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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Gemba walk: go for the why, not the who (don’t look for someone to blame)


Chris HOHMANN – Author

Gemba walks got increasingly popular over time but so went the misunderstanding of its purpose.

One of the worst misuse of the Gemba walk is going to spot deviations and wastes, and then instead of trying to understand the causes which led to those deviations or wastes (the why), managers go for someone to blame (the who).

Looking for the seven, eight or more types of waste is looking for symptoms, which is relatively easy. The more difficult part is to find the root cause(s) and eradicate them in order to improve significantly and hopefully, permanently.

Gemba walkers should remember that mistakes or deviations happen because the system or process is tolerant to them.

The second thing they should remember is that most systems and processes are broken and require extraordinary people to run them.

Alas, as extraordinary people are few, the organization has to do with ordinary people.

As it is easier to improve broken processes than to turn ordinary people into superheroes, Gemba walker should go for the why, not the who.

They’ve done well if after Gemba walk and improvement, the processes can be run with ordinary people and fewer opportunities to do wrong or generate waste.


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Dr Deming’s symphony


Chris HOHMANN – Author

Gemba walking or assessing a process without Goal in mind may lead to false conclusions.

This post was inspired by a mention about Dr Deming and inefficiencies in orchestra on a Mark Graban’s podcast (at 34mn).

Let’s take a symphonic orchestra as an organization activating around 100 different resources (musicians) to deliver value to its customers (the audience).

Let’s take some newly Lean-trained but inexperienced people (could be some consultants) and have them gemba-walk the orchestra during a concert.

Chances are the gemba walkers go for a waste walk, not a gemba walk (listen to Mark’s Podcast about this) and may feedback:

  • Some musicians play only a ridiculous part of the time, wasting precious capacity
  • The number of musician can be reduced by combining all non-saturated duplicates: instead of having same instruments playing at the same time the same tune, the just-needed resources will play the parts sequentially, thus filling their unused capacity
  • Most musicians do not play at full sound volume, another kind of waste
  • Playing speed remains under maximum
  • If audience was aware of the wastes, audience would not pay for not-playing musicians neither for those playing below full loudness, full speed or turning pages instead of playing their instrument

Such gemba walkers look for local maximization assuming value for customer is getting the maximum out of every resource. Most probably they walk the organization (orchestra) process by process, or type of musical instruments after musical instruments, e.g. string, brass, woodwind, and percussion, disregarding the cross-functional aspects.

As they do not know the organisation’s Goal – this post’s assumption – neither what really makes value for customers (a common trait in reality), their otherwise valid findings lead to false conclusions.

Now let’s imagine the orchestra following the advice and the next concert with all remaining musicians playing at top speed and full power, all time.

Quite funny, isn’t it?

That’s how successful companies laugh at their ill-advised competitors.

Still funny?

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Goal-focused gemba walks


Chris HOHMANN – Author

Most of the gemba walks are done with a large spectrum search for improvement, usually focusing on the 7 wastes known as “muda”. Some practitioners will look for variability (“mura”) and unreasonableness (“muri”) as well.

Yet as improvement opportunities are always infinite and resources are not, this broad approach may divert precious resources on secondary or even irrelevant objectives relatively to the organization’s Goal.

Just as commanders in military operations, managers should focus on main objective(s) in order to leverage action instead of risking to deplete their resources and fall short to achieve their objectives.

Therefore managers and executives should Goal-focus their gemba walks, which means look for deviations that hinders the organization to achieve its Goal or improvements that truly contribute to achieve the organization’s Goal. And this is significantly different from picking up any improvement opportunity.

>Lisez-moi en français


There are two high-level roadmaps that can be combined* to help: the Goal Tree and Hoshin Kanri. Both describe the cascade of intermediate objectives that are necessary to achieve in order to achieve the top-most objectives, hence the Goal.

*read the article “How Goal Tree can help Hoshin Kanri

My preference goes to Goal Tree. A full Goal Tree is a collection of benchmarks and an assessment tool altogether.

>Learn more about it

With the Goal Tree and all the Necessary Conditions not yet fulfilled in mind, the gemba walker has a checklist of items to look for.

On the gemba, the basic question is then: “is this process/activity/task a Necessary Condition?

  • if no, the next question is: “why does it exist? / can it be suppressed?” If it can’t be suppressed it must be adjusted to consume the very minimum resources
  • if it is a Necessary Condition, the next question is: “is this process/activity/task contributing to achieve the Critical Success Factors and the Goal?”


  • if yes, it means the status is green*, then improvement is probably needed somewhere else,
  • if no, if status is amber* or red*, the process/activity/task is a good candidate for improvement.

