Posted by: Knightbird | February 13, 2015

Executive Standard Work for Lean

I want to continue my prior discussion of Leader Standard Work (LSW) to extend it to Executive Standard Work (ESW). A CEO has a lot of responsibilities. And they demand attention every day. It can be hard to learn the Lean Management System, deploy it successfully and maintain/grow daily practice of Lean. ESW sets out in writing what an Executive should do. Discipline requires adherence to ESW. And adherence to ESW will eventually become habit, and if done correctly, will make your work easier to accomplish.

Almost all Executives are engaged in firefighting. Bad results happen, and customers complain. Engaging in a political response to a bad thing happening usually ends by calling in a subordinate, blaming them for the bad result and telling them to make it better, whatever the cost. And the cost can be high. Most Executives don’t understand the cost of firefighting. When you address problems in a political manner, the end result is an increase in variation within the process, and an increase in poor results. I have written about this before. But Leaders still fail to understand how political interference in a system corrupts that system even more than it already is. Executives need to practice resisting the urge to intervene politically, and ESW helps.

Certain behaviors make me a different leader than my command and control peers in Alaska. During my first Lean Implementation, I learned to distinguish between Leaders, Followers and Naysayers among my staff. When I introduced the concept of Lean to my Executive Team, I found one true Leader. Her stated reason to me for trying Lean was based on the sad condition of the organization when I started. I wrote about this before. I also had Pretenders. The acted like they were going along as they continued on their own leadership path.

After 5 years of implementing Lean, I learned many valuable lessons. One was Lean Leadership—you need them. I am still leaning today through the errors I made, especially keeping Executives after they proved they were Naysayers or Pretenders. Deploying Lean within an organization requires Executive commitment. Naysayers will continue their political response to defective work and corrupt systems. Leaders will guide their employees to ever better performance. I believe we can achieve this leadership commitment through daily performance of Executive Standard Work (ESW). ESW differs for different organizations and grows with the knowledge level of the Executive and staff.

Strategic deployment of Lean Thinking is a CEO’s job, and it’s their responsibility to continuously improve the ability of the organization to implement Lean. How can we do that?

First, employees need to know that developing standard work is important work. ESW requires continuing rips to the Gemba with a real purpose for understanding whether standard work is being sustained and improvement is continuously chased. Real questions must be asked. Just visiting the Gemba is not enough. ESW requires observation and asking. What are the standards developed? Are we working with standard work? Is our performance consistent with expectations? How are defects dealt with? What are we doing to improve performance? And we should be able to observe some of the answers by looking at Visual Management signs and boards. The presence of an Executive on the Gemba makes it very clear that Lean is a strategic priority.

Second, since the Executive is accountable for results, we need to assure accountability at every level. At the worker level, we can observe and question. At the supervisor level, we should be able to see measures for accountability. If we have control charts, the control charts need updating on a regular basis. We can check on whether Supervisor Standard Work is being accomplished because there should be a SSW board kept up to date. The board should layout information about the people used in the process, the quality of work being done, whether commitments are being met (patients seen, products delivered, services performed), the status of Continuous Improvements and Waste reduction and elimination. Often Waste reduction/elimination can be interpreted into cost savings, but that is not the driver for SSW.

Third, ESW includes aligning the organization on the direction chosen and addressing deviations. This requires regular communication. Daily huddles are a way to discuss the day’s work and assure it is both focused and strategy driven. Were we on track from the day before? What issues did we face and respond to? What challenges can we expect to face today? Weekly “reflection” meetings can assess progress, allow for questions and give the Executive an opportunity to coach and mentor subordinates. Subordinate leaders should be doing the same types of meetings with their staff and rolling results from the workplace to their Process Control Boards (Boards).

Fourth, accountability requires disciplined use of Visual Management. It’s your job to see that the right information is rolled up, and through weekly meet ups at the Board, you make it clear that the information on boards must be kept up to date. Your leaders will check off performance of their LSW, but you need to assure that it is accurate recording of that LSW. You accomplish this by going to the Gemba, and visiting the board, armed with questions to test the information on the board.

Finally, you learn about the resources required for accomplishing the work needed. What are the bottlenecks we need to address? Do we need more staff assigned due to absence (for any reason—illness, vacation, Kaizen, other assignments)?

ESW requires disciplined follow through. That means spending the time required to manage your responsibilities. If you use an X-Matrix to track progress on strategic efforts, it must be updated with confirmed results. If there is deviation from expected results, you need to find out why.

And above all, an Executive is learning constantly how to do their job. We have so many tasks to achieve with limited resources. We need to prioritize. Because of the huge benefit gained from a Lean implementation, ESW should be our number 1 priority. Then we can build out our other ESW. That list is huge, and I will address it in another post.

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