business


A key player in the pharmaceutical industry was concerned about the performance of some of their project leaders – the individuals charged with bringing new drugs through testing and to market. The process itself was highly regulated, so they could be sure it was being followed. But there was an extraordinary level of variation in the results delivered by different individuals. What was happening?

Clean intervention

A team of Clean consultants conducted a research project to assess the differences between the top performers in the role and their less-effective colleagues. By interviewing project leaders, their managers and members of their teams, they were able to pinpoint specific points on which the company could act.

Consultant Louise Oram explained: “It turned out that the people who were most successful and highly regarded had at least 15 years’ experience in this kind of role, or were programme managers who had come up through the ranks.

“We discovered that there were important differences between the thinking patterns of those who were good at the job and those who were not. Those who were good at the job knew what to look out for and had mental strategies about things that could go wrong.

“The standard way of addressing this situation would have been a process review – but it was already clear they were following the process. By using Clean techniques we got a different class of information, information that the people we were interviewing weren’t already consciously aware of.

“People were saying to us: ‘I didn’t know I did that! Now I do know, I’ll pay more attention to it.’

“Individual project leaders found that they now had what it took to improve performance by changing their thinking strategies, and their approach to decision-making in the face of a mass of information.”


The company made specific changes to its selection procedure for the programme leader role, giving increased weight to the kinds of experience which had been found to be relevant. They also developed new career paths which encouraged experienced programme leaders to stay within the role.

You might also like: