How Leader Standard Work Improves Plant Managers’ Effectiveness

Project details

  • Date

     March 26, 2019

How Leader Standard Work
Improves Plant Managers’ Effectiveness

In manufacturing, consistency is the holy grail — and it’s especially essential when operations are conducted in more than one facility or plant. A consistent approach to management gives the plant manager the ability to maintain the highest levels of production and quality, and also have an accurate view of how their plant’s operations compare to other parts of the enterprise.

Leader standard work is a proven management approach that not only brings greater consistency to manufacturing operations but also improves the effectiveness of managers at every level. When properly planned and implemented, it allows leaders to manage the business better, see the process, maintain and adhere to the standard, sustain results, and solve problems.

No clear view of the problem

There are many ways the management styles or processes within a manufacturing organization can break down. For example, at any given time an organization may be using a variety of management approaches that were developed and applied on an ad hoc basis. These approaches are often not shared across multiple plants and, in some cases, not even across different functions within a single plant.

Whatever the cause or source of such variations, it creates a siloed, rather than a team, mentality. As a result, it is often characterized by conflicting methodologies and terminologies and a patchwork of temporary fixes. One result is that when functional leaders try to meet to address problems, they often can’t even agree on the definition of the problem, let alone its solution. In too many instances, each functional lead is allowed to develop and implement their solution — complicating the situation even further.

An illustration of the impact of leader standard work

To illustrate the impact of the leader standard work approach, let’s use the example of problem-solving — an everyday task at manufacturing plants. In this scenario, let’s assume that the front office has just learned from a major customer about a problem in their latest product shipment.

Without leader standard work, functional leaders gather together to discuss and analyze the problem. The different functional leaders each have their perspectives and thoughts on how to solve it. Because there are dozens of popular approaches to problem-solving (“5 why,” “fishbone,” etc.), the approach that is selected is often merely the one that was promoted by the most persuasive (or the loudest) person in the room.

To make matters worse, when the leaders get back to their production areas, they may decide to implement their own version of the agreed-upon approach. Now, in addition to the original problem (whose root cause may or not have even been identified), the well-meaning leaders have complicated the situation further, so that it’s unclear what if any effect the various solutions will have on the root cause.

In contrast, an environment where leader standard work is employed emphasizes developing and adhering to a consistent approach across functions within a plant, and also from one plant to the next. One of the essential points to understand about leader standard work is that it’s not necessarily wedded to any particular problem-solving approach. Instead, it’s focused on ensuring that the same problem-solving method, and how they interact with the tool/system, is employed consistently across the enterprise.

For example, an organization using leader standard work could employ a simple fact-based approach to problem-solving for their functional leaders. The process, in this case, would begin with a fast response team that defines the problem and the most appropriate team to assist in solving and containing the problem from the customer point of use back to the process of origin. The next step is to “go see.” This “go” and “see” action is a critical step designed to uncover what the process and people are doing as well as what’s documented or not documented. Following the “go and see” action, the team would develop and deploy a short-term countermeasure(s) to get the defective process back to the defined standard and begin to monitor and measure how the countermeasures(s) are performing.

Once the process is performing as expected, the team would integrate poka-yoke, or any other useful error/mistake proofing tool. Following these steps, a new documented standard would be established, and team members would be trained to that new standard. The last step of problem-solving, in this example, is to have a system for measuring and coaching the functional leaders in the use of leader standard work to ensure that it becomes part of their daily routine.

For the plant manager, it’s critical that they have leader standard work for each of the functional leaders who report to them. This allows each person to manage better, see the process and maintain standards, sustain improvements, and evaluate the business. And that, in turn, leads to greater consistency in management approaches and better results.


Establishing a leader standard work approach for each of your functional leaders can seem like a lot to take on all at once. A majority of the time, we find through an assessment that many organizations have bits and pieces of the leader standard work puzzle already in place. Therefore, an effective starting place might be for you to conduct a small-scale assessment of your operation. The following link will take you to a survey designed to give you a better picture as to how well you and your organization are actively engaging in leader standard work for functional leaders.