Developing Leader Standard Work - Five Important Steps

Leader standard work is a pillar of the lean management system. So, how does one start to develop leader standard work? Five basic steps will get you a long way: 1) walking, 2) questioning, 3) working, 4) testing, and 5) adjusting. Like most kaizen activities, it's very effective to do this as a team - in this case, a team of lean leaders.

Walking. Walk the value stream. Make use of your current state value stream map if you have one, but never forget to go to the gemba. Identify your "pulse points," the critical points within the value stream where you would like to check process performance and/or process adherence. They are called pulse points because we're thinking about relatively quick drive-by checks that can give us insight into the health of the overall system. Like a health care provider, we do not and cannot pragmatically start every examination with  a full-body MRI or blood work! That would be muda! Apply deep dives strategically.

Questioning. While walking and identifying pulse points, you should also ask questions (of ourselves and other stakeholders) relative to process performance and adherence and other basic stuff around these pulse points. For example, "What is the process?... How do I know if it's working or not?... What is the standard work?... Is it being followed relative to steps, work sequence, cycle time and standard work in process?...What are the CTQ's (critical to quality elements)?"...etc. Write these questions down. You'll pick the most critical later.

Working. Here "work" is figuring out how to answer the big questions and the natural lean follow-on questions that we did not think to ask originally. So, if the question is, "How do I know whether people are adhering to standard work?" and you don't have standard work, guess what? You're going to have to develop standard work. If the question is, "What if the test station begins to fail an abnormally high number of units?" then there may be some follow-up questions, such as, "What is abnormally high?"  More work required here - looks like we'll have to define that. Still another question (seems like we're back to the questioning step!), may be, "What happens if the operator encounters abnormally high failures?" - looks like we'll have to establish some sort of escalation protocol...with the appropriate standard work and visual controls. Work, work, work, but well worth it. Rarely, is the system already well wired and it's just a matter of developing and deploying leader standard work.

Testing. So, once you build out the leader standard work in an appropriate leader standard work format for each leader (including the location that the leader should physically go to for the audit, audit frequency, the normal condition that the leader is attempting to validate, whether the observed condition is normal or abnormal, etc.), it's time to test it. This means walking and using the leader standard work, determining whether it is prescriptive enough, whether the visual controls are unambiguous and drive-by easy, etc. The likelihood that all is perfect is pretty much nil, which leads to...Adjusting.

Developing effective leader standard work is not easy, but it is instructive. When rigorously applied within a daily accountability process, it will help drive a lean culture,  sustain improvements and facilitate daily kaizen.

Related posts: How to Audit a Lean Management System, Leader Standard Work – Chock that PDCA Wheel

There are 6 Comments

markrhamel's picture

Hi Rob,

Excellent points! Lean management systems (and specifically leader standard work) must include/rely on robust visual controls. Otherwise, it's just too hard and too ambiguous. Amen on the listening!

Best regards,

Rob's picture

Some great points here.

I'd include that we must develop standards for each pulse point via robust visual controls. I'd ask are these understood and how are we doing against the standard set. I'd look for problem-solving, 5-why or similar if we're over or under target. Most of all though I'd listen, a soft skill which encompasses the critical point: "respect for people".

Chris Paulsen's picture


Walking the value stream is a great item for the list of standard work. It's far too easy for time on the production floor to get squeezed out of the day when other tasks pile up. I'd suggest that reviewing key performance indicator results is critical as well. Thanks for sharing.


markrhamel's picture

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the comment. You are absolutely right! We must review the KPI's to get an understanding relative to (close to real-time) process performance. It's not just about process adherence.

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture

Hi Evan,

Thanks for the comment. Yes, the work is hard. But, how else can we create a robust, well-wired system? My suggestion for attack is the old pilot first approach. In other words, we need to mentor folks and learn together on one aspect of the value stream (often a single process) - develop the leader standard work and the necessary visual controls, standard work, etc. and related leader standard work. Then, after we get that going, go to the next pulse point and do the same. Eventually, our leader standard work, and underlying system, will be built-out.

As for the documentation, I suggest first developing a master leader standard work (where we don't worry about who will be doing the audit) template that reflects physical location of the audit (where do I have to go), what specifically I will check, the condition that I am trying to verify (hopefully with the assistance of a visual control), and if I find an abnormal condition a field for describing the abnormal condition as well as my countermeasure. Once we're satisfied with the master (after several test and adjust iterations), we can then create leader specific templates - it's different based upon audit frequency and sometimes scope, depending upon the role and level within the organization. There is a generic example of a template in chapter 7 of the Kaizen Event Fieldbook. Shoot me an email if you want to discuss in further detail.

Daily completed leader standard work should be posted (visually), so it can be audited by the leader's leader relative to timeliness, completeness, abnormalities identified, rigor/sufficiency of countermeasures, trends, etc. It should be feedstock for mentoring activities between leader and subordinate.

Best regards,

Evan Durant's picture


Really great post on an excellent topic. I've found that the "working" step is the hardest to teach and follow through on. This is really the problem-solving phase of the process. Any advice on how to help leaders improve their abilities in this area?

And a related question: What sort of documentation (if any) do you suggest for leaders to complete as part of the process and to show evidence of it working.