Podcast: executive sessions – operational bootcamp 101 – MiddleGround Capital
September 20, 2023

Podcast: executive sessions – operational bootcamp 101


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On MiddleGround’s fifth episode of Executive Sessions, Clayton Gullett leads discussions with MiddleGround Founding Partner John Stewart and his brother, Co-Partner of Banner Industries, David Stewart. This episode covers:


  1. Building a Bootcamp
  2. Creating and Maintaining Cooperative Change
  3. Lean Manufacturing Requires Standardization
  4. The Impact of Bootcamps


Building a Bootcamp

From our Toyota roots, we apply the concept called “Jishukin,” which means “rapid pace of change”.  Jishukin emphasizes problem-solving through collaboration in a specific amount of time, a concept that’s core to our bootcamps. Over the course of a week, a multi-disciplinary group of people join to learn about lean manufacturing concepts and to focus their efforts on improving a company’s processes.

Planning a bootcamp is no simple task, it requires four or five months of preparation to organize travel and conduct an in-depth analysis to identify areas in need of improvement. All employees, from upper management and shop floor workers, participate in bootcamps alongside team members from MiddleGround Capital and team members from other portfolio companies. This enables valuable learnings to trickle across the portfolio while giving our MiddleGround team firsthand experience across industries.

This program is split into two sections, 20% training in the classroom and 80% on the shop floor starts. We start with in the classroom covering lean manufacturing concepts like the principle of continuous improvement and standardized work. By the second day, we dig into hands-on engagement on the shop floor, where teams split into groups that each address one specific issue in the process. Throughout the course of four days, the teams study a process, develop ways to improve it, implement the changes, and measure the improvements. On the final day, each team shares their project with hard data showing the improvements made over the course of the bootcamp.


Creating and Maintaining Cooperative Change

Effective change requires two parties to embrace change and work in tandem to achieve a shared objective. This simple requirement can be hard to achieve in some organizations, especially those where longtime employees can be resistant to change due to the routines they establish through decades.

Our goal when launching these bootcamps was to identify issues and fix them, but that cannot be achieved without actively listening to feedback from current employees to gain a holistic understanding of the company’s growth areas. By involving people who live and breathe production processes, we can kill two birds with one stone. First, gain their buy-in by giving them a seat at the table. Second, these discussions often uncover the underlying reasons for process inefficiencies. For example, there may be situations where an employee’s height plays into how they interact with different machines purely due to ergonomic constraints. You might never have realized that a simple factor like employee height was at the crux of a problem if you didn’t directly interact with those manufacturers.

Enacting lasting change requires not only operational expertise, but also time dedicated to actively listening to your people. It’s the only way to ensure that you’re bringing solutions to the table that address the root causes of a problem.


Lean Manufacturing Requires Standardization

Oftentimes when we tease the idea of a bootcamp with leadership, they get very excited and picture a million-dollar solution or a new shiny machine, but that’s far from the reality (in fact, we often spend less than a thousand dollars on the projects). Lean manufacturing is based on minimizing waste and maximizing productivity. Where we often have the most success is eliminating steps in the processes that don’t add value while standardizing processes.

Elimination of waste is the easier concept, eliminating wasted time, materials, and labor is something everyone can get behind, but standardization can be tricky in large organizations. Many companies think that they follow standardized work processes but 90% aren’t truly standardized. For example, a company may have 30 steps to create one part that is consistent throughout the organization, but within each step, each manufacturer does their role a little differently (for example, tightening bolts in different orders). These small variations compound to create inconsistencies in process that affect final products and can even make it hard to plan output accurately as different shifts/teams have their slight differences in the organization. When this is the case, analysis is completed over the ways a product is created and teams are retrained with the most efficient variation.

Lean concepts are simple at their core, and our bootcamp projects see the biggest impact results from the simplest solutions. Standardization is a perfect example of that concept.


The Impact of Bootcamps

The purpose of these bootcamps is not to find million-dollar solutions to all these problems or to over-engineer processes. Instead, our goal is to implement good business practices and promote collaborative problem-solving, while bringing our full teams up-to-speed on Lean concepts so they can identify their own solutions to problems long after bootcamps end.

From shop floor employees advancing to upper management, to saving nearly $600,000 of improvements per week, these bootcamps provide a way to understand better business practices and streamline our portfolio, all the while leaving these companies better than we found them.