Posts Tagged leader standard work

Leader Standard Work and Kamishibai [Case Study]

case studySituation. A multi-national manufacturer was implementing a lean management system (LMS) in a phased manner within one of their facilities. The target facility operated four separate comprehensive value streams. The LMS implementation incrementally covered the first pilot value stream and then continued to deploy it throughout the remaining value streams. LMS elements included daily tiered huddle or reflection meetings, gemba-based leader standardized work (LSW), one-on-one coaching meetings, and andon/andon response.
Problem. Due the breadth of the value stream(s) relative to the number of processes, number of natural work teams, plant floor footprint and the like, the sheets that the senior leaders used to conduct their LSW became too large and too complex to easily manage. For example, the site leader needed to personally check the sufficiency of and adherence to operational standardized work throughout the plant. However, the potential targets to check were in the many dozens. To illustrate, just two of the many checks were: 1) check one operator within cell XYZ to ensure that standardized work is being adhered to and is sufficient – right steps, sequence, cycle time, and standard WIP, and 2) check ABC FIFO lane to ensure that the max level is not exceeded and materials are pulled in first-in-first-out manner. Even after spreading the targets over multiple days and weeks so that the site leader only had a handful to check per day, the sheets were several pages long and it became difficult to understand what checks should be conducted at what time.
Action. Leadership desired to maintain the underlying principles of the LMS, but needed to find a way to conduct the LSW checks so that they were less onerous. They adopted the use of a kamishibai board (a.k.a. “standardized work audit board,” or “K board”), a visual tool that captures each LSW check for a particular area on an individual card. Each card lists the condition to check on both sides. One side is green in color (normal condition), and one side is red (abnormal condition). These cards are pulled by a leader from a box or bin attached to/near the board. The leader then conducts the check. If it is found that the condition is normal (i.e., the FIFO lane quantity is below the max, materials are flowing first-in-first-out, etc.), then the card is placed on the board green side out. If there is something abnormal (i.e., the FIFO lane materials are being pulled based upon how easy they are to build downstream and not first-in-first-out). The card is placed on the board red side out with a written explanation of the abnormal condition. The area leader, with coaching from their leader(s), as required, will then identify the root cause and the countermeasure and record on the same board. These boards are refreshed periodically – often daily or weekly.
Results. By using the kamishibai concept, the company was able to simplify the LSW sheets, thereby reducing confusion and stress. Many of the items on the sheet were replaced with instructions to go to the kamishibai board in a particular area and then randomly pick two cards (for example) and conduct the audit. In addition, the kamishibai board made abnormalities even more visible to the various stakeholders and prompted more sustainable fixes.

Related posts: Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps, Respect the Process

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Respect the Process

We’ve all undoubtedly had the notion of respect for people drilled into our heads. Of course, it’s easy to speak about such a principle. Much  harder to live it.

In any event, let me humbly add another recipient of our deserved respect.


First, a distinction, it’s not THE Process, meaning we are not talking about one single, special process that is elevated above all others. We’re talking about ANY process within our value streams.

OK, you may be thinking, why would we respect a non-person or non-entity? And how would we render such respect?

Why?respect process 2

  • Every process, standardized or not, should be respected at least to the extent that we must grasp what it is (admittedly difficult if it is not standardized) and the reason for its very existence. How many times have folks eliminated or changed a process without understanding what problem it was trying to solve in the first place, only to find that their rash “improvement” was counterproductive?
  • Basic respect is extended to people because of their inherent human dignity. A standardized process has a certain inherent value in that it provides, if nothing else, a starting point for improvement. Think back to your last time you (improved and) standardized a previously non-standardized process. Hard work, but it established a critical foundation for the next kaizen activity. As Taiichi Ohno (and Henry Ford, previously) is credited with saying, more or less, there is no kaizen without standard work. Implicit with this concept is that the proper use of standardized processes readily reveals abnormalities, which is the feedstock for problem solving.
  • Standardized processes, until improved yet again, represent the best way for the organization to do things easier, better, faster, and cheaper. Why wouldn’t we respect that?
  • A standardized process represents, if established properly, the genuine PDCA and SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) efforts of a number of folks. We need to respect their hard work, courage, and creativity.
  • And then there’s the slippery slope of inconsistency. If we pick and choose which processes receive respect and which are casually disregarded, the discipline and scientific thought that is so necessary for effective lean transformations goes up in smoke.


