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The Power of Leader Standard Work

By Scott Schwarz - February 19, 2018

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You contemplate the open sky before you. Below, an unobstructed seemingly bottomless expanse beckons. Fear wracks your mind and body as you hold the rail, precariously perched almost five-hundred feet above the Colorado River. An elevated heartbeat and heavy breathing are undulating reminders of your apprehension. And then … you jump.

Ok, I’ll admit it … starting the lean journey does not quite match the anxiety of bungee-jumping from the Navajo Bridge in Marble Canyon, Arizona. But business leaders and managers often get so worked up over the fear-of-failure that they convince themselves into thinking the only thing keeping them from an implementation face-plant is a long thin elastic-cord of lean six sigma white-papers, and laundry-lists of consultant’s recommendations.

Perhaps you’ve never done this before? Or, maybe you’ve already started, the ground is approaching fast, and all you really want is some assurance that the line will hold. Let’s talk about an important lean tool that eradicates fear-of-failure. Leader Standard Work can be the difference between knowing and not-knowing if the bungee-cord will hold.

An initial concern in any lean implementation is behavior and thinking modification. Leader Standard Work is a set of behaviors and recurring activities that advances a Lean thinking culture. The practice also creates teachable moments, surfaces immediate opportunities to improve processes, and through it the work culture learns (together) what is working and what isn’t. 

SEE ALSO: How to Jump Start Your Operational Excellence Today

So what is it exactly that makes Leader Standard Work so critical to the success of an OpEx implementation?  Well, the answer to that question lies in the answer to another one. Namely, how does one change the behavior of an organization? By changing the behavior of its leaders. Leader Standard Work is a highly effective means of starting and sustaining Lean. This activity is applicable to any process. Whether you’re managing a discrete or continuous process in a manufacturing plant, or running a non-manufacturing company such as a healthcare office or diagnostic lab, or working in transactional office spaces, the practice of Leader Standard Work applies to all processes.

The concept of Leader Standard Work may exist in some form or fashion even if it goes by different nomenclature; some companies talk about managing daily improvement, others conduct stand-up meetings, or a sequential review process. Whatever terms we use, the process for establishing Leader Standard Work is simple:

  1. Layout a method for managing the process
  • What are the critical activities?
  • What’s the frequency of each?
  • Who with be involved?
  • What questions will be asked?
  • What is reaction to different status’?

2. Document the policy/procedure/process

  • Document – write out the rules
  • Implement – actively engage all personnel

3. Start the activities

The basic output of Leader Standard Work will be a list of daily activities for managers in the operation. Sounds easy, right? But, here’s the kicker; regardless of whatever else happens each day, at a minimum the daily Standard work list must be accomplished. This puts an emphasis on the accomplishing the tasks as a part of the process management system. There may be different activities that happen depending on the day of the week, or the timing; such as weekly or each shift.

Here are examples of area specific Leader Standard Work for line-leaders in a manufacturing process:

Maintenance Leader – Plant Maintenance Process
  • Review VS Maintenance Kaizen Newspaper – 8AM
  • Complete / Post Shift PM Schedule – 9AM
  • Walk through VS work zone – 10AM, 3PM
  • Attend Daily VS Meeting – 2PM

Process Quality Leader – Inspection Process
  • Review Overnight Inspection Log – 8AM
  • Collect AM AQL Samples – 9AM to 10AM
  • Collect / Check Hourly test checks – every hour
  • Review Quality Alert postings at each work-center – before 2PM Daily
  • Attend Daily VS Meeting – 2PM
  • Collect PM AQL Samples – 2:30PM to 3:30PM

Shift 2 Quality Leader

  • Collect PM AQL Samples – 9PM to 10PM
  • Collect / Check Hourly test checks – every hour

Specific activities provide structure for process oversight. Ideally, every person in a leadership role will have some role to play in managing the process this way.

Here’s an example of a failed improvement

A new engineer was very gung-ho about implementing a new visual management board in a process where she had completed a Green Belt project. Among the many improvements designed and implemented, a visual board to track output variations was developed. The process owner (a line-supervisor) was supposed to collect daily information each time an event occurred in the process and post it on this board. The data collection never happened. The process back-slid to its old ways. The new engineer blamed the process owner for not following her instructions – then the improvements all fell by the wayside.

How might have Leader Standard Work prevented this failure?

The behaviors of leaders must be specific and should always be discussed and vetted. Lack of communication and a decisive set of daily goals would have helped in the above scenario. Left to his or her own devises, most leaders will do whatever it takes the get the job done. But will random behavior support the new process thoroughly? Likely not.

Every time the process changes, (such as when implementing a lean program), Leader Standard Work will help. To effectively engage people in change; getting them to do something new, unique, or different, we MUST define the behavior we expect for managing the process. Therefore, we need Leader Standard Work. It doesn’t matter what our process is, how easy or difficult. If we expect the ‘normal’ process to change, a fundamental requirement is to decided how the process owner will manage the ‘new’ process.

SEE ALSO: Key Metrics to Measure the Health of Your Production System

Leader Standard Work engages people in the new process in a way that defines behavior. Whether the activities are every shift, or once a week, through defining the process of managing the process, the leader gets engaged. And, if the leader gets engaged, the workers as well as the process benefits.

Through this regular activity, learning ensues; questions get raised, a focus on activities support the lean effort, (best practices) are discussed, modified, and improved, continuously. Small incremental changes occurring every day – isn’t that the definition of continuous improvement?

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