Lean Office

Standard Work for the CEO

By Jon Miller Updated on May 29th, 2017

A great thing about blogging is that it becomes a visual management tools for our company. In many ways, what we are doing is posting standards about how we think, teach and manage at Gemba. This is free and open for all team members, customers and readers to see, so it keeps us accountable. Clients can and do tell us “you’re not doing what you say you do on your website”.
Recently a reader named Rajdeep followed up with me about an a post last year concerning standard work for consultants. How are we doing with standard work for consultants? Not so well, but we’re working on it. Rather than talking about what we’re not doing and why (which can be very instructional) here is something we are doing: standard work for the CEO.
That’s right. Leading by example. If I can’t personally demonstrate standard work for my job, how can I possibly demonstrate job breakdown and perform Job Instruction for consultants and other team members?
My current role spans CEO, President of Gemba U.S.A. and also Director of Training & Development. We’re looking to fill the second position. The work of CEO at Gemba is a combination of routine and non-routine tasks. At this point “standard work” for the CEO is the broad definition, rather than the narrow definition which is built around takt time, work sequence, and standard work in process. I firmly believe that the narrow definition can be applied to much of the work of a CEO, given the appropriate data to determine takt time, but more on that later.
Here is the current draft of daily standard work for the CEO at Gemba:
Most of the day is divided into roughly 2 hour increments. The aim is to do a bit of each role (CEO, President of US, Training & Development) each day as a form of EPE (Every Product Every) or in this case ERE-day (Every Request Every). The Standard section indicates what tools, applications or settings are in use during this time. The Visual Control column indicates a color-coded signal we use in our open office to indicate whether it is okay to interrupt our flow (green), whether we should be allowed to concentrate (red), or when we’re coming back if we’re away from our desk.
Having developed this while on the road most of June, and reflecting on it now, this looks like an impossible standard. Memory fails when trying to recall the last 10 hour day. But this is a good stretch goal. In the Toyota way you do today’s work today. That means you work overtime, whether on the assembly line or as a manger, until the day’s work gets done and customer requests are fulfilled. The standard above may be a poor standard, but it is better than none.
Taiichi Ohno said about standards:

“…one way of motivating people to do kaizen is to create a poor standard. But don’t make it too bad. Without some standard, you can’t say “We made it better” because there is nothing to compare it to, so you must create a standard for comparison. Take that standard, and if the work is not easy to perform, give many suggestions and do kaizen.”

This standard also goes out the window when my role is sensei (teacher) on-site with clients or working with other Gemba team members. The work for the sensei day is based on live customer pull.
Part of the monthly standard work includes “going to gemba” several times, as in being face to face with clients in the throes of Lean transformation, at their location. Monthly and weekly standard work routines have yet to be worked out, as there is greater variation over a longer time horizon in the CEO job.
One measurement of performance against this CEO standard work will be On-time to Request. Was I able to do today’s work today or did it get pushed to tomorrow (yes, this happens all of the time) or even next week? If pushed out, why? How much overtime per day is appropriate to be on-time? Is this level of overtime safe and sustainable?
There is no doubt that examining the flow stoppers and using the 5 why process will take us quickly to order management and the lack of heijunka in our work. Requests seem to come in waves, and we have not developed a good way of managing these requests in a way that smooths out the load. I detect a kaizen event in the making… but we’ll let the data guide us.
You’re still welcome to call me in the AM2, PM1 and Day End (red door) slots. But please don’t be offended if after our conversation it is logged as one of the “flow stoppers” for the day.

  1. John Hunter

    June 28, 2007 - 3:37 pm

    Great post. Consultants actually using the tools as they recommend other do is actually rare in my experience. Peter Scholtes is one I knew that did. And the results of that effort provided good evidence of the value of doing so (I think). Keep up the great work and sharing it through the blog.

  2. Dan Markovitz

    June 28, 2007 - 9:29 pm

    The color-coded signals (red/green) are important, but I think you can improve the system. In the spirit of kaizen, try this: when you have the red signal showing, add the time at which you anticipate being done with the task and changing the signal to green.
    Oftentimes, our coworkers will interrupt each other (or will waste time & energy deciding whether to interrupt) because they don’t know when the “do not disturb” sign will go off. By giving them more information, you enable them to make a better business decision more quickly.
    So, if it’s 11:20am and I see a red signal and a finish time of 11:30am, I’ll probably wait 10 minutes to ask you about something important, but not urgent. However, if our largest customer is on the phone with a serious complaint, or if the building is on fire, I’ll probably interrupt you. But now I can make an informed decision about how to manage the flow of my work.

  3. Jon

    July 1, 2007 - 8:09 pm

    No doubt it can be improved Dan. As a rule, red means “don’t interrupt” which is a rule some people are better at respecting than others. A simple “Can I interrupt you?” usually yields a yes / no response so there’s not a lot of time spent on this decision.
    A red door is almost considered an “abnormality” as soon as it goes up, in that there is a reason that this person cannot work within a team or as part of a flow (cannot be “interrupted”).
    Most of the time the door goes up for longer than 10 minutes, but it’s hard to predict. This is something worth studying.
    Ideally, there are not that many situations, other than dealing with personnel or financial information, when the red door should go up.

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