  • PDCA. It’s difficult to respect what you do not understand. Good old fashioned PDCA requires the lean practitioner to grasp the situation. The plan portion of PDCA calls us to understand and compare what is happening versus what should be happening and what we know versus what we don’t know. In other words, we should not willfully further process ignorance.
  • SDCA. SDCA is about ensuring, via audit, that standardized work is being adhered to and is sufficient. This assumes an organization-wide discipline to follow the standardized work and a leadership obligation to reinforce adherence and, in the event of lack of adherence, determine the reason why and the help develop and deploy an appropriate countermeasure. Sometimes lack of adherence is driven by one or more of the following: the process is insufficient, a better way has been adopted (and should be reflected in updated standardized work), insufficient training, willful disobedience, etc.
  • Patience. Standardized work needs to be lived with for some measure of time before changes should be experimented with and/or instituted. I’ve witnessed folks “trying” standardized work that was SDCA’d in an identical process from another location immediately dismiss it as insufficient (compared to their organic, non-standardized work) and then desiring to change it or just plain ignore it. Here, we suggest reasoned “tasting before seasoning.”
  • TWI. If we truly respect the process AND the person, we will effectively instruct the worker so that he understands the how and why of the process and we will verify that he can consistently execute the process. TWI’s job instruction program, for example, provides a time-proven approach for doing just that.
  • Andon. Workers must be empowered and expected to pull the andon when they cannot maintain the process and/or the process is deemed insufficient. In turn, workers must expect lean leaders to respond to the andon pull, escalate when necessary, and ultimately facilitate problem solving.

In short, respect the process and it will respect you.

Related posts: Standard Work Is Like Food – Taste before Seasoning, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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Leader Standard Work and Plausible Deniability

Truthfully, the only times I have ever heard the term “plausible deniability,” other than my own frivolous use, is in movies or TV shows about clandestine operations and the like. Wikipedia says, at least for now,

Plausible deniability refers to the denial of blame in loose and informal chains of command where upper rungs quarantine the blame to the lower rungs, and the lower rungs are often inaccessible, meaning confirming responsibility for the action is nearly impossible…

Sounds spooky, no pun intended. In a lean environment there’s no place for plausible deniability. It’s all about transparency and the ability to identify abnormal conditions and, not to be redundant, opportunities.

Leader standard work is SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) in action. It seeks to determine whether standards are being adhered to and whether they are sufficient – very important stuff when you are to trying to sustain lean gains and develop a lean culture.

We all know that good leader standard work is supplemented by good visual controls – ones that enable “drive by” ease to determine normal versus abnormal. What some folks unfortunately don’t comprehend or want to comprehend is that leader standard work is redundant or “nested.”

A supervisor or team leader’s leader standard work may represent as much as 50% of their time on the job. A next level manager 30%. A value stream leader (i.e., plant manager) as much as 20% or so. Is each level’s standard work totally different? No! There’s redundancy. The frequency and scope may differ, but the checker, and the checker of the checker (and so on) is being checked at multiple levels.

This may sound like muda. But, in lean we often rely upon “human systems.” Human systems are fragile in nature and therefore need rigorous support and maintenance. This rigor requires direct confirmation. Are you more inclined to properly execute your assigned tasks if you know that someone is going to be auditing your work and your area of responsibility – in person?

Indeed, while leader standard work must include the superior checking the subordinate’s leader standard work document to, among other things,: 1) ensure that it has been completed in a timely manner, 2) identify what abnormalities have been identified (and whether they are of a repeat variety), and 3) the sufficiency of the subordinate’s countermeasures, it also must include direct observation. We, like Taiichi Ohno, must prefer facts over data.

The superior’s leader standard work must also require him or her to go to the gemba and for example, ensure that the operator(s) is working in accordance with standard work – steps, sequence, cycle time, and standard work-in-process. Anything less than that and we’re in the plausible deniability realm, taking the “word” of the second hand information and never verifying…even though we may have more than an inkling that the system is breaking down. “Hey, my subordinate was checking that in their leader standard work…”

It’s not that we shouldn’t trust people, we just need to be good lean pragmatists. We need to model the proper behaviors and actively lead and coach. Good leader standard work, and thus SDCA, does not co-exist with loose and informal chains (of command). Nothing deniable there.

Related posts: Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps, How to Audit a Lean Management System, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps

Leader standard work is a pillar of the lean management system. So, how does one start to develop leader standard work? Five basic steps will get you a long way: 1) walking, 2) questioning, 3) working, 4) testing, and 5) adjusting. Like most kaizen activities, it’s very effective to do this as a team – in this case, a team of lean leaders.

Walking. Walk the value stream. Make use of your current state value stream map if you have one, but never forget to go to the gemba. Identify your “pulse points,” the critical points within the value stream where you would like to check process performance and/or process adherence. They are called pulse points because we’re thinking about relatively quick drive-by checks that can give us insight into the health of the overall system. Like a health care provider, we do not and cannot pragmatically start every examination with  a full-body MRI or blood work! That would be muda! Apply deep dives strategically.