*read the article “Goal Tree: how to assess Necessary Conditions status?

Only with the Goal in mind and knowing the cascade of necessary conditions, a gemba walk will truly focus on meaningful improvement opportunities. Otherwise it is easy to start cleaning up the whole mountain when getting the rocks out of the path would be enough.

About Gemba walks pitfall, you may like Go for the why, not for the who (don’t look for someone to blame)

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Five good reasons to gemba walk

1. See what changed

Manufacturing shop floor or administrative processes are like gardens: things develop by themselves, not always the way it was expected.

If you have a garden or even a pot with a plant, you may have experienced that regardless to the effort you pay to grow something, it does not always grow the way you expected or something else grew instead.

It is the same in operations, despite procedures, rules and reports, what was intended often develops in some deviant way or does not develop at all. It is like discovering weeds that grew stealthy while expecting the desired flowers or vegetables to bloom.

Just as some weeds can grow overnight, some small deviations can affect processes. Only by frequent visits can these deviations be noticed before they develop into a major problem.

Staff on the shop floor and directly involved may not notice such deviations. They may lay out of staff focus or are often “solutions” to bypass difficulties or problems. In the second case, staff took a decision without full knowledge or without assessing all the possible negative side effects.

A manager in his gemba walk may notice the deviation and with his broader point of view, understand the potential trouble.

It is not that a manager / executive has an inborn ability to see such things, but having lesser detailed knowledge than shop floor’s subject matter experts, he/she may wonder and ask about things staff involved do not pay attention to any longer. Most often, deviations are discovered because someone asked a question about an odd thing he/she could not understand.

If the gemba walk is not frequent enough, the deviation may remain unnoticed long enough to develop as a real problem, while frequent tours may help sighting such potential problem before they actually become one.

Like a frequent visited garden is better tended than one which looks neglected with all the weeds that grew high and strong amidst the flowers, processes and shop floors reflect the attention management pays.

2. Stay connected

Managers and executives are not expected to know every detail of operations, yet frequent gemba walks help them to keep knowledgeable about most important things and keep an overview.

I feel embarrassed for a manager each time he/she must ask someone else to get the answer to my (consultant) questions. The questions I ask are related to the persons’ position. If they cannot answer it’s because most of the time they’re not connected.

Of course this is an evidence of some management flaw and a good reason to dig deeper in my assessments.

Sometimes the span of responsibility is so wide that a single person cannot be knowledgeable and the question is obviously for another staff member. Most of the time though, the manager cannot answer because of his/her disconnect with operations.

A periodical gemba walk maintains the link and keeps manager connected with the reality, even so not in the nitty-gritty details.

3. Make sure staff follows you

Management too often issue their instructions during a short meeting or via mail, procedure and take for granted the staff will carry out the instructions like a disciplined line of command in the army.

Alas, employees seldom stick to this old fashioned way of working and “orders” are not automatically carried out, or not exactly the way it was expected.

Remaining cut off with the staff in a remote office can lead to some nasty surprises when objectives are not achieved and no in-between check was performed.

>Read my Tales from the Pyramid post series about this

Staff may also not follow the instructions because of some misunderstanding.

In any case, a gemba walk can make sure staff follows instructions properly and timely.

4. Walk the talk

Almost all managers are good about the talk. They’re used to present the way processes work, how operations are carried out and how value is flowing. But most of the time managers repeat what procedures and quality system require.

It happens that the walk after the talk shows a different story and when it happens, it’s embarrassing for management. Nobody believes the too often heard excuse: “usually it’s not like this”. It only adds to the poor impression and the embarrassment.

Periodical gemba walks help managers for the talk and identify what to improve so that the walking the talk reflects the reality.

5. Pay respect

A gemba walk is not (only) an inspection tour. It is a way to show interest to people carrying out the tasks necessary to company’s success. Those in turn are usually proud about their achievements and like to see management caring about them.

A gemba walk is an opportunity to check if everything needed for their job is available, usable, etc. as the resources there are important for company’s success.

A gemba walk is also an opportunity to show the lower level staff they are important.

A sincere good morning can make a person’s day. Asking a question about a process step and true listening can make a person proud to explain the ins-and-outs and motivate him/her.


Management is easily trapped in the ivory tower. Many decisions and problems to solve are brought to its remote place and if managers do not pay attention, they get disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday shop floor life.

A periodical – short – gemba walk is a good preventive action with many positive side effects.

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Checklist for Gemba walks

Can gemba walks be self-taught?

I think so. What it takes basically to go-and-see is a lean thinking, striving-continuously-to-improve mindset.

Yet rookie gemba walkers may not know what to look for or what to pay attention to when walking alone.

When initiation is done with a sensei, the latter may ask questions to his disciple in order to make him/her self discover something and learn to see by him/herself.

But when no sensei is available, how to do?

If the gemba walker is familiar with Value Stream Mapping, he can visit a process and try mentally draw a map, he/she can even sketch it. While drawing the map, he/she can ask him/herself questions e. g. Why this buffer stock? Why that much scrap? And search for the answers.

>lisez-moi en français

Another way to get familiar with gemba walks is to start simply with a limited and focused objective, as for example finding out where material stops flowing smoothly or checking the average hand-offs in production.

Doing this a topic a time helps keeping focused and hones the seeing ability.

I suggest the gemba walkers prepare a list of topics and pick up a new one for each tour. Bedsides a topic list, it would be of some help to prepare a checklist per topic.

For instance if the topic is buffer stocks and WIP, the checklist may hold check points like:

  • Where are the buffer stocks located, in front of what kind of resources?
  • Is its purpose to absorb faster upstream resource output or to protect the downstream resource from shortage?
  • What if the buffer is empty?
  • Conversely what happens if buffer overflows?
  • What is the average value of buffer stock?
  • How long does it last given consumption pace?
  • Is there any signal to show buffer status?

In my book Lean Management, I propose several check-lists for managers going out on gemba walks

Many of these questions will find their answers – good or bad – when asking people in charge.

It is highly recommended to ask systematically for at last two reasons:

  1. prevent jumping on preconceptions but systematically checking for alternative causes
  2. assess people in charge understanding and analysis of the situation.

Mind preconceptions!

Sometimes what seems an obvious cause to something is not the real cause, what we think we understand is totally different. Relying on one’s own beliefs can lead to misunderstandings and false conclusions.

This could be problematic in case of an assessment, e.g. for qualifying a supplier.

Asking without inferring the answer is a way to check if alternatives answers exist, giving a chance to truly understand the nature of a problem, its cause or origin. And paying respect to people!

Understand people’s point of view

It is very different when somebody does something just because he/she was told to or when somebody just sticks to defined standards although knowing a better way to do it.

The first case depicts passive execution of non-engaged people who don’t care if instructions given are stupid or not.

The second depicts people aware of improvement potentials but do not know to express their suggestions or don’t dare to. Yet they stick to the rules, procedures and instruction as they understand these are the standards.

These kind of people are subject matter experts, as they not only have experience in performing the task but analyzed it and sought improvements.

It happens often that people “suffer in silence” or have good improvement ideas but don’t know how and to whom propose them. Asking questions during a gemba walk is an opportunity to surface not only hidden causes of problems, but also potential solutions and improvement.

Besides, paying attention to people and seeking their advice is paying respect to them.

You may also like: Gemba walk: go for the why, not the who (don’t look for someone to blame)


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What is Gemba?

Gemba is a Japanese word translated as “actual place” or “real place” that got common to the Lean community lingo and refers to “the place where value is created”.
For factory workers Gemba is the shopfloor, while for office workers Gemba is the office, for hospital staff, Gemba is hospital itself and for salesforces Gemba is sales floor.

As lean thinking is about maximizing value and avoiding waste, going to the Gemba is necessary to understand how the value streams works and assess its efficiency.

Basically going to see on Gemba is checking if:

  • the flow is smooth, no waiting
  • no useless loops delay deliveries, like filtering quality checks, rework…
  • no unnecessary Work in Progress (WIP) are piling up
  • there are no excess human motions or material transportation
  • etc.

Jim Womack about Gemba


Related: Gemba walk


How lean are you? Part 6 – Gemba walk as lean assessment

Measuring leanness is not always necessary, for instance when gathering qualitative clues is good enough for the purpose of the assessment. This would be the case for qualifying a supplier or find improvement topics.

Part 1 to part 4 of this series describe quantitative leanness assessment

Gemba walk as qualifying audit

When it comes to select and qualify a supplier in a list of candidates, before awarding him/her a contract over several years and develop a real partnership, it is wise to pay a visit to the facilities and assess the candidate’s performance and abilities.

Many such qualifying processes start with a standard questionnaire designed to gather some basic information. Many of these inquiries include questions about improvement programs, past lean initiatives and planned projects.

Some KPIs are also required in order to get an idea about the actual performance level and remaining improvement potential, which is a hint about actual risks for the customer as well as hint for future discounts as “shared improvement benefits”.

Yet figures can be misleading if it is not possible to differentiate effectiveness from efficiency or simply because all candidates want to appear at their best and dress their window accordingly.

In order to cross-check provided information, a gemba walk is a good tool. Such a walk would first check if the customer’s representative can walk the supplier’s talk or said simply: does the reality match the alleged situation, is the supplier trustworthy?

It doesn’t take lot of data to do this. Lean and non-lean situation are often highly contrasted, so evidences in both cases are easy to find.

As the outcome is a binary answer about confidence in the actual performance and potentials of the supplier, a lean expert word after a gemba walk is enough.


If supplier claims to pay keenest attention to quality but the shop floor is messy, dirty, with material and parts staked everywhere, the quality of delivered goods may be the result of thorough checking and filtering and come at high cost and not as a result of efficient and standard processes.

This exposes the customer to some risk regarding product’s quality, delivery – in quantity and time – as well as supplier’s potential bankruptcy in severe cases (his margin annihilated by excessive costs).

If changeover time is long and obviously SMED approach and techniques not known or mastered, flexibility can’t be good.

In case of shared resources with limited sprint capacity, it is likely that customers’ priority changes – something all B2B customers allow themselves – will disrupt the planning and lead to chaotic handling.

The deliveries would be at jeopardy and it is common that the customer shouting loudest will be given highest priority.

This means a lot of efforts for a given customer to secure his supplies. A kind of risk no auditor takes lightly.

Yet on a questionnaire alone, this kind of problem can seldom be foreseen.

Touring the shop floor reveals a lot about the company’s culture:

  • Do people look anxious and in haste or do they work smoothly and efficiently?
  • Do they wear required protections? Do they work in a well-tended, clean and well-lit environment?
  • Do they pay attention to material, parts, tools and equipment?
  • Is garbage visible somewhere?

Many of these kind of questions address discipline, morale, management and employee’s engagement.

These soft facts may influence the company’s performance and can only be sensed in situ.


Assessing leanness most often does not require complex measurement and ranking tools, a gemba walk by an expert is enough to give a grading and make a decision in an audit.

About me

What is a gemba walk?

A gemba walk is paying a visit to the “real place”, “where it happens”, the gemba. This visit is a critical one, as the visitor wants to make his mind about a problem, about the way things are done or in a broader sense, to check if it is possible to walk the talk.

In a Jan 9, 2014 industryweek blog post, Bill Wilder explains gemba as:

In short, it’s the place that matters most. It could be a crime scene: In Poe’s The Tell-tale Heart, gemba is that heart thumping under the floorboards. In sports, it’s wherever the ball is. In business, it’s the place where real value is created, the place where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. In other words, gemba is the beating heart of your organization.

How does Jim Womack define what is Gemba? / what is a Sensei?

The gemba walk is a management practice to grasp the situation before taking action. Jim Womack

Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect

John Shook, CEO of Lean Enterprise Institute in a Jun 22, 2011 industryweek blog post explains quite extensively what a gemba walk is, summarizing it in this mantra: Go See, Ask Why, Show Respect.

You may read the post here: http://www.industryweek.com/workforce/how-go-gemba?page=1
Alternate source: http://www.lean.org/shook/displayobject.cfm?o=1843

About me

In short and from my point of view, Go See is a way to check if what is done is contributing to the organization’s goal / purpose, well aligned and if the processes don’t waste resources. Deviations are opportunities to improve but may be disqualifiers in case of client’s audit. A gemba walk is a kind of Lean assessment. Such a walk can reveal much about Lean maturity, discipline, culture, performance and consistency with alleged policy, hence the question: can we walk the talk?
A gemba walk can reveal improvement opportunities, especially when seeing some kind of waste (Muda, Mura or Muri) or give important clues about a problem.

Ask why is meant to validate your assumptions and understanding when observing processes during the walk. Those who know best why something is done in this strange or efficient manner are people contributing to this process. The way of asking matters, the recommendation is not to push own opinion or conclusion but truly ask why and listen carefully to the answer. Ask why in the right way is also an inductor for people to discover the waste or uselessness of some task and letting them the opportunity to propose an improvement.

Showing respect starts with good behavior but it’s more than saying hello. Stick to the rules like wearing safety shoes and helmet where required, keep on walking where allowed, don’t touch material and parts…
Showing respect is also considering that even the most humble person involved in operations is a subject matter expert of sorts, knowing his/her job and all ins and outs far better than the gemba walker. Showing respect is giving this kind of person opportunity to express his/her analysis and ideas about actual situation and possible improvements.

Furthermore, these people are doing the work, creating value and contributing to organization’s purpose.

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Related: What is Gemba?