Leadership & Standard Work

By Jeff Hajek

A while back, Ron asked a question about how standard work is applied to leadership.

Think of it like this. You wouldn’t create standard work for ‘manufacturing.’ You’d create it for the assembly of the WidgetMax3000, designed based on the voice of the customer and produced at a rate to match customer demand. You have to know your customer.

Know the Purpose

Likewise, you have to know the purpose of your leadership. What are you trying to accomplish? Without having clear objectives, it doesn’t matter what you standardize. You won’t get good results if you don’t define the results you want.

Once you see the big picture, learn to recognize the processes that you do in support of your goals. Keep this in mind. You don’t do ‘Leadership’. You do a series of smaller tasks. Everything is a process. You inspect equipment. You set expectations. You audit performance. You improve processes. You do the coaching process.

Some of these things can be more easily standardized than others.

Standardization in the Army

I’ve got a military background. The Army is really good at standardizing repetitive tasks so people can do them in harsh environments with little sleep. We had standard reports for many of these common tasks—for example, a sitrep (situation report) came in a specific format. We had structured procedures for maintaining equipment. We even had ‘battle drills’ that we practiced in case of specific enemy ‘inputs.’

What about you?

The leadership processes in a manufacturing plant, in a hospital, or a customer call center can all be standardized as well. Do you have a standard way you:

  • Prepare for the day? Make sure your staff is present and your equipment is functional at the start of the shift?
  • Create a production plan? How do you determine the takt time for each production area today, based on current customer demand? How do you adjust?
  • Inspect your areas of responsibility so you don’t miss anything important?
  • Evaluate your team? Do you record information throughout the year so you are not scrambling at evaluation time? More importantly, how do you make sure people know where they stand on a daily basis?
  • Keep your desk clean? Far too many leaders fail to set a high standard of 5S yet ask their teams to do it.

What do you think?

The more you can standardize the routine processes of leadership, the more you can use your time for the high impact things leaders want to do.  Do you agree?

4 Comments

  1. Clint

    May 12, 2009 - 8:14 am

    The short answer is I don’t have a standard way of getting through my day. I just came from the Evolving Excellence blog where the guy is bragging about having no emails. I have a lot of work to do and need to stop reading blogs for now so I can get to it!!!

  2. Graham

    May 12, 2009 - 4:31 pm

    re: Clint, I’ve started making more and more effort to standardise my activities throughout a day for those times when i’m being pulled pillar to post and I’m likely to forget issues or not present a consistent approach to my team.

  3. Observer

    May 16, 2009 - 8:42 am

    Standardization should be focussed on repetitive tasks, done at a high frequency.

    I once faced a situation where, a obvious problem that I solved because I was the subject matter expert was rejected because it did not go through the standardized routine of the company. I did not do 5 whys etc on paper with a team, and gave a decision. The project where I gave the solution, was not implemented immediately and there was a extra supervision to ensure all other possibilities were exhausted.

    I find such dogamtism in the name of standardization stiffling.

  4. Jeff Hajek

    July 19, 2009 - 3:18 pm

    Thanks to everyone for responding to my article, and thanks to Ron for posting it.

    In response to Observer, I’d add that standardization should be done on important tasks, not just high volume tasks. Imagine trying to close the quarterly books without some form of standard process, or winging it for a new product rollout. Both are repetitive, low volume tasks, but are also very important.

    I agree, though–standardization too rigidly applied does stifle creativity. That doesn’t mean that it is wrong to use it–it just means that the standard process has to have common sense built into it. The point is to generate predictable results. If the 5 Whys is the wrong tool for the job, then build a decision point into the standard process to consider what the right tool is.

    One example where a standard process didn’t work well doesn’t mean that standardization is bad–it means the process has room for improvement.