Questioning. While walking and identifying pulse points, you should also ask questions (of ourselves and other stakeholders) relative to process performance and adherence and other basic stuff around these pulse points. For example, “What is the process?… How do I know if it’s working or not?… What is the standard work?… Is it being followed relative to steps, work sequence, cycle time and standard work in process?…What are the CTQ’s (critical to quality elements)?”…etc. Write these questions down. You’ll pick the most critical later.

Working. Here “work” is figuring out how to answer the big questions and the natural lean follow-on questions that we did not think to ask originally. So, if the question is, “How do I know whether people are adhering to standard work?” and you don’t have standard work, guess what? You’re going to have to develop standard work. If the question is, “What if the test station begins to fail an abnormally high number of units?” then there may be some follow-up questions, such as, “What is abnormally high?”  More work required here – looks like we’ll have to define that. Still another question (seems like we’re back to the questioning step!), may be, “What happens if the operator encounters abnormally high failures?” – looks like we’ll have to establish some sort of escalation protocol…with the appropriate standard work and visual controls. Work, work, work, but well worth it. Rarely, is the system already well wired and it’s just a matter of developing and deploying leader standard work.

Testing. So, once you build out the leader standard work in an appropriate leader standard work format for each leader (including the location that the leader should physically go to for the audit, audit frequency, the normal condition that the leader is attempting to validate, whether the observed condition is normal or abnormal, etc.), it’s time to test it. This means walking and using the leader standard work, determining whether it is prescriptive enough, whether the visual controls are unambiguous and drive-by easy, etc. The likelihood that all is perfect is pretty much nil, which leads to…Adjusting.

Developing effective leader standard work is not easy, but it is instructive. When rigorously applied within a daily accountability process, it will help drive a lean culture,  sustain improvements and facilitate daily kaizen.

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel

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How to Audit a Lean Management System

The lean management system (LMS) is an integral part of an effective lean business system. It’s critical to the development of a lean culture and the sustainability of hard-earned improvements. In simple terms, it is really hard to live SDCA (standardize-do-check-act) without it.

So, how can you quickly tell whether or not an organization’s LMS  (not to mention its lean effort) is the real deal or not? Well, no surprise – you audit it!

A well-developed LMS is, by its very nature, easily audited. And lean leaders should make it a point to do this on a routine basis. Here’s some quick and simple ways:

  • Leader standard work. Review samples of recently completed leader standard work. Check them for completeness, recurring issues and problems, and evidence of good lean thinking in determining countermeasures. And, oh by the way, if there aren’t any (or many) abnormal conditions identified, look at that with some professional skepticism. As the saying goes, “no problem is a big problem.”
  • Gemba walk. Walk the gemba with leader standard work in hand to determine its sufficiency and to observe, firsthand, the state of the gemba. When a senior leader conducts a gemba walk with his team, tag along. Observe whether they follow gemba walk standard work relative to attendees, timing, path, audit points and criteria, rotating “deep dives,” conclusion/reflection and countermeasures. Assess the thinking, understanding, participation, sense of urgency, evidence of improvement(s), coaching, chastising, questions, answers, etc.
  • Daily accountability meetings. Attend tiered meetings to determine the sufficiency of and adherence to the standard meeting agenda, while also assessing the level of the leader and the team’s engagement, understanding, lean thinking and real countermeasures, both immediate and planned.
  • Tiered meeting boards. Review the various supporting visual boards to assess the actionability, relevancy, timeliness of the performance measures and their trends. Also, check the type and status of the assigned countermeasures and employee suggestion activity, among other things.

A solid lean management system is “well-wired.” A lean leader should be able to quickly audit and discern whether the team, plant, division, office, etc. is practicing fake lean or is really and genuinely leaning forward.

Related posts: “So What?” – A Powerful Lean Question, Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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Mark Hamel Interviewed by Business901’s Joe Dager

Joe Dager, an expert in lean marketing and founder of the Business901 blog, was gracious (and perhaps crazy?) enough to interview me last week. The interview is captured in a podcast and covers my SME published book, Kaizen Event Fieldbook: Foundation, Framework, and Standard Work for Effective Events.

Joe asked many excellent questions about how to sustain kaizen event gains…and hopefully, I provided some value-added answers and insight. We covered, among other things, topics like lean management systems and the specifics of leader standard work as well as the multi-phase kaizen event approach.

Please check out the podcast and Business 901’s social media release here.

Related posts: Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel,Kaizen Event Supplies – Basic Stuff for Effective Events, Kaizen Event Team Selection – No Yo-Yos Needed, Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Ready! Fire! Aim!…Maybe, We Should Have REALLY Simulated First!?, The Human Side of the Kaizen Event – 11 Questions for Lean Leaders, The Human Side of the Kaizen Event – Part II

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Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel

wheel chocks picRecently, I added a new step to my kaizen event standard work. Just to keep the event team leaders honest, I not only require them to develop leader standard work related to the new “systems” that they have implemented during the kaizen (my old standard work), I actually now make them walk me through the leader standard work, printed and in hand,…at the gemba. This is typically done on a Thursday afternoon if it’s a five day kaizen event.

