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5 Building Blocks to Leader Standard Work

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Leader Standard Work (LSW) is the process of ensuring standard work processes are in place and consistently followed at all levels of leadership. It is fundamental to the development of world-class operations to enable leaders at all levels to convert the principles of Lean thinking into daily routines.

David Mann, in his book Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions, states that standard work typically accounts for the following proportions in daily work:

      • 95%: Operators
      • 80%: Team Leaders
      • 50%: Department Supervisors
      • 25%: Value Stream Managers
      • 10%: Executives

Building standard routines and checklists ensures that the production process is stable and constantly improves. It is critical that the processes are seen directly from a leadership perspective. Not only through the feedback of others.

Establishing regular routines with standardized checklists and consistent follow-up tasks is an important foundation. These routines need to answer the following about standard operational tasks:

    • What is done during the task?
    • How is it done?
    • What patterns are repeated?
    • How can it be improved?
    • What impact can improvements have?

Here are five building blocks to elevate Leadership Standard Work that will empower people, and help maintain visibility of the overall health of operations and the organization. 

1. Teach and coach ‘in the moment’ 

Where leaders spend their time, and what they make into habits defines how they lead. LSW needs to be part of the leadership culture and set the tone for all leaders.

Create opportunities to interact meaningfully with direct reports and other associates where ‘in-the-moment’ teaching and coaching can take place. Here is where you learn what issues need support.

LSW is an effective way to:

  • Create alignment
  • Build consistency
  • Improve management
  • Shift from reactive to proactive management

Move away from a ‘crisis management’ type of leadership, to one of using standardized daily and weekly routines. Routines help create an enlightened view of what it means to manage and to lead — and rather than being the source of answers and decisions, leaders and managers can employ such routines to teach their system of work and coach people in active problem-solving.

As a leader, ask yourself the following questions:

    • Did I visit all the areas I was supposed to?
    • Did I perform the checks I planned?
    • Did I spot any problems that I want to be sure have been resolved on my next visit?

2. Build from the bottom up 

Design LSW proactively to be layered from the bottom up. Frontline activities will build key aspects of role-modeling and become powerful drivers of change and of sustaining that change. These acts by leaders will set the tone for the rest of the organization:

  • Being at the gemba
  • Asking the questions
  • Showing interest
  • Coaching
  • Solving problems

Ensure accountability by building a degree of redundancy. Redundancy reflects the importance of standards as a foundation for Lean. Consistency in inputs and variables should create a predictable output and allow individuals to introduce changes in a systematic way to drive improvement.

3. Standardize

Successful implementation of LSW ensures that leaders are focused not only on results, but on the processes involved in achieving the end result. Leaders need a standard process designed to achieve certain results just as anyone else on the frontline. A focus on process enables the behavior of solving problems as they become visible, so that managers become problem-solvers instead of problem-avoiders.

Consistent routines that incorporate standardized checklists, such as a Gemba Walk or 5S checklist. These standardized routines will help ensure that procedures and practices at the task level (where the value-adding work takes place) are being assiduously executed to support the production process for stability and improvement.

Standardization will:

  • Provide visibility into the overall health of the company, department, function, team
  • Build vital, trust-building connection with leadership
  • Create a sustainable culture and habits

In effective LSW, leaders create an environment where this pervasive check approach is seen as supportive and nurturing, and not as some kind of top-down policing.

Ask yourself questions such as:

    • Is it current?
    • Is it being followed?
    • Are problems encountered and interruptions to established routines noted?

4. Make it visible

Visual tools and visibility into progress is critical. Without visibility conversations rapidly lose focus, and deteriorate into vague, general discussions about ‘how things are going’. Without reports and insights, participants lack the ability to see and track changes (positive or negative) over time.

Effective, structured conversations should:

  • Happen in the gemba
  • Involved those doing the work
  • Use visual tools or the work itself
  • Leverage data and metrics

Conversations should be grounded in measurable indicators for cost, quality, delivery, lead times, and other relevant performance metrics.

Leaders at all levels should be asking the following questions:

    • What is the standard?
    • How do I know that visually?
    • How do I know if we are meeting the standard or not?
    • If the standard is not met, why are we not meeting it and what do we do about it?

5. Sustain what you have started

Leaders should have direct and personal involvement in the process of cascaded LSW checks or momentum will be lost and the entire system will eventually break down. Change is sustainable based on the built-in redundancy of the various layers of checks in a LSW program. A fundamental part of the leadership role is to proactively sustain this system and LSW program.

By embracing the practice of Leaders Standard Work (LSW), leaders and organization can create a culture that:

    • Solves problems quickly, creatively, and permanently
    • Collaborates instinctively
    • Makes continual gains in performance
    • Develops the next generation of leaders
    • Delivers superior financial results
    • Is self-perpetuating (by growing individuals who go onto also coach the system to others)



In summary, establishing standardized routine tasks wherever possible enables leaders to achieve their goals and, with the use of visual tools, it visibly highlights the required minimum standard of work across all levels of operation. Applying LSW to their own leadership tasks, is a profound change of mindset for most leaders. A systematic way of incorporating LSW, standardizing tasks, and modeling proper behavior are foundations to a successful LSW program and culture.

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