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Leader Standard Work: Where to Start

by Eric Ethington
October 14, 2014

Leader Standard Work: Where to Start

by Eric Ethington
October 14, 2014 | Comments (4)

Leader standard work exists to enable leaders to better support other people in the organization who are closer to the customer in creating value. It's about servant leadership. With leadership standard work, I think it's important for any organization to start simple and then evolve. Taking an advanced form from another organization and dropping it in the middle of company that is just learning how to spell “standard work” just doesn’t work. Whatever form you use, in my opinion, here are eight key success factors:

1) Start with something and try it.

2) Record both what works and what doesn’t. This will become the baseline for improvement.

3) Managers should carry sheets around with them and fill them out throughout the day.

4) Collect sheets every day to guard against a manager going back and filling in data for the entire week. People should not be reprimanded for NOT filling out the sheets. A blank sheet is a symptom of a problem; blank sheets should prompt a problem solving discussion. (For example, why don’t you have time to fill out the sheet? What is distracting you? Should that be on the sheet? Is there a way we can remove that barrier?)

5) Follow the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Adjust) learning cycle. Standard work is always our best KNOWN method. The initial sheet is the PLAN - our standard. We then DO and record data, take notes. We then discuss (CHECK) what is working, what isn’t and what we learned. We then ADJUST the standard based on the observations in the CHECK step. This will evolve the standard work over time so that rather than feeling like a chore, the standard work is useful and effective.

6) Recognize that the higher a person goes in the organization the harder it is to standardize all of what they do. That is fine. Leave open time blocks and flexibility in the schedule. The trick is to figure out the optimal time for this (see #5).

7) I think it is best to teach an organization the PROCESS and PURPOSE of developing management standard work versus just providing the tool. This allows leaders to evolve as their systems evolve and develop something that works for them. It may take a little more effort upfront, but it’s much more sustainable in the long run (kind of like a Jedi building their own light saber).

8) Finally, and most importantly, have a clear purpose for the leader standard work. Why are you doing this in the first place? Many organizations start down this path because if the frontlines have standard work, so leaders probably should, too. Or, because they have heard of the concept and think they need to do it to “be lean.”

Creating standardization in the organization is like building an arch. You don’t start from one end and build to the other; you have to start at both ends and build in a fashion that makes way for the final goal. So there is leader standard work, but there is also standard work around the work processes themselves associated with creating value for the customer. The two are interdependent and should be evolved together.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  management,  standardized work
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4 Comments | Post a Comment
Joe Murphy October 14, 2014
Lean has already started in every profitable organization. If someone wasn't taking care of business, the company would not be profitable. Start by asking each employee for past achievements. There's your baseline. Plus you identify very important lean people.

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Emmanuel October 22, 2014
Thank you Eric for your insights.
Can you dig a bit deeper by answering to "what is the value added of a leader in a lean organization" and to "How do you ensure a leader goes on the shop floor in a lean organization" ?

Perhaps for the readers of the lean post it's worth reading again Tracey's post http://www.lean.org/LeanPost/Posting.cfm?LeanPostId=43


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kevin kobett October 23, 2014
"How do you ensure a leader goes on the shop floor in a lean organization" ?

This is a sad question. Along with all the Go to the Gemba articles. If the guy you hired to look after things refuses to go where the action is, you made a very bad hiring decision. There is no magic wand out there that makes a square peg fit into a round hole.

Is there any employee who voluntarily stepped into the leader's role and is doing a good job? If there is, another bad decision was made by not promoting this person.

Tom Peters wrote a good book about finding heroes in your organization. I forget the title.

This site is an ad for services. Hence, they will always say anybody can be taught to be a lean leader. It is simply not true.

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Eric Ethington October 24, 2014
Emmanuel, good questions. I would even add to your shop floor question, how do you make sure they are effective when they DO go to the shop floor?  In many organizations leaders achieved their positions with behaviors different than what is necessary in a lean system - so creating the correct behaviors is important. In past jobs I've had to have many private conversations with well intentioned leaders who came to the gemba and unknowingly undermined what we were in the midst of improving. Perhaps this is a topic for another Post?  Elements of it have been previously discussed under the topic of coaching. 

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