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Leader Standard Work: Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Mar 1, 2021 12:51:49 PM

Double exposure of businessman hand choosing people icon as human resources conceptStandard work is the current best process for any activity or task. It forms the basis from which improvement is measured. When most people think about standard work, they think about process operators, but what about leaders?

The fundamental principles behind standard work can be applied to supervisors' activities, and managers engage in them every day. It doesn't get as much attention as many other continuous improvement techniques, but it is often a game-changing shift that results in accelerated positive change.

Here are some of the questions we are asked most often about leader standard work.

What is leader standard work?

Leader standard work is a set of tools, actions, and behaviors that are practiced daily by leaders at all levels. Much like the standard work for process operators, leader standard work should be documented, constant, and altered only through managed change. 

The details of leader standard work vary across organizations, but some practices are typical, including:

  • Strategy deployment
  • Gemba walks
  • Huddle meetings and boards
  • Individual coaching

Of course, not all leadership tasks can be standardized, especially unexpected or strategic tasks. In most cases, the higher up in seniority, the fewer functions that can be standardized. But even at the executive level, there is some room for standardization.


Standard Work for Frontline Leaders webinar

Why should organizations implement leader standard work?

Successful use of leader standard work ensures that leaders are focused on results and the processes for achieving those results. By analyzing processes, leaders can shift from constant crisis management to empowering and coaching employees. Instead of issuing commands and directing actions, leaders apply their stills at coaching employees to solve problems for themselves. Once this happens, leaders can spend their time on long-term planning and strategic thinking.

How do organizations encourage leader standard work? 

Like any other continuous improvement approach, the success of leader standard work depends very much on the organization's culture. Leaders and process operators alike should view standard work as a way to accelerate innovation rather than a way to stifle creativity. Once baseline results are available, leaders can adjust in a controlled, measured manner. Leaders' goals and rewards structure should consider both results and the leadership practices used to achieve them. In turn, leaders should hold their direct reports accountable for both practices and performance. 

What type and how much of a leader's work can be standardized?

Standards must be built from the bottom up, beginning with the work done at an operator level because it is closest to where customer value is created. From there, it builds up to the executive level. Standardize work typically makes up about 95% of the work at the operator level. As you move up the org chart, smaller percentages of time are spent on standardized tasks. 

As we mentioned, the standard work distribution varies depending on the organization, but the following is typical.

Team Leaders: Standardized team leader tasks should account for about 80% of the time for people who manage process operators. Tasks include shift handovers, huddle meetings, and routine scheduled activities that verify that operators follow their standard work.

Middle managers: At this level, about 50% of the work can be standardized. Practices include Gemba walks, supervisor reviews, and coaching.

Site managers: Even at the site leadership level, roughly 25% of the time should be spent on standardized tasks, including reporting, meetings, documentation, and administrative tasks. Ensuring that middle managers are following their standard work is an essential practice at this level. While the focus is on their direct reports, coaching should occur at all levels.

Executive team: Although the amount of work that can be standardized at this level is limited to around 10%, executives should still have a standard process used for strategy deployment, goal setting, and reporting.

Is there a link between leader standard work and visual management?

Yes. In all cases, standard work should be evident to everyone involved with visual tools such as charts, digital boards, process maps, and engagement reports. Visualization is an important way to keeping leader standard work top of mind.


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How can software enhance the implementation of LSW throughout an organization?

Software designed for continuous improvement can help accelerate and streamline the standard work process. Improvement software helps leaders identify areas where more support and coaching is needed. Digital visualization is the ideal way to communicate information and arrive at better decisions. Software also enables more transparency between functions and levels within the organization. Transparency is a pillar of an improvement culture.

When leaders apply standard work to their tasks, accountability and empowerment at all levels are encouraged. 

Topics: Leadership, Improvement Process

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