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Case Study - Preparing Project Coaches for their Role in Process Improvement 

Featured product: StackMan

A group of people uses StackMan from Metalog as a process improvement activity

Whether a company is adopting a new process improvement method or project management tool, it's not enough to merely train employees in the new system, explains Anna Langheiter, a freelance trainer from Austria. To succeed, companies must also develop their project coaches to support any newly-trained employees in the roll out.

"What use is even the best training in Lean, Six Sigma, 8D or Basic Problem Solving," Langheiter explains, "if after the employees are released back into the 'wild,' they do not receive any support in putting what they have learned into practice?" The same concept applies to other aspects of work as well, she adds, including facilitation and teamwork.

Recognizing this, a turbine manufacturer for power stations turned to Langheiter to develop a learning program for a group of future project coaches. Her assignment was to introduce everyone to their new roles and responsibilities, and help them learn more about supporting others.

Her tool of choice was StackMan -- an hands-on building activity that's nearly impossible without a plan, a process and excellent communication.

"It's a very good way to approach the topic of project and process management," she explains. "At the same time, the tool provides a lot of momentum and fun -- just the right mix to kick off the training."


Langheiter began the program by telling the group they would be talking about the role of a project coach, then asked for a volunteer. The first person to raise a hand became the coach for the session and was asked to wear a special 'coach's cap' as a visual cue.

Langheiter then announced, "Your task is to complete the project as a team. Each of you has a part to play (one piece of the StackMan tool) and as a member of the team, you will each contribute to making this project a success." Naturally, the new coach was curious about his role, but Langheither was deliberately vague, noting only that he should observe the team and step in if he felt they needed help.

The group then got started while Langheiter monitored their speed to make sure they didn't complete the project too quickly, would which strip the coach of a chance to help.

Some groups - particularly those with lots of engineers - tend to complete the StackMan structure too quickly, which leads the activity off track. To intervene, Langheiter cleverly announces that 'the CEO' has decided to send 'the head engineer' to Australia. This usually surprises the team, and gives the coach an opportunity to insert himself for the first time and help restart the activity. No two coaches react the same way. Some prefer to observe the activity, while others try to offer a structured intervention quite early on. Occasionally, some even quit altogether.

Once the turbine manufacturer group had completed their StackMan structure, and everyone was buzzing with positive energy, Langheiter asked them two questions:

  • What helped them successfully complete the project?
  • You had a project coach - what did he do that helped you succeed?

She also asked the project coach himself about his experience:

  • What was his understanding of the role?
  • How well did he think he performed his role?
  • Where could he have done more or less of with the team?
  • If he were to do it again, what would he do differently?

The group was gushing with insightful answers, which Langheiter recorded on a flipchart. Using StackMan had clearly been a powerful way to lead the group to new insights about both being a coach and being coached oneself. 


"Through the use of the Metalog training tool StackMan," she explains, "the role of the project coach is experienced emotionally and then examined in all of its aspects in order to clarify the project coach's future tasks. A powerful impression at the start of the training workshop!"

Anna Langheiter

Anna Langheiter

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