Leader Standard Work

The very first time I heard about “leader standard work” and “scripted day” I was puzzled.

Production manager myself at that time, in my view management must be ready for fixing things and react to all the random events that rain down onto a factory shopfloor. How could a day made of fixing unexpected problems be standardized?

Reflecting on it I realized that a significant share of a manager’s day/week is repetitive routine and can be translated into a standard, improved, simplified, amended, and so on.

Without noticing it, I developped my own daily and weekly routines and was in fact rolling out my private standards.

In later years, when I visited numerous companies as a consultant, I saw many cases of company managers, operations managers and the like not having a routine and lacking daily guidance. They just floated with the stream of daily problems, often drowning in them. The long hours did not result in effective decision making nor appropriate support to their staff.


Another common issue with management is the reluctance to be on the shopfloor. Highly educated (especially the French…) managers consider beneath their dignity to spent time on the shop floor. The common belief is that a manager is someone having an office and spending time in meetings or behind a desk, a computer screen and on the phone.

No surprise, when line or lower ranking personnel get promoted, they want the same status symbols and soon refrain returning to the shopfloor.

I remember one case in a big print shop. The production manager was a former very skilled and capable technician that got promoted. From then on, he claimed a desk near the top manager’s office and ‘managed’ not to return into the shop. When top management threatened him if he didn’t move his desk into the shop, he demanded a customized office to be build on a mezzanine. What he was truly looking for was a symbol: being literally placed above his former co-workers.

To overcome this phenomenon and as sad it is, a scripted standard work is a (good?) way to get those managers back where they should spend a significant part of their time: on the shopfloor!

The necessary routine tasks are easy to describe and standardize in order to foster consistency and sustained practice. Log sheets prove the standard was fulfilled or makes the deviation apparent, reinforcing accountability.

Understandably any manager, foreman or line leader having a great deal of autonomy and freedom to organize him/herself may not be happy with it at once. It feel like a straightjacket and a return or fall to lower status.

What most of those vexed managers would not recognize is their poor ability to organize themselves in an efficient way and/or to keep ‘their’ routine robust and consistent. How many managers deep dive and forget themselves into things they like and procrastinate or ignore what they don’t like?

The standard work is a means to help them (even against their will) to have their days properly organized and aligned onto the organization’s goal.

In most cases standard work helps to sort and refine the daily tasks to those really meaningful and important. Conversely it is a means to simplify and/or ease the routine, saving fatigue and time for more important / interesting occupation.

Of course such a standard work must keep large time periods free, in order to cope with the unexpected events and urgencies.

It is also wise to coach the managers on their standard work, especially what to look for during routine tours or how to gemba walk. True listening capability when interacting with lower ranking managers and shopfloor personnel is also something that is not easy to develop alone.

How to engage, encourage, energize, praise or reprimand people is also something (newly promoted) managers have to/ should learn from a seasoned and more senior one.

Regular coaching with different coaches is a good way to hone the different skills and avoid complacency.

After a while, the standard will become the new routine, the new normal and the initial resentment vanish.

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