Do we need to standardize the work of a lean leader?

My first lecture on Lean Leader Work Standardization (LSW, in English, Leader Standard Work) was delivered in April 2011 in Warsaw. The New Year’s Eve period is a good time to return to this kind of management when implementing and maintaining the Continuous Improvement Programme (PCD) in the company.

This article is too short to describe all the features related to LSW, but I will try to explain at least those features that are most valuable and practical for daily use at work in the culture of Continuous Improvement.

QUESTION: I’like to know what do you think about Lean Leader’s Work Standardization. Does it have any value to your company? Who applies it and what is the frequency and effectiveness of Continuous Improvement Programme in your company!

ANSWER: My observations and experience in Toyota taught me that without practicing LSW in the workplace, there is no real Lean. A true lean leader naturally, through his behavior and attitude, demonstrates the values, principles, tools and competencies that are the foundation of every leader. A lean leader should strive to develop his or her area as a great place to work and to generate extraordinary achievements.

Basic principles and values

When I’m at a “crime scene”, in other words, at a client’s, I explain the lean leader’s approach as a person who stands (literally, has his feet) on solid foundations – in the context of Continuous Improvement, these are principles and values. At this point I would like to remind you of the most important ones;

  • don’t blame anyone, but ask them why,
  • when there is a problem go, see, learn to observe, act, celebrate,
  • don’t expect perfection from yourself and from others, but expect progress every day,


  • always treat other people with respect, practice honesty and build trust through good examples.

This is practically impossible for most of us already! I know, but at least we can try to be better. Most lower and senior executives have never thought and been raised in such circumstances, at least not at work, not with us.

The secret “boxes” of Lean Leader

Lean leader, in his left hand holds a lean toolbox, such as PDCA, 6s, 8 Muda, A3 problem solving method, etc. In his other hand he holds a box containing the Leader’s tools, such as team building, active listening, feedback, delegating and other soft skills which are important to influence the environment, employees, culture at work and the employee’s willingness to work.

It is worth pointing out that there is a difference between the Standardized Work of a Lean Operator (OSW) and the Standardized Work of a Lean Leader (LSW). The higher we are in the organization, the less attention companies pay to LSW and invest in them, while putting more pressure on OSW.

We’ve established the operation process… and what happens next?

At the machine operator level, most companies have developed the entire process of standardizing the operator’s work but what happens next, with the line leader, shift leader, manager or director? Apart from the job duties and responsibilities described in a contract of employment, it is really the standardization of the work of a leader, medium and higher degree, in most companies there is practically no such thing as a standardization in the daily work performed. Tragedy, because exactly where there should be a good example, there isn’t any. They suppouse to tell you how to work within the framework of the principles or methodology of Continuous Improvement.

Consistently – at all levels of the organisation

If your company seriously wants to achieve its goals for 2017, and intends to do so according to the CD rules, then consider improving meetings and behaviors and daily practices on every level in the company, from the bottom to the top floor of the building! And what’s worse, where they say “we have lean, or we implement lean,” frankly, it’s hard to see. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is with lean – you talk and practice, starting with yourself!

Are we supposed to do that too?

By the way, what do you think about that? When we say to employees in a loud, convincing tone, e.g. to foremen, managers, that “now we implement the Continuous Improvement Programme, will learn how to identify waste and approach to our team”. We expect them to understand, appreciate and accept this new way of working, thinking and approaching work and their team members. However, when we turn to the higher authorities and say to them, “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, please listen, we will implement the Continuous Improvement Program. We will learn how to work more effectively, e.g. how to identify waste and how to approach our employees”, then what will be the reaction? Insulted, shocked, how come, it’s not for me, it’s not for us, or we’re already doing it, and so on.

I wonder if this isn’t the case with you, please feel free to comment, share your experience. I also recommend you reading about the next steps of Lean Leader in the following article.