leader standard work is work picThis may be a blinding flash of the obvious, but while leaders typically work hard, it’s a different type of work. Most leaders are engaged in a lot of firefighting. We need less of that and more work on ensuring process adherence and performance with more coaching and development. That’s where lean management systems, of which leader standard work is a major element, come into play.

The interesting thing is that leaders don’t necessarily like to do leader standard work. Implementing can be like pulling teeth. Why? Well, it requires a change in behavior, there is more rigor (when compared to the lots of meetings and fire fighting work style), there is a new level of transparency and accountability and there is the need to engage, coach, and sometimes confront others. Let’s explore these things a bit.


Most leaders have no problem with other people doing standard work. However, often their tune changes when it’s required of them.

Leader standard work specifies audit points and (sometimes) tasks. The audit points specify where and when in the value stream the leader must physically go, what they must check and the normal condition that they seek to verify with the aid of effective visual controls. This is a major part of their standardize-do-check-act (SDCA) role. The time spent executing leader standard work varies depending upon the leader’s  level and role within the organization. For example, a supervisor may dedicate as much as 50+%  of their day on leader standard work, while a value stream manager may spend 15% of their day.

A lean leader’s standard work, among other things, may require him to check a particular work cell once in the morning and once in the afternoon to ensure that the workers are maintaining their plan vs. actual chart (usually by hour),  and that specific and meaningful reasons for any shortfalls are documented. The lean leader may also be required to initial and write the time of their review on the chart as proof that they conducted this part of their leader standard work.

Transparency and Accountability

As in any lean environment, secrets are a bad thing. We want to be problem solvers, not problem hiders.

At the conclusion of a lean leader’s day (by a specified time), the leader should be required to insert their completed leader standard work form within a designated clear bin or sleeve posted in a prominent place. Their name and leader standard work deadline should be on the bin along with a red flag (or something suitably obnoxious) behind the bin, so that it is quite obvious who has met the deadline and who has not.

Similarly, on a daily basis, the next level leader should peruse the submitted leader standard work for completion, identified abnormal conditions and sufficiency of recorded countermeasures to address the abnormal conditions. The next level leader would do well to note certain things, for example patterns of incomplete audits, recurring abnormal conditions (guess we’re not getting at the root cause), lack of abnormal conditions (are we really being rigorous in our audits?), etc. and then coach their subordinates as required. Coaching can often be done in the context of one-on-one gemba walks.

Engagement, Coaching, and Confrontation

Guess what? If the application of the leader standard work requires us to go the gemba and make direct observations specific to conditions around process adherence and process performance, then there are going to be plenty of opportunities for genuine investigation, coaching and sometimes confrontation.

We always want to live the lean principle of respect for the individual. That is why when we encounter an abnormal condition we should ask why (5X). Our countermeasures and coaching should follow suit –  a worker’s lack of process performance due to a shortfall in training is handled much differently than if it is due to a decided case of worker apathy.

It sounds like a lot of work, but this powerful means of SDCA is worth it! What’s your experience been implementing leader standard work?

Related posts: Stretch, Don’t Break – 5 ways to grow your people, Leader Standard Work – You can pay me now, or you can pay me later