Leader Standard Work

Leader Standard Work is a group of behaviours and tools integrated into a persons daily work pattern for those in leadership roles. It can be applied to positions such as supervisors and managers (or other leadership roles) and has a number of attributes, including:

  • Documenting work and its scope 
  • Capturing the sequence in which work must be done
  • Responsibilities
  • Key points related to performance
  • Where possible, the optimum time to complete the task

Originating from lean, it can be seen as an extension to operator standard work. Unlike operator roles which tend to be more easily definable, it can be difficult to implement given a mix of task and cultural challenges.

In this article, we’ll be covering Leader Standard work; we’ll be covering:

What is leader standard work?

As we described in our introduction, Leader Standard Work aims to take the concepts of standard work from Lean and apply them to those in leadership and management roles.

The main concept behind traditional Standard Work includes the concept of 

  • Assessing a task
  • Documenting how it should be carried out
  • Document assumptions around tools and equipment that should be used in the task
  • Understanding the sequence in which tasks must be done
  • Capturing the standards to be achieved
  • Identifying (where possible) a target duration for the task to be completed in.

The key here is that standard work is a baseline from which to undertake continuous improvement activities. Leader standard work applies the same concept.

The principle of leader standard is to mirror the tool to leaders within an organization (i.e. supervisors and managers) following the same basic principles.

This has several goals

  • Provide a standard upon which to follow
  • Reduce variability
  • Reduce waste
  • Provide a baseline for continuous improvement.

While operator standard work typically follows a step by step task (such as an additive manufacturing process in automotive), part of the challenge with leader standard work is that leadership tasks are not always straightforward with sequential elements (consider, for example, the task of mentoring, how would we break this down for standard work?).

How to Implement Leader Standard Work

The challenge in implementing leader standard work is the mix of work that can be standardized.

Standard work is highly effective in an operator environment (such as an assembly line) because there is generally a small number of processes that the operator gets involved with, and those processes that they are involved with are repetitive.

In terms of leadership roles, leaders are generally involved in a larger variety of tasks, some of which are not particularly repetitive.

While it might be easy to apply standard work principles to something like attending a production meeting or carrying out a personal development review, how do you apply standard work to building more nebulous tasks such as behaviours or culture or staff development?  

In these instances, how do you break out the process steps in order to validate? Or indeed the takt time to ensure that they are working effectively?

One of the other challenges is how do you verify the standard work? Thinking about the analogy of the operator, their standard work would usually be reviewed/verified by their line manager; for senior managers, how is this achieved when they are at the top of the organisational pyramid?

There are many opportunities for leaders to view standard work as just too difficult for them to apply to themselves and therefore, it’s not worth trying.

There is also the issue that while those lower down the organization are more susceptible to being told what to do, managers/leaders tend not to be. So there is a cultural gap to address as well.

Once you have agreed on which processes to track as standard work, most organizations will use some form of checklist on which to track it.

These checklists usually breakdown work into its frequency (such as daily, weekly, monthly) and look to track critical activity over a period (often monthly).

Checklists usually have a few important attributes that include:

  • They capture recurring activities, usually grouped by period, i.e. daily, weekly, monthly.
  • They may include visual management (i.e. processes that include visual verification.
  • They allow the capture of information to enable follow up actions to be recorded and tracked.
  • They may include photographs, graphics or visual aids to describe the desired state the process must achieve for it to be recorded successfully.
  • They record TAKT time as an indication of efficiency.

Leader Standard Work Examples

As we described above, defining what tasks to track can be a challenge, so what tasks should you actually track? This will, of course, vary depending on the organization, but there are various activities that lend themselves.

Let’s take a look at some processes where you can apply leader standard work

  • Meeting attendance
  • Reflexion
  • Standard communications (such as customer calls)
  • Improvement tasks (like Gemba Walks)
  • Staff reviews (such as 1-1’s)
  • 5s activities
  • Goal settings/reviews
  • Planning (such as resource planning) where there is a clear deliverable/standard
  • Audits/inspections
  • Training
  • Metrics reviews

Issues with Leader Standard Work

As ever with implementing any system, there are always some pitfalls to keep an eye out for; these include:

  • Not all leadership tasks lend themselves to standard work
  • Participation may be challenging 
  • Attributes such as TAKT time may prove difficult to baseline
  • Feedback loops and verification may be challenging
  • Work instructions may be patchy

Benefits of Leader Standard Work

Implemented correctly (and with the right buy-in), leader standard work can be effective, it can offer:

  • Clearly defines key processes that need to be tracked
  • Ensures key tasks are achieved
  • Ensures that a standard method of task verification is used throughout the whole organization
  • Reduces waste
  • Reduces variability
  • A baseline for continuous improvement

Summary

Leader standard work is the method of applying standard work principles (analysis, verification & measurement) to leadership roles.

There can be benefits derived from this, but close attention must be given to which activities are assessed.

Standard work excels when being used to monitor repetitive tasks, and there are challenges when applied to tasks or activities that are not repetitive.

Have you applied leader standard work in your organization? How have you found it? Have you got some lessons learnt that you could share? We’d love to hear about it.

You can reach us below in the comments section or via Twitter.

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