Standard work is the documented and current best way to do a particular task, procedure, or process. Workers develop the standard and follow it until an improvement process results in a new standard. Standard work ensures that results are consistent and forms the foundation upon which improvements are made. Leader standard work applies this same concept to the task of driving Lean thinking and behavior throughout the organization.
Leader Standard Work (LSW) Defined
Many organizations have little in the way of documented best practices for leaders. Supervisors, managers, and directors are left with only their job descriptions to guide their daily activities. Given this reality, it's not surprising that many fail to start, spread, and sustain the continuous improvement mindset.
The alternative is a leader standard work template, a set of actions, tools, and behaviors incorporated into the daily activities of leaders at all levels to ensure that the organization is continuously improving. Like the standard work for any process, leader standard work must be documented, practiced consistently, and changed only with reflection and experimentation.
There are two sides to leader standard work. The first is leaders standardizing their own work; the second is making sure that the work of their direct reports is also standardized and performed to the standard.
The benefits of using a leader standard work template include:
- Leaders consistently yield above-average results
- Lean principles are turned into tangible performance evaluation criteria
- Leaders have a systematic and repeatable method to focus on both outcomes and processes.
- LSW provides consistency during leadership transitions.
- Leaders learn from the experience and best practices of their predecessors.
Who Should Practice Leader Standard Work?
Every leader in a Lean organization, all the way up to the CEO, should spend some part of their day doing standardized, routine Lean management activities.
The closer to the customer, the more often Leader Standard Work templates should be followed. How it breaks down for your organization may vary, but a common framework for how much time is spent in this way is:
Team Leaders - 80%
Department Supervisors — 50%
Value Stream Managers — 25%
Executives — 10%
Although the specifics of leader standard work vary across organizations, some practices, and process improvement techniques are universally helpful and commonly included.
Strategy deployment, also known as Hoshin Kanri, is the Lean leadership practice of identifying the organization's long-term breakthrough objectives and aligning the goals and decisions of every person in the organization. Strategy deployment is not an annual event. Instead, success requires that it become operationalized at every level.
Incorporating strategy deployment into leader standard work means setting a schedule for reviewing progress toward the objectives and managing KPIs daily. At any point, a leader should be able to say where their team is on the path toward its stated monthly, quarterly, and annual objectives.
Gemba walks are the practice of leaders going to the place where work is done (the Gemba) to observe, ask questions, and show respect. Gemba walks should be purposeful and focus on understanding and improving processes, not evaluating employee performance. After a walk is complete and the leader can reflect, action is taken regarding any opportunities for improvement that were discovered.
Leader standard work defines the number of Gemba walks each leader will take on a daily, monthly, or quarterly basis, depending on the level of the organization. For example, the direct supervisor of a manufacturing process might visit the factory floor several times a day, while her supervisor visits the Gemba once a week. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for Gemba walks to become just an item to check off the list, so it is vital that the leader standard work also includes documenting the purpose for the walk as well as the results.
Ideally, leaders should have a technology platform that provides customizable dashboards for visual management of projects, employee engagement, and the impact of improvement. The best solutions allow for real-time management so that leaders know right away when a project is stalled, or an employee has a new idea for improvement.
Huddle Meetings and Boards
Huddle meetings allow employees to identify challenges and work on problem-solving skills. They should be part of leader standard work because they give managers and supervisors early insight into potential problems and the opportunity to coach the team on how to implement positive change. The standard for huddle meetings should include how often they will occur, who will attend, and how the results will be documented.
It is common for leaders to be so involved in managing people and processes that they don't take the time to actually lead. That's why leader standard work should include accountability for individual coaching and mentoring. One on one time with employees, outside of the typical performance review process, allows leaders to spread the continuous improvement mindset by asking directly what employees have learned each week and what support they need. Not only does individual mentoring show respect, but it also makes employees feel safer bringing up issues and opportunities for improvement.
Leaders can become so focused on fighting fires and solving problems that they fail to take the opportunity to reflect on the day's activities. A review of the successes and challenges of each day is an essential element of leader standard work. The standard might include a set of questions such as:
- What improvements were implemented today?
- Were any aspects of the standard work template missed?
- What should I do differently tomorrow?
- Who should be recognized for today's efforts?
The benefits of leader standard work are shared by leaders and workers alike. Leaders get closer to the processes and people that they oversee. They can respond more rapidly to potential problems, and they can effectively track progress toward critical goals. Employees know what to expect and see problem-solving as a collaborative endeavor. Lean thinking becomes more than a slogan when workers see it practiced every day.
Like the standard work for any process, leader standard work forms the jumping-off point for managers and supervisors to reflect on their own outcomes and look for ways to make adjustments that will yield even better results.