The Lean Office Blog

Leader Standard Work

Today’s topic highlights the need for implementing Leader Standard Work.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail”

-Alan Lakein

I highlighted the benefits of implementing a Lean Management System in a previous post. Today’s topic focuses specifically on the need for Leader Standard Work. I still remember my first role as a manager, and thinking how great things were going to be now that I finally had all of this free time on my hands. With no one to tell me what my day had to look like, I would have plenty of time to really focus on fixing all the problems my team was experiencing, and make life easier for the whole office.

The Problem

Two big challenges smacked me in the face within the first few weeks in the new role: meetings and unexpected events.

Meetings: Meetings are a huge time drain for all companies, and mine was no different. Between my existing customer commitments, daily updates with my boss and his team, and cross-department management meetings, my time spent in meetings had at least tripled. Instead of one meeting a day, I was in three or four, often away from my desk for an entire morning or afternoon, and sometimes all day. There are several tools and philosophies for working with your company to improve the effectiveness of meetings (like this one), but regardless of how effectively your company manages meetings, this simple fact remains: the higher you progress in an organization, the more time you will spend in meetings.

Unexpected Events: Before assuming my management role, I had always thought that I experienced aunexpected detour fair share of issues handling/problem solving in my role. What I didn’t realize was, as a Lean manager, you take on the responsibility for helping an entire team of people who all get their fair share of problems every day. While your job isn’t to solve every problem, it is to help your team maintain momentum while dealing with issues, coach them through problem solving, and handle any collateral damage caused by the issue. Talk about a lot of work! It’s true that a seasoned team will reduce a lot of the burden of these unexpected events, but, like meetings, the work related to unexpected events will never completely go away.

The lesson I learned during this transition to management? My time was definitely not my own. An attentive manager can quickly find themselves being sucked into so many meetings and dealing with so many unexpected events that they soon lose focus on their real objective-help the team standardize and improve the work. And that’s exactly what was happening to me.  I looked up at the end of every day and realized that not only had we not improved anything, we had actually worked extra hard that day just to tread water. And worse, I looked up at the end of every month and realized that none of those “we’ll get to it — someday” items had come off my list. Something had to change.

The Solution

After an embarrassingly long time spent trying to work hard, but not really thinking about working smart, I uncovered the concept of Leader Standard Work. The basic concept is that, while your day as a leader is less predictable and repeatable than it was before stepping into the role, there are checklistfundamental things that must be done intentionally if you want your team to maintain momentum on improving the work and sustaining past improvement. For me, a new Lean manager in an office setting,
those things included visiting the desk of each of my team members at least twice per day, spending a few minutes at the beginning of every day in a stand-up meeting, and spending a few minutes every afternoon reflecting on the day’s activities. I found that when I left work for the day, if I had accomplished those three basic goals for the day, I was more likely to have seen the day as productive and less stressful. Even if unpredictable, high-stress events occurred that day, my leader standard work had better prepared me and my team for facing the challenge head-on.

How to Implement Leader Standard Work

My leader standard work started out like most people’s – a simple Excel document with a basic outline of the “must-do” items described above. I also added in recurring meetings that happened on a daily or weekly basis, and printed this scheduled next to my desk. Then, I started trying to hold myself accountable to meeting my commitments by marking off my compliance to the schedule. While this was somewhat effective, the real benefit came from sharing that compliance with other leaders in the office. I asked them to help hold me accountable to my leader standard work, and it worked! I started protecting that time in my calendar, meaning I no longer took meetings that interfered with my standard work, and I would step away from projects and other activities to “go to the gemba” of my team’s work spaces as planned. Not only did I find that days became more productive and less stressful, but my team appreciated the effort to make them and their work a priority.

Leader Standard Work and The Lean Office

Fast forward to today, and my leader standard work no longer resides in an Excel document. While my Execute Standard Workteam is significantly smaller than it was back then, and my work much less predictable, I now have the benefit of a much better execution tool for leader standard work. Within The Lean Office software, we have a module called Blueprint Work. Blueprint work combines two critical components-standard tasks with defined standard work, and a schedule of recurrence. I’m able to document process steps in an interactive checklist and call out critical-to-quality items within the work, and then decide what time of day and days of the week these items get worked on. Every day, a new list of tasks is generated lean office visualand added to my daily plan. Throughout the day, myself and others can see the status of my planned work for the day, and understand what activities have and haven’t yet been completed. And over time, I can start to observe trends in the data, like falling behind on certain days of the week, and asking tough questions about why those trends are occurring.

The benefits for using The Lean Office for leader standard work only increase as your team grows. Instead of everyone carrying around individual print-outs of their schedule, you can display real-time visuals showing how well your leadership is meeting commitments. Talk about accountability! Team members appreciate the fact that everyone in the company, including management, is expected to plan and execute standard work.

What about your own company? Any success stories on implementing and managing leader standard work you’d like to share?  Comment below or reach me here.

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