The next time someone claims to have a work day that is too unpredictable, non-repetitive, requiring flexibility or otherwise not amenable to structuring and improving via leader standard work, have them study A Day in the Life of a Dairy Farmer, courtesy of Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, Oregon, pictured here.
This day in the life is not standard work per se, but is representative of one typical day for a specific job, the dairy farmer. There are elements of leader standard work here such as time and sequence of activities, description of the activity, and in some cases quality descriptions desired outcomes, e.g. “nice dinner with family”. Note that not all actions herein are “daily” such as installing a new trough or helping a cow give birth to a calf at 2AM. Documenting the reality of “a day in the life” for a period of days or weeks is key step towards standard work for a leader, or for any person doing work that is inherently variable and requiring decision-making.
Before attempting to document either leader standard work or a day in the life, it is necessary to describe “the ideal” or a good day at work. During such a day one is able to spend time doing the things that are of highest priority and importance. Many of us would like it if a smaller part of any day in our life would be spent in meetings or going through e-mails or fighting fires. A good day may include more time for continuous improvement, more learning, more time moving projects toward completion, more time coaching others, and also finishing the work on the job and not taking it home. The description of a good day can be a statement of purpose, a bullet list of daily priorities, a 6-month set of goals, or a two-column list of “less of this, more of that”. The point is to define value for oneself, family and customers, in order to see how a typical “day in the life” compares to what good looks like.
The next step is to document where one’s time actually goes during a day in the life [of a person doing a particular job]. Ideally this is documented each day over a period of 4-8 weeks in order to average out the effect of irregular work weeks such as travel, planning retreats, holidays, and so forth. Once the day in the life has been documented it is used to shed light on where one’s time goes, and to consider what can be done to reduce time doing unwanted things. That is the continuous improvement step. It requires different tactics for different problems, be it blocking time, e-mail management techniques, reducing and/or running more effective meetings, etc.
The final step in creating leader standard work is to write down blocks of time set aside for specific activities, recurring, occasional and open. This should represent if not a good if not close-to-ideal-day. In attempting to follow this and failing, we reflect on obstacles and work to remove those. This standard work is a basis for ongoing improvement, and even after a “good day” is regularly achieved, needs to be revisited with fresh eyes.