At some point in your Lean Six Sigma journey you’ll come across the phrase: Leader Standard Work. To better comprehend the meaning, let’s first take it apart, and then put it back together.

What is a Standard?

You probably already have an intuitive understanding of what a standard is. Generally speaking, a standard is an accepted level of quality. It’s a rule, or an agreed way of doing something. A standard is an idea or thing used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations.

What is Standard Work?

Standard work is the documentation of the best, most efficient sequences and methods for each process and each worker. It forms the baseline for continuous improvement. Each time the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the basis for future improvements.

Establishing standard work begins with creating, clarifying, and sharing information about the most efficient method to perform a task that is currently known with everyone performing that process.

Once this information has been shared, everyone practices this standard consistently so that the work is done the best way every time.

Standard work creates stability and consistency within a continuous improvement system by providing the baseline upon which a process sits. This way, your team isn’t constantly reinventing the wheel.

What does Standard Work include?

Standard work documentation includes:

  • A clear, detailed outline of each process and task.
  • The current best practice.
  • The exact sequence employees follow to complete a specific task.
  • Key points related to safety, quality, and performance.
  • Explanations for why things are done a certain way.
  • The rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand.
  • The standard amount of “work in process” inventory.
What are the benefits of Standard Work?

When standard work is implemented and adhered to, organizations gain a number of advantages.

  • Improved quality with fewer errors.
  • Reduced waste and improved efficiency.
  • Clear employee expectations and simplified new hire training.
  • A shift from individual to tribal knowledge.
  • Clear visibility into process breakdowns.
  • Predictable results and cycle times.
When should Standard Work be changed?

This is an important question, because standard work should never be considered final work.

This is where continuous improvement comes into play; standard work isn’t a “set it and forget it” process, announced once and then permanently unchanging. Instead, everyone should work to improve the standard and share new best practices as they’re discovered.

Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, once said, “Without Standard Work there is no Kaizen.” That’s a pretty bold statement, but when you think about the continuous improvement cycle, it makes a lot of sense. How can you move from the current state to the desired state if the current state is a moving target?

Because standard work is the basis for improvement, it should be changed when a PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle reveals an opportunity for improvement. Once a proposed change has been tested and proven to result in a better outcome than the current standard, the standard work documentation should be updated to include the improvement and employees should be retrained.

What is Leader Standard Work?

At first, the concepts of Leader and Standard Work might not seem to blend easily. Ask yourself: How do you change (improve) the behavior of an organization? Answer: By changing (improving) the behavior of its leaders. After all, the quality of a leader is reflected in their standards.

Leader Standard Work doesn’t have to be overly complicated. At its most basic, Leader Standard Work is Standard Work that supports the work of others. Build Standard Work first, then add Leader Standard Work to support and reinforce it.

Often companies talk about managing daily improvement, conducting stand-up meetings, or having a sequential review process. These are all tools for Leader Standard Work that we’ll discuss soon.

Essentially, Leader Standard Work involves every supervisor, manager, team leader in the organization implementing the answer to:

What one small improvement can you add this week to your product, service, processes, that you’re not doing now, that if you did on a regular basis would add up to a tremendous positive improvement for your customer (thus benefiting your organization and workers)?

What are your Leader Standard Work tools?

Following are the tools you should use for Leader Standard Work. Also, refer to the resources listed below:

  • Huddle meetings: a daily stand-up meeting for team communication, collaboration, and updates.
  • Gemba Walks or Leader process walks: Going to the Gemba—where the work occurs to understand the process and identify improvement opportunities.
  • Huddle boards: A visual management tool to track leader actions related to supporting a lean culture.
  • Process Performance Boards: A process scorecard for your team incorporating safety, quality, cost, and delivery.
Is there a sequence of steps that could help a leader make and prioritize choices?

In the lean tradition, Fujio Cho is often quoted as saying:

  1. Always think of the customer first: What are the quality and delivery metrics to show this?
  1. Go and see first-hand: Check the visual management system to see better on the Gemba.
  1. Ask why five times: Develop problem solving through A3, 4M, and so on.
  1. Show respect: Show interest in teams’ 5S, kaizen efforts, individual suggestions, and help people with the obstacles they encounter.

Leader Standard Work is about:

  • Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change.
  • Encourage acts of leadership at every level.
  • Understand and focus on customer needs and expectations.
  • Manage the work, let people self-organize around it.