Yes, I am a pain in the neck! But, what happens if the leader standard work is not completed or completed and not sufficient? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s called backsliding. The PDCA wheel rolls backward!

All of the team’s blood, sweat and tears come to naught. Not a great way to sustain the gains. Not a good way to create a lean culture. So, we need to chock the PDCA wheel with leader standard work (and of course, the related visual controls that make the leader standard work “drive-by” easy). Leader standard work is part of standardize-do-check-act or SDCA. Leader standard work is part of a lean management system, along with visual controls and a daily accountability process.

What does the leader standard work walk through look like? Picture the lean coach or sensei following the event team leader as they refer to the documented leader standard work.

For example, the kaizen event team leader reads off the first audit area within the leader standard work – an easy one, a FIFO lane.  We stop here on an hourly basis at the “XYZ FIFO lane” and, “Determine that the FIFO lane is maintained.”

“Maintained?” What the heck does that mean? So, the supervisor/team lead comes by here each hour, looks and says, “Yup, looks good! Looks maintained!”?? No, I think we need to be much more specific, otherwise things will get lost in translation, the leaders won’t understand and they won’t ensure process adherence and then the system will break down. The leaders will routinely mark the audit step complete and never, ever identify an abnormal condition…even when there is one.

We need to define this leader standard work step a bit more. It might read something like, “Review FIFO lane to ensure that it is being maintained: 1) carts are being fed in a first in, first out manner, 2) the maximum quantity of carts (as reflected in the visual)  is not exceeded, 3) if the maximum quantity is met, then the upstream operation is no longer producing…” Now, about that visual control…

Now this may seem like overkill, but I don’t think so. This kind of rigor is especially important when a company is relatively new in their lean journey and the lean leaders are immature. Their leader standard work needs to be very specific.

So, how do you chock your PDCA wheel?

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Leader Standard Work – You Can Pay Me Now, or You Can Pay Me Later

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Plan Vs. Actual – The Swiss Army Knife of Charts

swiss army knifeImagine that you were only allowed one chart (or board) at the gemba. What would you pick? What is the Swiss Army knife (I’m more of a Leatherman Multitool fan myself) of charts that gives you insight into process adherence and process performance?

For me, it’s the plan vs. actual chart – also known as the production analysis board (or chart), day-by-the-hour chart, etc. It is typically a paper chart (my preference) or dry erase board that is positioned at the pacemaker process. It’s refreshingly low-tech and reflects, at a minimum, the line, cell or team name, output requirements (number of picks, assemblies, invoices, etc.) for the day or shift, the related takt time, the planned hourly (or smaller time increment) and cumulative outputs for the day or shift, the actual hourly and cumulative outputs (or in some practices the cumulative deficit or surplus) and fields to record the problem or reason for any hourly plan vs. actual deltas as well as a sign-off by lean leader(s) as proof of review.

So, why is the plan vs. actual so powerful? Here’s 5 reasons.

  1. Communicates customer requirements. The chart reflects the demand, by type or product, quantity, and timing and sequence. It reflects a takt image.
  2. Forces the matching of cycle time to takt time. Standard work should dictate the requisite staffing (and related cycle time, work sequence and standard WIP) to satisfy the customer requirements.
  3. Engages the employee and drives problem-solving. Like any visual control worth its salt, the plan vs. actual is worker-managed in a relatively real-time way. It highlights abnormal conditions (hourly and/or cumulative shortfalls or overproduction) and drives self-correction or at least notification/escalation and containment. The plan vs. actual also spurs PDCA in that the worker is required to identify the root cause of the abnormal condition and ultimately points the worker, team and leadership to effective countermeasures.
  4. Focuses lean leaders within the context of leader standard work. A good plan vs. actual will have fields for team leader/supervisor sign-offs on the hour and managers twice daily. This is essentially proof of the execution of leader standard work in which the leader should ensure that the plan vs. actual is maintained real-time, is complete (i.e., no unexplained abnormalities), and that countermeasures are being employed in order to effectively satisfy customer requirements.
  5. Focuses associates and lean leaders within the context of the daily accountability process. The prior day’s plan vs. actual and trended performance (including pitch logs) should be reviewed within daily tiered meetings. These meetings help drive the identification of improvement opportunities and countermeasures at the individual, team and value stream level.

So, what’s your Swiss Army Knife chart and why?

Related posts: Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!, Leader Standard Work – You can pay me now, or you can pay me later

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Leader Standard Work Should Be…Work!

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

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Leader Standard Work – You Can Pay Me Now, or You Can Pay Me Later

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

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