mechanicDuring the 1970’s and 1980’s, Fram oil filters used to run TV ads that featured a mechanic with a rather dour look on his face. Ostensibly, he had just seen something really bad under some poor sap’s car hood, the root cause being a lack of preventive maintenance – specifically someone had not changed their oil filter within the last millennium or so. He then uttered the warning to the viewer, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” Chilling.

Well, the same warning is relevant to the application of leader standard work. Leader standard work is one of the four major lean management system elements, the others being: visual controls, a daily accountability system, and leadership discipline. Leader standard work is a simple but powerful standardize-do-check-act (SDCA) way to lock in kaizen gains and to ensure process adherence as well as process performance. Leaders apply the frequent rigor of gemba-based leader standard work audits, as aided by “drive by” visual controls, to quickly determine if situations are normal or abnormal and, if abnormal, ascertain the root cause(s) and then deploy necessary countermeasures. It drives a required discipline at multiple leadership levels and ultimately facilitates a lean culture.

leader std work pic

Where’s the warning in this? Typically new standard work is developed, tested and implemented as part of a kaizen event or activity. This is part of the PDCA improvement cycle. However, sustainability is always a challenge – for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the standard work did not anticipate certain product or service variations, maybe the supporting material flow design is imperfect, possibly the associates were not adequately trained in the new standard work, heck, maybe the associates just don’t want any part of the standard work and the related transparency and accountability, etc., etc. Well, standard work does not do any good if it is not sufficient and/or not followed. Hence the need for SDCA activity. Leader standard work “forces” leaders to practice SDCA. Human nature is such that people rather not check on process adherence because often, especially in an immature lean environment, there is a good chance that people won’t always willingly follow the standard work…and then what? This requires intervention and sometimes confrontation (remember, attack the process, not the person – 5 Why’s before the 5 Who’s). The longer process adherence is left unchecked, the less the likelihood of kaizen sustainability (hey, this lean stuff doesn’t work!) and the more powerful the change antibodies will become.

So, you can pay me now, by cumulatively implementing leader standard work with each new addition/modification to standard work or you can pay me later, after much pain, suffering and backsliding and finally get serious enough to implement some “catch up” leader standard work.

What are your experiences with leader standard work implementation?

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel