Leader standard work is a concept in Lean Management, popularized by David Mann in his book “Creating a Lean Culture”, that creates standard work for managers. For many in the Agile community, the notion of “standard work” brings a repellent idea of standardization and work standards, and the oppressive boot-jack command culture that comes with that. And yet, the way that Toyota implements standard work, it is much more akin to coding standards or working agreements, where you record the current best agreed upon way of the workers in the system for doing something, than an oppressive regime of McQuality Checks.

David describes the principle nicely in his presentation on Creating a Lean Culture Process Focus and Leader Standard Work. The purpose of Leader Standard Work is to create behavioral change that drives Lean Leaders to visit the place where work is being done. This, along with Visual Management and a Daily Accountability process helps ensure the technical improvements in the Lean Transformation aren’t lost to the culture of firefighting and backsliding into what he calls the “pit of instability and despair” or what I like to call, “business as usual.” So, there are many organizational benefits to Leader Standard Work. And the good news is, it’s also a great way to drive some sanity into your day as a manager.

Leader Standard Work is becoming more commonplace and the standard for the development of a Lean Culture. It is extremely adaptable and found both in trade and professional services. It excels in experienced based professions but it may struggle in what I would call knowledge-based services. The problem is there are more knowledge-based jobs being created every day. The experience based jobs either get automated or outsourced. For more information on that subject, read Dan Pink’s, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

Since Lean is so intrinsically tied to standard work, many believe Lean cannot apply to their “Knowledge Based” occupation. In fact, it is often resisted in these circles. When met with resistance, I have found that typically there is a good reason why. As I review most Leader Standard Work for knowledge workers, I still find them heavily laden with specific instructions and very results based focus. In Sales and Marketing (I am considering Sales and Marketing to be knowledge work) , you will see instructions such as make 25 calls, send out 15 e-mails, 3 blog posts a week, etc. On the other hand, I do see slack time allowed under the disguise of daily or weekly Kaizen. So Leader Standard Work can apply to Sales and Marketing 9Knowledge Workers), or can it?

Leader Standard Work will fizzle out quickly if you simply try to practice Leader Standard Work through Lean Training, coupled with your experience and try to become more proficient through iteration after iteration. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, it may take years, certainly months, to acquire the skills needed. What stops you is that you not only have to learn new skills but these skills and learning are not stagnant. They are in constant turmoil; developing, adapting and evolving while obsoleting the existing structure.

Many companies may fall short as a result of not creating the internal collaboration structure needed for learning. The organization must develop as a whole and this can only be accomplished by developing their personnel by providing the necessary resources and opportunities. We also need to promote individual differences. Instead of teaching the way to do some things, we may need to step back and determine the key points that are required, as Simon Sinek says the “Why” while leaving the how alone (Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action).

What will drive Leader Standard Work is the “Why” more so than the “How”. The “Why” provides the clear strategic intent which will provide the fuel for Leader Standard Work. This analogy is wonderfully described in David Mann’s Book Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions, Second Edition where he uses the automotive analogy to describe the four principles of the Lean Management System:

  1. Leader Standard Work – Engine
  2. Daily Accountability Process – Gas Pedal and Steering Wheel
  3. Visual Controls – Transmission
  4. Discipline – Fuel

When developing your Leader Standard work for Lean Sales and Marketing address these three items;

  1. Clarification – Minimum standard is explicit
  2. Commitment – Level of commitment is expected from the individual
  3. Connection – A path for support through conversation is provided.

Can your Leader Standard Work pass the 3 C Test?

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